While some couples manage to maintain their happiness in a long-term relationship, for others the relationship falls apart. Because?
A team of German-Canadian psychologists have found answers to this question with the help of a long-term study.
Christine Finn, co-author of the study, says: The research results can be used to predict which couples stay together and which ones aren’t.
“It is certainly possible to predict whether a relationship will work in the long term,” says Christine Finn. No, Finn is not a fortune teller, but a psychologist from Friedrich Schiller University in Jena. Together with a team of psychologists from Jena and the University of Alberta, Canada, she studied what distinguishes couples in long-term stable relationships from those who ultimately separate as part of the comprehensive long-term study “Pairfam “.
“For decades, one of the big questions in relationship research has been: who is together and why?” Says Finn. In psychology, he explains, there are two basic models that should help answer this question.
The first model states that stable and unstable couples differ in their characteristics – and these differences always remain the same, they do not change over the course of the relationship. This means that a couple who argue a lot in the first year of their relationship will argue just as much in the third year. Not more often, not less often. If there have been a lot of conflicts from the start, this increases the likelihood of the relationship breaking up. If there are only a few arguments, the couple has a good chance of a happy long-term relationship.
Model number two assumes that all couples are happy at the beginning of their relationship, as a kind of “honeymoon effect”. According to this second theory, conflicts only develop as the relationship progresses and eventually become so great that they lead to separation.
For Christine Finn and her study co-authors, the truth lies in a hybrid of both models. Their results show that, as model one suggests, there are differences in how couples argue from the start. But these differences will become more significant over time, as model two assumes.
“Our hypothesis, which was also confirmed, was: couples who separate have a lot of conflicts from the beginning, but this gets worse over time.” Put simply: Those who start a relationship unhappily tend to become even more unhappy as the relationship progresses.
Before coming to his conclusions, Finn interviewed nearly 2,000 heterosexual couples over a seven-year period, or 4,000 individuals. She was particularly interested in five characteristics she asked of all participants: satisfaction, conflict frequency, closeness, independence and commitment. The latter means the willingness of both relationship partners to actually stay together for the long term.
Similarity is important in couples
Only 16 percent of couples Christine Finn analyzed broke up in seven years. But where did they fail, or rather: what drove the other 84 percent to success? “Similarity is very important, especially when it comes to basic needs like closeness or independence,” says Finn. However, the couples who separated during the study did not resemble each other in these respects, but had very different needs for closeness or autonomy from the beginning. And: these differences got bigger and bigger over the next seven years. This is a problem because: “If I want a lot of closeness, but it’s not that important to the other person, it will lead to conflict and increase the risk of a breakup,” says Christine Finn.
On the other hand, the ones that stayed together became even more similar over time. Individual partners wanted about the same amount of closeness or independence. They were also almost equally satisfied with their relationship – and to the same extent engaged, that is, willing to maintain the partnership for the long term. All of these similarities have grown even more over the seven years. So the couples who stayed together became closer and closer. “It seems that whoever stays together grows together,” says the psychologist.
Many people don’t know what they want from a relationship
Finn’s research is good news for dating sites that make money by bringing people together based on similarity-based personality profiles. Psychologist Finn has a suggestion on how this process could be further optimized: “I argue that basic needs are explicitly required there, such as how much closeness or independence someone wants,” she says.
So it’s good if both partners have similar needs. It actually makes sense that all of us should know our needs before starting a search. But that’s not the case for a lot of people, says Christine Finn: They don’t know what they really want out of a relationship and then they end up partnering with people who don’t fit in with them.
For some, this is due to the pressure of society to “finally find someone” and forget or ignore their wishes. Sometimes the reason for the lack of self-knowledge is simply age. “A youthful relationship, for example, is usually just there to prove yourself in this area,” says Christine Finn. “But the older you get, the more relationship experience you have, the more you should use this experience to reflect: what do I really need?”
Hoping the differences will disappear on their own? It does not work
If you know what you want and then realize it’s different than what your partner wants, then you should ask yourself together: How do we deal with this? “You can practice this communication. You can practice compromises, “says Christine Finn. Would you like to spend more time together, but your partner attaches great importance to doing a lot alone? So talk about it and make a weekly plan, for example, that takes into account both of your needs.
But it’s also possible that you find out: it just doesn’t fit. The needs are too far apart. If constantly negotiating is too exhausting for you, then you should consider breaking up. “Either couples are dealing with these differences effectively, or they should come to terms with the fact that the relationship is not going to work out,” says Christine Finn.
According to her, one strategy will definitely not work: “Just hoping that the differences disappear by themselves. It’s unrealistic.”