“The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” – Mother Theresa
It is a natural human desire to be in a loving relationship. But, how do we know what factors predict lasting love? What type of individuals and what type of relationships tend to make it for the long haul? We see countless examples throughout history of intense passionate love that fizzles out almost as quickly and suddenly as the flame was ignited. It almost seems that love of such intensity is too much to sustain itself. It burns through its own energy.
We also know of many examples of unrequited love – the type of desperate dramatic love where one partner relentlessly pursues the other in hopes of filling an empty space in his or her heart. These love stories also typically end tragically. Love that is fundamentally unbalanced, where one partner loves the other and is more committed than the other seem equally destined for failure.
What Factors Predict Lasting Love?
A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign accessed data in the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation (MLSRA) and created their own lab procedure to attempt to answer the question of what factors predict lasting love.
Their research indicated that those who received supportive and involved mothering as toddlers and had an ability to work through conflict as adolescents are good predictors of an individual becoming the “strong link” in adult relationships – i.e., the person with the bigger stake in relationships. Conversely, those who did not receive supportive and involved mothering as toddlers and were unable to work through conflict as adolescents were more likely to be the “weak link” in adult relationships – i.e., the partner with one foot always out the door.
This study found that it was actually less important what two people’s individual commitment styles were as adults – what mattered is how well their commitment styles matched up. In other words, two “strong links” might be kind and tolerant when times get tough, whereas two “weak links” might be less concerned with working things out, although because their expectations are equally low, there is less friction than when one partner is more concerned with working through problems and maintaining harmony. It is the mismatch of expectations that leads to problems.
Sadly, when a “strong link” and a “weak link” pair up, the partner with less investment in the relationship has more influence and the partner who is more committed to the relationship loses out.
Researchers recruited 78 MLSRA participants and their romantic partners. Questionnaires were given to participants assessing their level of commitment to their partners. Since this was a longitudinal study, information obtained earlier in the study (at 2 years of age and 16 years of age) was utilized.
At 2 years of age, the children were observed engaging in a difficult task while their mothers observed them. Researchers were interested in whether the mothers laughed, helped, or ignored the child. At 16 years of age, participants recalled a recent conflict with a best friend and were assessed for their relational attitudes and skills.
Now flash forward to the participants as adults … they were observed by researchers discussing (and attempting to resolve) whatever problem typically causes that couple the most conflict. Then, they discussed the things they agreed upon the most. Their interactions were videotaped and researchers recorded levels of hostility, amounts of hopelessness about the relationship, and how each partner attempted to assuage fears/pain in the other. Couples with mismatched levels of commitment were most “hostile.”
Importance of Openly Discussing Commitment
This study serves as a potent reminder of the importance of openly discussing levels of commitment with your partner. It is important to have a clear understanding of your partner’s expectations and assess how much those expectations are in line with your own. All couples experience conflict, and usually there is a theme to recurring conflicts. What matters is not whether or not conflict occurs (i.e., conflict is natural), but how that conflict is dealt with.
When couples have similar expectations for how conflict should be handled and have similar goals/desires for the relationship, then they are on the road to lasting long-term love. For example, if it is clear that both members of the couple are totally committed to one another and deep down desire harmony in the relationship, then it is worthwhile to keep these common goals in mind when conflict does occur.
Remembering that you and your partner share common goals when conflict occurs can serve as a helpful reminder that you both wish to maintain the commitment and move towards harmony. It is when one partner is more committed than the other than potential problems may arise. When conflict occurs, try not to be so hard on yourself or the other if you know you share common commitment goals. Work towards getting things back on track by attempting to look at the problem more objectively. How would you assess your own level of commitment and that of your partner? Do you feel that you are on the same page towards stable lasting love?
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Association for Psychological Science (2011, May 18). Want lasting love? It’s not more commitment, but equal commitment that matters. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 30, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2011/05/110518131435.htm
Featured image: Have a Heart Desaturated by Pink Sherbet Photography / CC BY 2.0