Can Breakup Danger Impacts Partner Desirability?
Why do couples take each other for granted, then suddenly fall back in love when they are about to break up? Research has some answers.
Acknowledged in many ways, from song lyrics to life lessons, is the reality that when it comes to relationships, we often don´t realize what we have until it is gone. Looking back, many people wish they had cherished the time they spent with an ex-partner, whom they took for granted at the time. Taking a partner for granted can change the way we interact, impact the amount of effort invested in relational maintenance behaviors, or lesson the desire to cherish time spent together.
In today´s busy world, many partners find themselves burnt out with so many other responsibilities, both personal and professional, they sometimes neglect their partners in the interest of saving time.
Unfortunately, that time lost may translate into reduced relational stability, which over time could lead to relational dissolution. Why don´t couples realize this risk at the time? Perhaps because research suggests that when perceived risk of breakup is low, romantic feelings may be lower as well.
At the other end of the spectrum, rocky relationships may also lessen romantic feelings. Perhaps it is difficult to fully invest in a relationship that does not seem to have a good chance of long-term success.
What happens, however, when within an established relationship, one partner is faced with the presence of a romantic rival, a perception of disinterest from their paramour, or another type of relational threat? In such cases, some partners who were previously content within what was perceived as a stable relationship, when faced with relationship-threatening events or risk factors, report intensified attraction to their partner.
How does this happen? Research provides some answers.
Romantic Feelings and Risk of Relationship Breakup
Simona Sciara and Giuseppe Pantaleo (in 2018) demonstrated that manipulating the risk of ending a romantic relationship impacted both the intensity of romantic affect as well as commitment.
They explain their results within the context of emotional intensity theory (EIT), noting how romantic feelings varied as the risk of relationship breakup was manipulated. Their data also showed the results of manipulated risk on romantic commitment were mediated by romantic affect.
They begin by recognizing objective risk factors that adversely impact relationship success. They give the examples of living together before engagement, early marriages stemming from teenage romance, as well as factors such as number of children, education, years of marriage, and genetic factors.
They also note that prior research, attempting to link perception of relational risk and lower relational stability, has demonstrated that romantic partners who fear rejection or betrayal tend to perceive lower relational quality, and are less attracted to their partners.
Sciara and Pantaleo observe that prior research demonstrated paradoxical results regarding the types of situations that enhance relational attraction and commitment. On the one hand, they describe research finding that factors that can damage a relationship long-term include a lack of social support, social disapproval generally, and interference by parents.
They also note, however, that other studies show that these types of interfering forces in moderation, were associated with relational benefits in terms of enhanced romantic feelings. These include moderate amounts of social disapproval, parental interference, and family opposition or lack of support.
Their main focus, however, was on studying the impact of perceived risk of ending a romantic relationship on romantic intensity and relational commitment.
Romantic Relational Risk
Sciara and Pantaleo recognize their research as one of only a few studies that is focused on perceived risk factors in romantic relationships. Specifically, they found intensity of romantic affect to be strong under two conditions: when breakup risk was not mentioned or was moderate. They found intensity to be significantly reduced when breakup risk was low or high. They found that intensity of romantic commitment varied according to the same pattern.
In discussing their study´s manipulating the risk of breakup, they note, "Any potentially stressful event, any negative partner´s characteristic, or any actual risk factor can act as a deterrent to the extent that it is perceived as ´risky´ for the fate of the relationship."
Investing in a Relationship: Don't Lose 'That Loving Feeling'
These findings suggest that taking a relationship for granted, where it results in viewing the risk of breakup as low, might lessen the intensity of romantic feelings one has for a partner. Ironically the same result may stem from partners perceiving their relationship to be “on the rocks."
Best practice? Nurturing a relationship at all times under all circumstances, even when things are going great, can contribute to relational health at all stages of romantic involvement, which in turn can increase romantic feelings and relational commitment. In many cases, such intentional investment can help avoid relational turbulence, and ensure smooth sailing.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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