How Couples Can Keep Moving Forward In Life Together

For some couples who have been together for many years, can reach a point where they feel that just staying together as they are is good enough. And then there are other couples who want to see their relationship grow and get better together.

Researchers from the University of Illnois have been studying the scientific principles that are essential to sustaining healthy romantic relationships. Rather than focusing on each individual in the relationship, the researchers instead concentrated on the relationship as the central organising unit. The researchers anticipated that discovering the success factors and potential pitfalls that couples experience, could lead to the progress or disintegration of a relationship.

A Happy Couple

“We cannot deny the immense importance of relationships in our lives,” explains Brian Ogolsky, associate professor in the Department of Humand Development and Family Studies. “Every moment of our lives we are surrounded by those we hold dear, such as our siblings, parents, colleagues, and more. There is so much to learn from these relationships that we almost never find time to be alone with our thoughts. It is thus vital that we take the time to appreciate the unique qualities that two individuals bring to a relationship, which cannot be replicated by studying them separatly.”

In order to better understand our relationships, it is worth investing the time to really dig deep into the complexity of the interpersonal dynamics between two people. By doing so, we can not only better understand the relationship itself, but also our own motivations and the motivations of others.

In an article published in the Journal of Family Theroy and Review, Ogolsky and his colleagues investigate the motives behind the efforts by couples to sustaining romantic partnerships. Through the research, they ascertain that two key motivators for couples attempting to stay together are (1) threat avoidance, or (2) relationship enhancement.

These two primary motives for relationship maintenance are integral to understanding the dynamics between couples and how best to appropriately handle the challenges that life throws their way. As such, it is essential for acquaintances of the couple to ensure that they understand these motivators and use them to ensure that the couple is equipped with the necessary support to navigate their relationship with confidence.

Ogolsky calls these “macro-motives,” or the main reasons people maintain their relationships. In their study, the researchers provide a visual framework of how relationships may be maintained by staving off threats or moved forward by relationship enhancement strategies, which involve putting effort into the relationship for the pleasure of it. For the most part, relationships include a combination of both.

He made it clear that threats to a relationship can come from many sources, and they are especially common in the early stages. Although some of these issues may eventually dissipate over time, there is still the potential for problems to arise even in long-term relationships, such as when one partner is unfaithful, when one or both of them start a new job with potential romantic interests, when arguments occur, and when one of them is not willing to give up time for their partner.

nice happy couple

Some strategies which initially focus on mitigation of threats can eventually develop into enhancement strategies, according to Ogolsky. However, he stresses that the reverse is rarely the case. He states that it is vital to pour energy into relationships in order to keep them growing and developing, rather than just putting energy into managing threats.

In their integrative model of relationship maintenance, the researchers draw attention to the individual and interactive components of sustaining a healthy relationship. According to Ogolsky, this is an important question to consider: “Is this an individual thing or is this a couple-level thing?” In their research, they found that it is possible to maintain a relationship in a more individual sense. That is, individuals can create positive illusions about their relationship and their partner in order to convince themselves that the relationship is beneficial for them. This is possible without any active involvement from the partner.

Conflict resolution is something that requires collaboration from both partners. “Managing disagreements or forgiving each other for wrongdoing is an ongoing process. When an issue arises, we have two options: parting ways or slowly forgiving them.”

The dynamics of relationships can vary greatly. I don’t have an opinion one way or another about whether people should stay together or break up. Every relationship is different and has its own history. I am, however, interested in learning about the various dynamics that help couples stay in a healthy relationship.

Ogolsky and his team looked through over 1,100 studies in different fields to identify 250 that focused on romantic relationships and met their criteria. With this review, they aim to bring together relationship experts from various disciplines.

Journal Reference:

  1. Brian G. Ogolsky, J. Kale Monk, TeKisha M. Rice, Jaclyn C. Theisen, Christopher R. Maniotes. Relationship Maintenance: A Review of Research on Romantic RelationshipsJournal of Family Theory & Review

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