Tag Archives: #partner

She’s Not Interested in Sex But He Thinks She Is (Psychology)

Women and men misunderstand each other’s signals of friendliness and sexual interest. But these misinterpretations are no surprise to evolutionary psychologists.

Imagine the following scenario: a woman and a man are having a conversation. She is interested in the conversation, and is friendly, smiling and warm. He interprets her behaviour as sexual interest.

Or maybe: a man is sexually attracted to a woman he has just met, and signals this in various ways. She thinks that he is just being friendly.

Recognize these situations? If so, you’re not alone.

We misunderstand each other

In a recent study at the Department of Psychology at NTNU, women reported that men often misinterpret their signals of friendliness as sexual interest. Conversely, the men in the study reported that women often misinterpret their signals of sexual interest as friendliness.

“The results are no surprise, seen from an evolutionary perspective,” researcher Mons Bendixen explains. “The fascinating thing is that our results are identical to a study done in the USA, even though Norway is one of the most gender-equal, sexually liberal countries in the world.”

In most areas of psychology, there is little to no difference between genders: mental capacity, intellectual achievements, food preferences — men and women are all more or less the same. But when it comes to reproduction and challenges related to finding a sexual partner, there are suddenly differences to be found.

Evolutionary psychology is the study of how the human mind has evolved, developed and adapted over time. One thing that evolutionary psychologists are specifically interested in is gendered sexual psychology between cultures and social groups. Seen through the lens of evolutionary psychology, we can better understand why men often wrongly assume that women who smile and laugh during conversation may want to sleep with them.

Men can’t be picky

A man’s ability to reproduce is all about seizing every opportunity. He has to spend both money and time on courtship, which still may not lead to sex. But it costs even more to not try, because then he won’t be able to reproduce.

“A man’s reproductive fitness, meaning the amount offspring he produces, is dependent on how many women he is able to make pregnant. But that’s not how it works for women,” Bendixen explains.

A woman can have sex with multiple men over a short period of time without producing any more children. So for men, it is a low-risk, potentially high-reward situation for men to have sex with women whenever the opportunity presents itself.

On the other hand, the cost is potentially great for a woman if she thinks that a man is more sexually interested than she is. A woman risks pregnancy, birth, nursing and raising the child, as well as lost oppotunities to reproduce with others. Across thousands of generations, women’s psychology has evolved to set the bar higher, which means they need much clearer signals than men before they consider sex.

“Even though these processes aren’t conscious, we can still empirically measure the results,” Bendixen says.

Similar to an American study

The recent study at NTNU included 308 heterosexual participants between the ages of 18 and 30. Fifty-nine per cent of participants were women.

The participants were all heterosexual because sexual intercourse between men and women is necessary for reproduction. Half of the women and 40 per cent of the men were in relationships. The questions were identical to questions asked in a similar American study from 2003. Here are a few examples:

Have you ever been friendly to a person of the opposite gender, and had your actions interpreted as sexual interest? If yes, how many times has this happened?

Have you ever been sexually attracted to someone and shown interest, and had the other person misinterpret your signals as friendliness? If yes, how many times has this happened?

Men misinterpret most often

The results show that both men and women find that their social signals are misinterpreted by the opposite sex. Women in the study answered that they had acted friendly towards a man about 3.5 times over the past year on average, and had this misinterpreted as sexual interest. The men in the study also reported having been misinterpreted by the opposite sex in this way, but far less often.

The results also show that men rarely misinterpret women who actually do signal sexual interest. The study also shows that this is independent of whether or not the person is in a steady relationship or not.

Bedixen points out that Norway is considered to be one of the most gender-equal countries in the world. The USA, on the other hand, where a similar study was done in 2003, is ranked as 20th on the World Economic Forum’s list for equality around the world.

“The fact that the hypothesis in evolutionary psychology is supported even when the study is in a society where gender equality is strong, weakens alternative claims that the social roles of men and women in different cultures determine their psychology in these situations,” he says.

Does not excuse sexual harassment

Researchers at the Department of Psychology are now going to use data collected from high school students to see if the results of this study are also valid for people aged 16-19, and if these miscommunications might lead to sexual harassment.

“Even though evolutionary psychology and our findings can help account for some sexually inappropriate behaviour in men, it doesn’t mean that evolutionary psychologists defend this happening. Measures can be taken to prevent sexual harassment. It will help if we just teach men that a woman who laughs at your jokes, stands close, or touches your arm at a party doesn’t mean that she’s sexually interested, even if you think she is,” Bendixen says.

Featured image: Women and men misunderstand each other all around the world, even in Norway, one of the most gender-equal, sexually liberal countries in the world. © Norwegian Science and Technology

Mons Bendixen (2014) Evidence of Systematic Bias in Sexual Over- and Underperception of Naturally Occurring Events: A Direct Replication of Haselton (2003) in a More Gender-Equal Culture. Evolutionary Psychology, 12(5), 1004-1021.

Provided by Norwegian Science and Technology

When Does the Green Monster of Jealousy Awake in People? (Psychology)

Women and men are often jealous for completely different reasons. This gender difference occurs so early that it surprised the researchers.

Adult heterosexual women and men are often jealous about completely different threats to their relationship. These differences in jealousy seem to establish themselves far sooner than people need them. The finding surprised a research group at NTNU that has studied the topic.

“You don’t really need this jealousy until you need to protect yourself from being deceived,” says Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair at NTNU’s Department of Psychology.

Romantic jealousy can be experienced as horrible at its worst. But jealousy associated with a partner’s infidelity has clearly been an evolutionary advantage.

“Jealousy is activated when a relationship we care about is threatened. The function is probably to minimize threats to this relationship. These threats have historically been somewhat different for men and women,” says Per Helge H. Larsen, a master’s student in the Department of Psychology at NTNU.

Evolutionary psychology can help explain the gender differences having to do with this jealousy.

The function of jealousy is probably to minimize threats to the relationship. These threats have historically been somewhat different for men and women. Thus the jealousy too. Illustration photo: Shutterstock, NTB

Gender differences around jealousy

The differences in sexual jealousy between the sexes, simply put, revolve around the possibilities for their own children. Previous research has already established that:

  • Men more often react more negatively when their partner has had sex with others than if she falls in love or spends time with someone without having sex. It’s easy to explain: if the woman is sexually unfaithful, it ultimately means that her partner might need to use his own resources to raise another man’s children.
  • Women, on the other hand, are always sure that the child is theirs. They tend to react more negatively to their partner having feelings for another woman than that he’s had sex with her. This response can also be explained. Historically, she could suffer a loss of resources and status for herself and their child if he left her for someone else.

We should note that these differences have been with us since long before birth control pills and the possibility for women to feed and raise their children alone. A few generations aren’t enough to change either biology or culture very much.

Jealousy not risk free

The gender differences that lead to jealousy are easy to explain. They are evolutionary adaptations that get passed on to the next generation – but why does this gender difference arise so early?

Precisely this question presents theoretical challenges for the researchers, because jealousy has historically not been risk-free, either.

“Jealousy is potentially a costly reaction, perhaps especially for the man before he is physically strong enough to defend himself and his partner against rivals, and before he would normally have had the opportunity to have a steady partner through marriage,” says Kennair.

Throughout history, jealous boys and men have run a great risk by expressing their jealousy. Being ostracized, injured or killed in competing for women is all too well known.

“Throughout evolutionary history, the usefulness of man’s form of jealousy would probably have been reserved for men of high status who had a great ability to defend themselves,” says Kennair.

So why be jealous before you’re able to take care of your partner?

Why be jealous before you are able to take care of your partner? Photo: Shutterstock, NTB

Present in adolescence

“We knew that this difference becomes established in the early 20s, but through our study we’ve shown that it appears even earlier,” says Larsen.

The research group at NTNU wanted to find out when these gender differences around jealousy, sex and emotions begin. To this end they studied 1266 pupils aged 16 to 19 years in upper secondary school. However, it turns out the participants weren’t young enough for the researchers to answer this question as to when gender differences develop.

“The gender difference was stable and clear throughout the age range of the study. This is pretty startling,” says Professor Mons Bendixen in the Department of Psychology.

“The gender difference wasn’t affected by whether the teens currently had a boyfriend or girlfriend, or whether they had made their sexual debut. The difference thus doesn’t seem to have anything to do with experience,” Bendixen adds.

We can imagine, and perhaps assume, that the gender differences in jealousy responses arise even earlier than age 16. But we don’t know that for sure yet. To confirm it, we need to study even younger boys and girls.

“It’s also unclear how young study participants can be to research this in a meaningful way,” says Kennair.

Distinguishing between sexual jealousy and other types of jealousy can quickly become meaningless for the very youngest among us.

Does jealousy prepare us for adulthood?

In one way or another, the benefits of this early, gender-specific sexual jealousy must have outweighed its dangers.

“It could be that the early development of sexual jealousy is simply preparing us for adulthood, and that it has no other function at a younger age.” But Kennair emphasized that jealousy is a dangerous feeling. Young men could put themselves in danger by experiencing this feeling before it was appropriate and they were physically strong enough to defend the relationship.

But the researchers are clear that this idea is still speculation.

“We need further research and theory development on the basis of these findings,” Kennair said.

The results from the youth group study were recently published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

Featured image: We don’t need sexual jealousy until we need to protect ourselves from being deceived. But researchers still found gender differences in jealousy early on. Illustration photo: Shutterstock, NTB

Source: Per Helge H. Larsen, Mons Bendixen, Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, Andrea M. Kessler, Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair. Investigating the emergence of sex differences in jealousy responses in a large community sample from an evolutionary perspective. Scientific Reports: www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-85997-7

Provided by Norwegian Science and Technology

Walking With a Partner is Great But Might Slow You Down (Psychology)

If you walk with your spouse or partner on a regular basis, you might want to speed up. Or tell them to.

A new study by Purdue University nursinghealth and kinesiology, and human development and family studies researchers shows that couples often decreased their speed when walking together. Speed further decreased if they were holding hands.

The study looked at walking times and gait speeds of 141 individuals from 72 couples. The participants ranged from age 25-79 and were in numerous settings, including clear or obstacle-filled pathways, walking together, walking together holding hands and walking individually.

“In our study, we focused on couples because partners in committed relationships often provide essential support to promote one another’s healthy lifestyle behaviors, including exercise,” says Melissa Franks, associate professor of human development and family studies.

Libby Richards, associate professor of nursing, says, “We were hoping that there would not be a reduction in speed where partners walked together. We hoped that slower partners would speed up to match the faster partner, but that was not the case. However, it’s important to note that any physical activity or walking – regardless of speed – is better than none.”

Richards says it is common for people to walk or exercise with a spouse, partner or friend, as it increases one’s likelihood to be active, especially as Americans are encouraged to meet a goal of 150 minutes of moderate activity every week.

“If someone substantially slows down when they are walking with someone else, that could negate some of the health benefits recognized if they walked alone at a faster pace,” Richards says.

Shirley Rietdyk, professor of health and kinesiology who specializes in biomechanics, says there are many reasons to measure gait speed.

“Gait speed is important to measure because it is related to overall health. Typical gait speed is predictive of fall risk, functional ability, disability recovery and mortality,” Rietdyk says.

“Common exercise interventions, including strength, coordination and multimodal training, are all effective in increasing gait speed. These interventions can also delay the onset of slower gait speed and help slow the loss of gait speed. No one type of training is better than the other, so do the activity you are most likely to stick with.”

While walking is one of the easiest activities, people tend to walk slower as they get older and may have to find other fitness routines to stay active.

“Older adults who are more active tend to maintain their gait speed,” Rietdyk says. “In other words, slower gait speed is not an inevitable aspect of aging. Older adults who walk slower tend to have poorer health and lower functional status.”

The article appeared in a recent edition of Gait & Posture.

HyeYoung Cho, a recent Ph.D. graduate of Purdue’s Department of Health and Kinesiology; Anna Forster, a Ph.D. student in Purdue’s School of Nursing; and Sharon Christ, associate professor of human development and family studies, were on the research team, all from Purdue’s College of Health and Human Sciences. All research team members are members of Purdue’s Center on Aging and the Life Course. The Purdue Center for Families and the American Nurses Foundation funded the study.

Featured image: A new study from researchers at Purdue University’s College of Health and Human Sciences explores the benefits of walking with a partner for exercise – only if each person goes at the faster pace. (Markus Distelrath/Pixabay)

Reference: HyeYoung Cho, Anna Forster, Sharon L. Christ, Melissa M. Franks, Elizabeth A. Richards, Shirley Rietdyk, Changes to gait speed when romantic partners walk together: Effect of age and obstructed pathway, Gait & Posture, Volume 85, 2021, Pages 285-289, ISSN 0966-6362, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gaitpost.2021.02.017. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0966636221000552)

Provided by Purdue University

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Do You Often Feel Disappointed in Your Relationship? (Psychology)

There are bound to be times when your partner’s behavior falls short of expectations. Research on close relationships suggests what might be behind your constant disappointment.

You have high expectations for yourself and expectations that are as high, or higher, for your partner. In a close relationship, it’s natural to feel that you can count on your partner to be reliable, consistent, and responsive. You may also feel that your partner should agree with you, if not all, at least for some of the time. Whether it’s in your overall world view or in decisions about money, the children, or how to spend your time, you’ve come to believe that your partner will support you on most occasions.

It’s possible that you’ve also come to expect that your partner will see eye-to-eye with you regarding various social issues. Your partner may tend to be a little to the left or a little to the right of you, but there has always been a general acceptance of each other’s positions. Should you learn that your partner is taking the polar opposite side of your own position in the wake of the tumultuous first few weeks of 2021,  you could feel so dismayed that you wonder if you will ever again be able to come to any kind of mutual understanding and respect.

In general, that sense of disappointment in your partner can come from any source, not just current events. You could feel that your partner betrays you by not following the previously-agreed on set of household chores. Maybe your partner refuses to wear a facemask, spends too much on online shopping, no longer pays attention to healthy habits of eating or working out, or does nothing but play videogames, all behaviors you interpret as representing a rejection of your own values and priorities.

According to Ariel University’s Eliane Sommerfeld, writing in a 2019 article, “disappointment is one of the most frequent and intense emotions people experience in close relationships” (p. 1476). Yet, as common as it is to feel disappointed with a relationship partner, there’s surprisingly little research on the topic. Across a set of 4 studies, the Israeli researcher dug into the concept of close relationship disappointment, culminating in a 6-factor questionnaire which she then used to describe the personalities of the frequently let-down.

As Sommerfeld noted, there are two types of disappointments in close relationships. When you’re disappointed with an outcome, your reaction reflects your feeling that your expectation wasn’t met. For example, you might believe your sports team should have easily won a game for which they were heavily favored. When you’re disappointed in a relationship, your feeling of being let down falls into the category of what Sommerfeld calls “person-related disappointment.”

There are a host of unpleasant emotional reactions following person-related disappointment that don’t occur when it’s an outcome that fails to meet your expectations. When your partner lets you down, you open yourself up to feeling abandoned while also feeling that your partner is morally wrong. You’re also likely to feel disillusioned because it’s clear now that your partner isn’t living up to the standards you felt you both shared.  In the process, you might also try to distance yourself from your partner.

Although your feelings of being disappointed could have an objective basis (i.e. your partner really does violate your shared moral code), Sommerfeld notes that it’s also possible for you to be the kind of person who generally sees disappointment in many of your relationships. People high on the personality trait of neuroticism, according to this viewpoint, generally experience a range of negative emotions. Adding to this trait, the quality of insecure attachment can also come into play. You might be particularly sensitive to feelings of abandonment, and so are likely to define your partner’s deviation from your point of view to constitute a form of rejection of you as a person, not of your viewpoint.

Prior to developing the 6-factor disappointment measure, Sommerfeld first asked samples of undergraduate participants to describe events in which they were disappointed in their partner. This gave her a set of potential scenarios to use in the second study, in which she asked participants to respond based on the way they would feel if these events occurred to them. These responses allowed her to develop a set of items which she then subjected to statistical analysis. Finally, using the 6 scales, the Israeli researcher compared scores on the disappointment scales to measures of personality based on the Five Factor Model of neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness, consciousness, and extraversion.

Turning now to the 6-factor scale, see how you would reply to these sample items regarding a recent disappointment with your own partner:

Overwhelming emotional distress: “I felt my world had collapsed.”

Distrust, hatred, and disgust toward the other: “I suddenly felt I didn’t care for that person.”

Astonishment with the other’s behavior: “I really could not understand how he/she could do that.”

Efforts toward forgiveness and reparation: “I tried to figure out how we could have good relations despite what happened.”

Concealment of emotions: “I tried not to show my feelings to others.”

Effort to generate positive thoughts and to overcome: “I tried to console myself and to accept what happened.“

The two “positive” factors, involving efforts to forgive and look on the bright side, stand out from the other 4 which reflect what you might regard as straight-up disappointment. The reason these positive factors were included was that, according to Sommerfeld, there can indeed be a push-pull aspect to disappointment when the other person involved is one to whom you’re generally positively attached. Of all the scales, astonishment received the highest average score, but respondents also scored relatively high on that last scale of trying to derive something positive from the experience.

With this general background in mind, you can now perhaps understand how personality might factor into the overall pattern of disappointment scores. People high on neuroticism, the tendency to experience negative emotions, were most likely to agree with the distress factor and least likely to be able to take something positive away from the experience. Those high in attachment anxiety and avoidance, additionally, were most likely to agree with items on the distress and distrust scales. Participants high in avoidance, furthermore, were most likely to try to conceal their emotion.

With those seemingly contradictory facets of disappointment as outrage and forgiveness, Sommerfeld notes that they may accurately reflect the very essence of disappointment with someone to whom you are close. As she states, “Undoubtedly, disappointment has the potential to be very emotionally confusing and challenging” (p. 1487). Yet, the fact that personality and attachment play into this response suggest that it’s not just one specific event that can trigger this internal confusion. You may, by virtue of your personality and typical feelings of relationship security, be particularly primed to be let down by your partner. At that point, you might ask whether it is indeed your partner letting you down, or whether this event has triggered your own anxieties and insecurities.

That disappointment-stimulating event, then, may have as much to do with your own representation of your relationship in your mind as with your partner’s actual behavior. To ease the process of overcoming the pain and moving on, the Israeli author suggests that you recognize the fact that disappointments are inevitable. Furthermore, you might also remind yourself that disappointment can indeed be a two-way street and it’s possible that you disappoint your partner more than you might care to admit.

To sum up, experiences within a close relationship can become ones that leave you feeling frustrated, annoyed, and abandoned. Learning to view disappointment as part of the cost of closeness can help you become a more understanding, if not forgiving, partner.

References: Sommerfeld, A. (2019). The experience of disappointment in the context of interpersonal relations: An exploration using a mixed method approach. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues, Vol 38(6), 1476-1489. doi: 10.1007/s12144-017-9703-8 

This article is republished here psychology today under common creative licenses

Should You Worry When Your Partner “Needs Some Space?” (Psychology)

Wendy Patrick shed some light on personal and relational reasons for taking a break.

“I just need some space.” Hearing these words from a partner can create anxiety, fear, and a sense of dread. But according to research, it shouldn’t. Far from signaling doom and gloom, seeking solitude, at least in short periods of time, can actually help, not harm, your relationship.

The Sanctity of Solitude

Jerry M. Burger, in a piece entitled “Individual Differences in Preference for Solitude,” notes that for some people, being alone is a desirable, pleasant experience, which does not make them lonely, and may actually be beneficial through stimulating self-reflection.[i] Many of us can relate to this, either personally or with respect to others in our family or social circle, who genuinely enjoy their own company. Being alone, they do not experience solitary confinement, but comfort. They may, in fact, crave this special time to relax and recharge, after which time they are more receptive and responsive—to you.

Solitude can also be calming and helpful to regulate emotions. Thuy-vy T. Nguyen et al. (2018) examined ways in which solitude impacts affective self-regulation.[ii] The scientists began by acknowledging that some prior research demonstrates that solitude can produce positive experiences when people use it for relaxation, privacy, creative pursuits, self-reflection, and regulation of emotions.

In their own research, they found that solitude generally deactivates affective experiences, reducing the effects of both positive and negative high-arousal. They found these effects only occurred when people were alone, not with others, and found this effect was present whether or not someone was engaging in activity while alone, such as reading. Perhaps most relevant to relational dynamics, they discovered that solitude can produce relaxation and reduce stress when people actively chose to spend time alone—which could explain the request for “space.”

Home Alone: Accommodating Aloneliness

Another reason to accommodate (reasonable) requests for time alone is that researchers have determined that some people not only crave time alone, but feel anxious when they do not get enough.

Robert J. Coplan et al. in a piece entitled “Seeking More Solitude” (2019), introduced the concept of aloneliness, described as negative feelings associated with a perception that a person is not spending sufficient time alone.[iii] Exploring its role emotionally, Coplan et al. found that an affinity for aloneness (distinguished from shyness) was associated with well-being. Specifically, they found that aloneliness mediated the negative link between preferring solitude and well-being, and the positive link between time alone and depression.

Coplan et al. found preliminary support for their conceptualization of aloneliness as a “mirror image of loneliness” in that where loneliness can be viewed as social dissatisfaction, aloneliness can be viewed as asocial dissatisfaction. Accordingly, they found support for their assertion that aloneliness does not depend on the actual or ideal amount of alone time, but the “mismatch between these values.”

As a practical matter, Coplan et al. note that when someone feels particularly busy or stressed, this might interfere with the ability to achieve a desired amount of solitude. This would be especially true for people who enjoy and even prefer spending time alone. The inability to achieve time alone could in turn enhance feelings of aloneliness, which could lead to negative emotions and further stress—which we can imagine is not beneficial for relationship quality or satisfaction.

Temporarily Alone Means Better Together

Obviously, too much separation can cause couples to drift apart, as out-of-sight might begin to mean out-of-mind. In the short term, however, absence can make the heart grow fonder. And apparently, for many people, privacy promotes personal wellness. So especially when someone seems to be overwhelmed or under stress, remember that an expressed need for space may reflect a desire to rest and recharge. Quality time alone can produce quality time with you.

References: [i] Burger, Jerry M. 1995. “Individual Differences in Preference for Solitude.” Journal of Research in Personality 29 (1): 85–108. doi:10.1006/jrpe.1995.1005. [ii] Nguyen, Thuy-vy T., Richard M. Ryan, and Edward L. Deci. “Solitude as an Approach to Affective Self-Regulation.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 44, no. 1 (January 2018): 92–106. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167217733073 [iii] Coplan, Robert J., Will E. Hipson, Kristen A. Archbell, Laura L. Ooi, Danielle Baldwin, and Julie C. Bowker. 2019. “Seeking More Solitude: Conceptualization, Assessment, and Implications of Aloneliness.” Personality and Individual Differences 148 (October): 17–26. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2019.05.020.

This article is originally written by Wendy L. Patrick and is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses

When Your Partner Won’t Change (Psychology)

Have you said something like this about your partner? “He really wants to change; he just can’t seem to.”

Sometimes we begin relationships with people we hope will change. If we go into it with our eyes open, it’s on us if change doesn’t happen. We knew what we were getting into.


But sometimes a partner’s troubling behavior doesn’t show up right away. And when it does, it can threaten the future of the relationship.

The most obvious example is aggression.

If your partner starts being physically or verbally aggressive toward you, that needs to change if you’re going to stay together. Nobody deserves to be abused by someone they’re in a relationship with.

With deal-breaking behavior like aggression, it’s reasonable to ask your partner to change. If she knows the relationship is on the line, it will give her an opportunity to address something that clearly needs her attention.

But once you’ve asked for change, that’s when the rubber either meets the road or keeps on spinning in the air.

Can’t vs. Won’t

The reasons why people don’t change are complex. But it’s safe to say that both ability and willingness to change are influenced by our mental and emotional health.

If your partner seems to really want to change but keeps falling back into the same old habits, that seems more like a matter of “can’t” than “won’t.”

He would if he could, right? He’s even said things like, “If I could snap my fingers and be different, I would do it.”

You don’t doubt his sincerity. But it raises a question. If your partner shares your desire for change but can’t deliver, what then?

For some people, just knowing your partner genuinely wants to change is enough. You’ll put up with unwanted behavior for an unspecified period of time, as long as he’s trying.

But that puts both of you in an unhappy position. You’ve got a partner who’s not behaving well, and he’s got a partner he’s regularly disappointing.

And because there’s no deadline for change, this can go on for years. It’s a bumpy ride, with bad times and better times, and occasionally even wonderful times.

But ultimately, you’ll still wish your partner would change.

The fact is, if your partner’s poor behavior isn’t changing, it doesn’t matter whether it’s because she won’t or she can’t. You’re not obligated to stay with someone who’s trying (and failing) to do the right thing.

Motivation itself will not fix the problem. Only better behavior can fix poor behavior.

Require Change

Sometimes the only way to get change is to require it. Again, we’re talking about deal-breaking behaviors here, so don’t assume you’re being demanding if the change you’re requesting isn’t optional.

If your partner’s behavior is hurting you, then change should be required.

You don’t have to make demands. All you need to do is be clear that change is required if the relationship is to continue. And hold that boundary.

Keep these three things in mind:

Set a deadline. If you don’t, your partner could be “working on changing” for years to come. For some behaviors, a deadline is a reasonable compromise.

But if the behavior is extremely harmful, you don’t have to stick around until an arbitrary date. Make it a one-strike-and-you’re-out deal instead. This is totally reasonable when it comes to abuse.

Be specific. Make it clear that a particular behavior (describe it so it’s clear to your partner) is unacceptable.

Create consequences. Tell your partner what you’ll do if the above behavior happens again. Then follow through if necessary.

If your partner won’t change, and you don’t require her to, it’s not your partner’s fault if you’re continually mistreated. Take charge of your experience by setting and holding healthy boundaries.

You can be compassionate with a partner who’s trying, unsuccessfully, to change. But allowing him to continue to hurt you every time he fails is not helpful for either of you.

Sometimes the only thing to do when your partner can’t or won’t make reasonable changes is to walk away.

This article is originally written by Tina Gilbertson, who, is the author of Reconnecting with Your Estranged Adult Child and Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings By Letting Yourself Have Them. She hosts the Reconnection Club Podcast for parents of estranged adult children and offers consultation by distance. This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses

The Biggest Reason Why Relationships Fail (Psychology)

Jeffery Bernstein shed light on biggest reason. He said, “The demise of relationships is obvious yet ironically lurks below the surface.”

Have ever gone to a high school reunion? Or, did you ever become reacquainted with a long-lost friend? If so, or if you have heard about these situations from others you trust, you probably can vouch that most of us have personalities that pretty much stay the same.

While we can usually accept that people, in general, are who they are, when it comes to our intimate partner’s less than desirable traits, we tend to want to change them. Yet, trying to change someone is detrimental to a loving relationship.

The following scenario sheds light on the partners wanting to push for change: “I’ve been frustrated and miserable for years,” complains Seth. “I keep asking Linda to give me space, but things don’t appear to be changing. It feels like all the life is getting sucked out of me.” Linda reflects, “Seth likes to have his softball team friends almost over to our house every weekend. He’s clueless about my needs and I feel so alone.”

When Time For Change–Meets Time For Reality

“Your partner is likely not going to change! Loving someone (even pleading with them) just isn’t enough to change a person’s basic personality. If, for example, your partner is emotionally reserved and you are more outgoing and need outwardly expressive of affection to feel secure, you’ll feel consistently dissatisfied.”, wrote Jeffery Bernstein.

That famous song, You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, includes the lines:

“And now you’re starting to criticize little things I do. It makes me just feel like crying. Cause baby, something beautiful’s dyin.”

This criticism of those “little things” usually follows on the heels of partners’ frustrations that neither one will significantly change. This is what really break down and erodes those loving feelings in your relationship.

The Fix: Stop Trying To Fix Your Partner

If you want your partner to change, start by accepting them for who they are. Noted psychologist, John Gottman says, “People can change only if they feel that they are basically liked and accepted the way they are. When people feel criticized, disliked, and unappreciated they are unable to change. Instead, they feel under siege and dig in to protect themselves.”

Many people stay in dysfunctional relationships with the unconscious desire to change their partner. So, stop being a change pusher. Instead of trying to change your partner, focus on improving your own life. Focusing on fixing your partner can prevent you from focusing on the issues at hand.

As Jeffery explained in his relationship book, Why Can’t You Read My Mind? , it is crucial to avoid toxic labeling and name-calling and don’t attack your partner personally. Remember anger is usually a symptom of underlying frustrations, hurt, and fear. Avoid defensiveness and criticizing or, even worse, showing contempt for your partner (rolling your eyes, ridicule, name-calling, sarcasm, etc..)

Changing Your Perspective Can Improve Your Relationship

When you change your view of things, your situation will change. This doesn’t mean you should acquiesce and tolerate abuse or disrespect. It means, though, that your thoughts, feelings, and consequent communication impact how you feel about your partner and their behaviors. In general, you will be satisfied or disappointed with your romantic relationship depending on how well your views of what is happening match your expectations.

Focusing On Change Can Cause Forgetting to Forgive

Trying to change your partner interferes with your ability to forgive them. Forgiveness isn’t the same as forgetting or ignoring the hurt done to you. But forgiveness does give the gift of allowing you to move on.

Give your partner the benefit of the doubt where possible. Accept that people do the best they can and try to be more understanding, at least within reason. If your relationship is basically healthy, develop a growth mindset of acceptance and forgiveness about daily disappointments. After all, none of us is perfect. The only perfect people, after all, are in the cemetery.

Take responsibility for your part in the conflicts and you will spread good will. Bottom line: Don’t let your partner’s limitations leave you overly focusing on the small irritants. For a relationship to be balanced, partners must be able to depend on one another and feel that they are needed and appreciated. Trying to change your partner can prevent you from connecting and staying connected and achieving true intimacy.

For more about Dr. Jeff, click here.

This article is originally written by Jeffrey Bernstein, who, is a psychologist and the author of seven books, including 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child. This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses.

Deciding Whether to Stay or Leave (Psychology)

Why partners become more or less committed to their relationship.

Leaving a long-term intimate relationship is never an easy thing to do. When things are not going well in our relationships, our minds often stray towards thoughts of how much better our lives would be without our current partner.

© Jasmine Carter from Pexels

But acting on a desire to leave requires great effort—packing our things, setting up a new life for ourselves, and making the final announcement that the relationship is over, not just to our partner but also to our family and friends. It also demands a high degree of confidence that leaving is better in the long run than staying.

In contrast, staying in a relationship isn’t so much a decision we have to act on rather than simply accepting the status quo. As long as we get up each morning and muddle through our daily routine, we are staying in the relationship, whether we’ve made an intentional decision to do so or not.

Plenty of research confirms what we already intuitively know, namely that when people are satisfied with their relationships they stay in them. However, people who are dissatisfied with their relationships don’t necessarily leave. In fact, many unhappy couples endure a life sentence together, sometimes out of perceived social pressure to do so, and other times because they’ve resigned themselves to the idea that this is the best they can do.

What then predicts whether a couple in a committed relationship will eventually break up? This is the question that Syracuse University Laura Machia and her colleague Brian Ogolsky explored in an article they recently published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Machia and Ogolsky pursue their research question within a framework known as Interdependence Theory. In brief, Interdependence Theory proposes that we enter into relationships to get our needs met. Of course, that also requires that we endeavor to meet the needs of our partner. Hence, the two members of the relationship are interdependent on one another.

According to Interdependence Theory, we evaluate the outcome of every interaction we have with our partner, mentally tallying each as positive or negative. If the outcomes are mostly positive, we’ll feel satisfied with the relationship. And if the negatives outweigh the positives, we’ll feel dissatisfied.

At the same time, we also compare the actual outcomes of the relationship with the imagined outcomes of being in an alternative situation instead. Even if the “balance sheet” is more positive than negative, we may still feel dissatisfied if we believe we could do even better elsewhere.

Thus, Interdependence Theory predicts that the reasons that drive us to leave a relationship aren’t just the mirror opposite of those that motivate us to stay. For example, compatible personalities, shared interests, and trust are all characteristics that people often name when they explain why they’re satisfied with their relationship. However, incompatible personalities, lack of shared interests, and broken trust are generally not sufficient, in and of themselves, to motivate people to act on their desire to leave the relationship.

The idea that people stay for different reasons than they leave is a tenet of Interdependence Theory that is generally accepted even though it hasn’t been formally tested until now. This then was the goal of Machia and Ogolsky’s study.

To examine the dynamics of staying together and parting ways in committed relationships, the researchers recruited 232 dating couples to take part in a longitudinal study. Once a month for nine months, each partner was individually interviewed about the state of their relationship.

The key question in each interview was how committed the person was to eventually marrying their partner, and this was plotted on a graph ranging from 0 percent (absolutely certain they would not marry) to 100 percent (absolutely certain they would get married). If the current level of commitment had changed, either positive or negative, from the previous month’s level, they were asked to explain what had happened in the interim that had altered their feelings.

Participants typically explained upward movements in level of commitment to positive characteristics of their partner or the relationship as a whole, such as shared interests or common friends. In contrast, they generally attributed downward movements to unfavorable circumstances that made the relationship difficult to maintain, or else they explained it in terms of conflict. This patterning of reports lends support to the prediction of Interdependence Theory that people stay for different reasons than they leave.

Afterward, the researchers used these reports to search for patterns among those who were still in the relationship at the end of nine months versus those who had left their partners. By the end of the study, almost 20 percent of the couples had broken up. Not surprisingly, virtually all of these participants reported low levels of satisfaction and commitment to the relationship at the very first interview.

Thus, it’s clear that partners who left were unhappy with the relationship. However, many participants who reported low levels of satisfaction nevertheless stayed with their partner for the duration of the study. In fact, some participants even described current difficulties in with their partner as positive events, in that they provided opportunities for growth in the relationship. Clearly, dissatisfaction with the relationship is not a sufficient reason for leaving it.

In the final analysis, only one thing predicted whether the relationship would fail, and that was the availability of alternative partners. That is to say, the couples who broke up during the timeframe of the study did so because they had left their current partner for somebody new. This finding provides strong support for Interdependence Theory, particularly the tenet that people only leave relationships when the available alternatives are perceived as better than the current situation.

We all know couples who stay together even though they’re unhappy with their relationship, and we wonder why. The results of this study by Machia and Ogolsky suggest an answer. Namely, unhappy couples stay together because they cannot imagine an alternative situation that is any better than what they currently have.

References: Machia, L. V. & Ogolsky, B. G. (2020). The reasons people think about staying and leaving their romantic relationships: A mixed-method analysis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Advance online publication. DOI: 10.1177/0146167220966903

This article is originally written by David Ludden, who is a professor of psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College. This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses

How Narcissists Keep Their Mates From Leaving or Cheating (Psychology)

New research explores mate retention behaviors in narcissists’ relationships.

An article by Zeigler-Hill and coauthors, published in the November issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, examines how narcissists keep their romantic partners from breaking up with them or cheating on them.


Mate retention: Cost inflicting and benefit provisioning

Narcissistic people often have poor relationships, in part because they usually utilize relationships for self-serving purposes (e.g., to feel good about themselves, improve their social status).

Nevertheless, narcissists engage in some of the same behavioral strategies we all do to maintain romantic relationships and prevent breakup and cheating. These strategies are called mate retention behaviors.

Mate retention behaviors include benefit-provisioning and cost-inflicting tactics. Benefit provisioning behaviors refer to low-risk tactics that increase relationship satisfaction. Some examples are the giving of compliments or gifts.

Cost-inflicting behaviors, in contrast, are high-risk tactics that make infidelity or breakup very difficult or costly for one’s romantic partner. Though these behaviors may target potential rivals (e.g., making threats), they are often directed at one’s own partner. Some examples are punishing one’s romantic partner directly (e.g., inflicting financial hardships, limiting the person’s access to friends and family) or indirectly (e.g., using forms of psychological manipulation such as gaslighting).

Cost-inflicting approaches are considered high-risk because the victimized partner might respond by retaliating or leaving the relationship. Therefore, cost-inflicting behaviors are rarely used alone (without benefit-provisioning).

The Narcissistic Admiration and Rivalry Concept

To examine the association between mate retention behaviors and narcissism, Zeigler-Hill and colleagues used a model called the Narcissistic Admiration and Rivalry Concept.

According to this model, narcissists try to maintain a grandiose sense of self by using one of two strategies (see Figure 1):

  • Narcissistic admiration (self-promotion and self-enhancement): Narcissists attain social admiration by promoting themselves—for instance, trying to come across as self-assured and charming.
  • Narcissistic rivalry (antagonistic self-defense and self-protection): Narcissists defend themselves in a combative way, such as by aggressively devaluing potential rivals. This strategy is usually adopted when the first strategy cannot be used successfully.
Source: Back et al., 2013 (arash emamzadeh)

The current investigation: Samples and measures

To see how narcissistic admiration and rivalry are associated with mate retention behaviors, Zeigler-Hill et al. conducted three studies.

Study 1: 625 undergraduates (112 men); average age of 20 years; 82% White. The criteria for inclusion in this and following studies included involvement in a heterosexual relationship for the length of at least three months. In the sample in Study 1, the median length of the romantic relationship was 1.8 years. About 85% were dating, 7% cohabitating, 3% engaged, and 5% married.

Study 2: 349 participants (53 men); average age of 20 years; 85% White. The median length of the relationship: 1.9 years. Nearly 85% were dating, 3% engaged, 3% married, and 9% cohabitating.

Study 3: 373 individuals (58 men); average age of 20 years; 84% White. The median relationship length was close to 1.8 years. And 86% were dating, 8% cohabitating, 1% engaged, and 5% married.

Participants were asked to fill out various measures of narcissism, in addition to measures of mate retention behaviors, reactive jealousy (experienced in reaction to a romantic partner’s flirting behaviors or infidelity, for example), suspicious jealousy (experienced in reaction to suspicions regarding a partner’s interest in others), dominance orientation (inducing fear to attain status), and prestige orientation (earning status through competence).

Results: Effects of narcissism on mate retention behaviors

Positive associations were found between narcissistic admiration and benefit-provisioning actions, and between narcissistic rivalry and cost-inflicting actions. Let us look at each association in turn.

Narcissistic admiration:

The data showed the tactics of narcissistic admiration for maintaining romantic relationships are similar to techniques used to maintain grandiose self-views.

To explain what this means, let me use the example of resource display (e.g., giving extravagant gifts). Giving expensive gifts is benefit-provisioning and obviously benefits the narcissist’s partner, but it is also self-promoting and self-enhancing for the narcissist.  It is about the needs of the narcissist to maintain a grandiose sense of self—being the kind of person who can and does give extravagant and expensive gifts.

Of course, not all narcissistic attempts to self-enhance necessarily benefit a narcissist’s romantic partner. Cost-inflicting behaviors may also be used, especially when a narcissist experiences a high degree of suspicious jealousy.

Narcissistic rivalry:

Data showed narcissistic rivalry was associated with an inclination to perform cost-inflicting behaviors (e.g., intimidation, coercion, physical violence).

Given the link between narcissistic rivalry and these aversive techniques, it is no surprise that narcissistic rivalry is linked with poor relationship functioning. Even if the goal of this strategy is to maintain the relationship and prevent infidelity, using threats and force can encourage cheating or the dissolution of the relationship.


In summary:

1. Narcissists who use the strategy of narcissistic rivalry engage in cost-inflicting behaviors.

2. Narcissists using the strategy of narcissistic admiration perform benefit-provisioning behaviors but switch to cost-inflicting behaviors when experiencing high levels of suspicious jealousy.

In other words, to maintain their relationships, narcissists who often feel unable to self-promote and self-enhance may threaten and intimidate their romantic partner. Narcissists who are resourceful and can easily self-promote are likely to perform beneficial acts for their partner (e.g., buying expensive jewelry, going to fancy restaurants). However, if experiencing high levels of jealousy, these narcissists may also use threats or intimidation.

Copyright of this article totally belongs to its original writer Arash Emamzadeh. This article is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses.