Is he or she the one? You know… the one to introduce to my parents, the one to move in with, the one to start a family with, the one to marry? At some point in every dating relationship, you ask yourself some version of these questions.
Of course you’re invested in predicting the fate of your own relationship. Psychology researchers are interested as well. Are there recognisable signs that can foretell where a relationship is headed? Typically researchers have tried to puzzle out this question by measuring some aspect of a relationship at one moment in time and then seeing how that measurement coincides with relationship outcomes months or years later. For example, one group found that greater boredom now predicts less relationship satisfaction nine years later.
Watch: When did you know that your partner was ‘The One’? Post continues after video…
These types of one-shot measurements are useful, but how you feel about any facet of your relationship fluctuates over time. Some researchers, including Ximena Arriaga at Purdue University, have suggested that the typical method of measuring a single moment in time may not fully capture the relationship experience; it might be more revealing to look at patterns of change as the relationship develops.
To know your relationship’s fate, the ups and downs may matter more than its quality at one specific moment. A newly published study examined this question by tracking how relationships progressed over time via people’s own changing senses of where things were headed.
Charting the course of love, true or otherwise.
Some days your relationship feels like it will be happily ever after, while other days it feels more like happily never after. Researchers call your sense of whether your relationship will eventually result in marriage your commitment to wed.
If you could chart the story of your relationship, what would it look like? Maybe a straight, ascending line showing steady progress? Or maybe a curvy line showing that you’ve hit some bumps along the way? It’s this trajectory that may influence how your story will end.
In the recent study, researcher Brian Ogolsky and colleagues hypothesised that how individuals’ commitment to wed fluctuated over time would predict future relationship outcomes. To test the idea, interviewers had 376 dating couples in their mid-20’s chart out graphs of how their sense of marriage likelihood (the vertical axis ranged from 0% to 100%) changed over time (time in months appeared on the horizontal axis).
The interviewer plotted key dates, noting where the likelihood of marriage changed, for better or worse. For example, spending too much time with friends, fighting or just being too different could nudge commitment to wed down. Conversely, meeting the partner’s family, spending a lot of time together, having a lot in common and receiving positive feedback from friends or family could make commitment to wed rise.