Change Research – Romantic Relationships Satisfied Or Sabotaged
Romantic partners’ emotions help or hinder the relationship when one or both are seeking a change of some sort.
A study by Le at al. (2020) was conducted using 111 romantic couples (222 people) instructed to discuss a characteristic they wanted their partner to change. Whilst doing so, the couples assessed their own emotions and their perception of their partner’s emotions.
The results of the study suggest that the mere presence of socially destructive ‘dominance emotions’ such as anger and contempt – which frequently manifest as a romantic partner blaming, attacking, or reacting defensively – undermines the quality of the relationship regardless of whether the partner receiving such dominating emotions even detects the emotions or not when discussing change. On the other hand, when one partner detects in their partner, ‘appeasement emotions’ such as guilt, embarrassment, and shame, such emotions are linked to more satisfying relationships.
Emotions tell you what’s not working in your life and what is working and should/can continue.
Emotions also tell us what’s in a person’s mind, what they are thinking!
And if you look at the research into intuition, you’ll notice that sometimes it’s our subconscious mind that picks up on the messages we’re receiving from others, way before we can specify in words what our subconscious brain is aware of, but we still get a feeling linked to that subconscious awareness. Perhaps this is why the mere perception of anger or contempt is enough to makes us feel unhappy, unloved even, even when we can’t immediately put our finger on why.
When a partner displays dominance emotions such as anger and contempt, which in turn can manifest as relationship-sabotaging behaviours, purely noticing such emotions and behaviours in one’s partner signals their:
- disregard for the other’s needs,
- lack of caring,
- lack of love,
- and little desire to make the relationship work.
When a partner displays appeasement emotions such as guilt, embarrassment, and shame, which in turn can manifest as relationship-serving behaviours, noticing such emotions and behaviours in one’s partner signals their:
- regard for the other’s needs,
- a desire to make things better/right,
- a sense of responsibility and respect for the other,
- love for their partner,
- a desire to make the relationship happy and healthy.
The study highlights the importance of using yours and your partner’s emotions and behaviours as a means for understanding the health of your relationship, seeking help from others where necessary (family, friends or a professional), and looking after both your partner and yourself.
If they are displaying negative emotions, conveyed in either their facial expressions, tone of voice and body posture, (e.g. frowning and shoulders hunched over or chin raised and wide eyes), or in their behaviours (e.g. arms crossed or throwing their arms around), care to find out what’s bothering them. Maybe they need your help and want it, or maybe they are trying to scare you into submission so you don’t challenge them (even though you have the right to be asking certain things of them), or maybe they are hoping you will break off the relationship with them so they don’t have to do it. There are many possibilities; find out which. Frequent or constant conflict is bad for your health and well-being and bad for the relationship. Take time to find out what’s really going on. It’s important for you, and important for them, too.
Le, B. M., Côté, S., Stellar, J., & Impett, E. A. (2020). The Distinct Effects of Empathic Accuracy for a Romantic Partner’s Appeasement and Dominance Emotions. Psychological Science, 31(6), 607–622. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797620904975