As many as three-quarters of Americans believe in the idea of soul mates: that there is someone out there who provides a perfect fit.
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking may be hurting their relationships, according to a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (Lee & Schwarz, 2014).
Psychologists Spike W. S. Lee and Norbert Schwarz set out to look at two ways of thinking about love:
- Perfect unity: that two people are made for each other and are meant to be together.
- Journey: that a couple are on a journey. Along the way they will have go through many trials and tribulations.
They recruited people who were in long-term relationships and then had them think back to times of both celebration and conflict.
Some, however, had been subtly primed to think of relationships more in terms of a ‘perfect unity’, while others were primed to think in terms of relationships being a journey.
When they recalled their times of conflict, people thinking about unity subsequently reported being less satisfied with their relationship than those who’d been thinking about their relationship as a journey.
There was no difference, though, in relationship satisfaction when they thought back to the good times.
Professor Lee explained:
“Our findings corroborate prior research showing that people who implicitly think of relationships as a perfect unity between soul mates have worse relationships than people who implicitly think of relationships as a journey of growing and working things out.
Apparently, different ways of talking and thinking about love lead to different ways of evaluating it.”
The problem is that it’s difficult for people who think they are ‘meant to be together’ to reconcile this notion with the idea that they sometimes argue.
On the other hand, those who believe love is a journey will see the arguments as part of the journey. They may not enjoy it any more, but in retrospect will see at as part of that journey.
The authors recommend that in moments of crisis it’s useful to recall your marriage vows:
“I, ____, take you, ____, to be my husband/wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward ’till death do us part.”
Thinking about this helps emphasise that love is not a destination but the journey itself.
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