Romance and Routine: Nurturing Commitment in Couples

Summary: A new study explored how couples maintain and nurture their relationships. The study categorized relationship maintenance behaviors into five areas, analyzing data from 192 heterosexual married couples.

While direct effects of these behaviors on commitment were limited, relationship satisfaction was identified as a crucial moderating factor.

Surprisingly, similarity in relationship maintenance approaches could decrease commitment, suggesting that complementary strategies might be more beneficial.

Key Facts:

  1. Relationship maintenance behaviors include positivity, openness, assurances, use of social networks, and sharing tasks.
  2. Relationship satisfaction plays a significant role, acting as a bridge between maintenance behaviors and commitment.
  3. Contrary to expectations, similarity in relationship maintenance strategies might not be as beneficial as complementary approaches.

Source: University of Illinois

Married couples and long-term romantic partners typically engage in a variety of behaviors that sustain and nourish the relationship. These actions promote higher levels of commitment, which benefits couples’ physical and psychological health.

A new study from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign looks at how such relationship maintenance behaviors interact with satisfaction and commitment.

This shows a couple.
Studies have shown that similarity in personality traits, values, and attitudes enhance relationship satisfaction. Credit: Neuroscience News

“Relationship maintenance is a well-established measure of couple behavior. In our study, we measured it with five main categories, which are positivity, openness, assurances, use of social networks, and sharing tasks,” said Yifan Hu, a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS), part of the  College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at U. of I.

“Relationship maintenance is usually studied on an individual level. But two partners work together to maintain the relationship. Each person contributes, and each person also perceives the efforts their partner is making. We wanted to look at both individual and interactive (or couple-level) relationship processes,” she added.

The researchers analyzed data from 192 heterosexual married couples. Each partner completed an online survey separately. Participants reported their own relationship maintenance behaviors over the past two weeks, as well as their perception of the partner’s behaviors. The surveys also included questions measuring relationship satisfaction and commitment.

The results contained some unexpected findings, as there were few direct effects of relationship maintenance behaviors on commitment. However, relationship satisfaction appeared as a moderating factor between relationship maintenance and commitment. In other words, higher levels of satisfaction led to a more positive assessment of the partner’s behavior, which strengthened commitment.

“Generally, we found people were relatively accurate about their partner’s maintenance behaviors. We also found that it is better to have accurate perception when you are highly satisfied. If you are less satisfied, accurately perceiving your partner’s efforts may not be positive. And your partner’s accuracy in perceiving your behavior may make you feel worse, because they are aware you may not be doing that much for the relationship,” Hu said.

“When a stressful event happens, a couple that is less satisfied with each other may be more likely to react negatively than a couple with higher relationship satisfaction,” she added.

Another unexpected finding was that similarity in relationship maintenance behaviors was negatively correlated with wives’ level of commitment. Studies have shown that similarity in personality traits, values, and attitudes enhance relationship satisfaction. However, for relationship maintenance strategies, complementary approaches may be more beneficial.

“We found that similarity in behaviors might not be helpful for promoting interactive relationship maintenance. A possible explanation could be that if partners are too similar in their approach, they have a smaller repertoire of coping behaviors,” Hu explained.

“When partners are dealing with stressors, they need to work in concert, but using different strategies may be helpful. For example, one partner can use positivity and assurances, while the other can use social networks. They can be mindful of trying to have a larger skill set for relationship maintenance behaviors,” she suggested.

Brian Ogolsky, professor in HDFS, is co-author on the paper. “Our study aligns with existing literature showing that relationship maintenance enactment and satisfaction are related to commitment,” he said. “At the same time, we found that most relationship maintenance processes at the individual level are associated with commitment only when moderated by satisfaction, which underscores the complexity of couple dynamics.”

About this psychology and relationships research news

Author: Marianne Stein
Source: University of Illinois
Contact: Marianne Stein – University of Illinois
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Open access.
The role of individual- and interactive-level relationship maintenance on married couples’ commitment” by Yifan Hu et al. Personal Relationships


The role of individual- and interactive-level relationship maintenance on married couples’ commitment

The interaction of maintenance processes between partners constitutes a complex context, which can be categorized into individual- and interactive-level relationship maintenance processes.

Individual-level maintenance processes refer to both partners’ relationship maintenance enactment and perception of partners’ relationship maintenance. Interactive-level relationship maintenance processes include similarity, accuracy, and projection.

This study investigated the actor and partner effects of individual and interactive relationship maintenance processes on commitment as moderated by relationship satisfaction.

We recruited 193 mixed-gender married couples from the midwestern US and adopted the two-intercept actor-partner interdependence model to analyze the data.

The results demonstrated a positive association between husbands’ relationship maintenance enactment and their commitment, a negative association between similarity of relationship maintenance enactment and wives’ commitment, a positive association between husbands’ accuracy and wives’ commitment, and a negative association between husbands’ projection and their commitment.

Satisfaction was strongly associated with participants’ commitment and moderated the association between relationship maintenance enactment and commitment for both partners, the association between husbands’ maintenance enactment and wives’ commitment, and the association between husbands’ partner perception and their commitment.

Satisfaction also moderated the association between wives’ accuracy and husbands’ commitment and the association between husbands’ projection and both partners’ commitment.

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