It is better to settle for the best relationship available than to hold out for a perfect match, a new study suggests.
Our satisfaction with our partners depends on the other relationships available to us — or as psychologists call it: the ‘dating pool’.
Dr Daniel Conroy-Beam, the study’s first author, said:
“Satisfaction and happiness are not as clear cut as we think they are.
We do not need ideal partners for relationship bliss.
Instead, satisfaction appears to come, in part, from getting the best partner available to us.”
For the research 259 men and women who had been in relationships for an average of 7.5 years were surveyed.
They were asked about the kinds of qualities they looked for in a partner.
Naturally people weigh up all sorts of qualities in potential partners, like intelligence, health, kindness and sexual appeal.
Most people who considered their partner better than them was satisfied with their relationship (unsurprisingly).
But, people who thought they were better than their partner were still satisfied if their partner matched them better than the others that were available.
In other words: it’s better to settle for the best you can get at the time.
The researchers also looked at the effort each person put in to keep their current partner.
They found that people whose partner was better than them or closer to their ideal put in more effort.
Professor David Buss, a study co-author, said:
“Relationship dissatisfaction and mate guarding intensity, in turn, are key processes linked to outcomes such as infidelity and breaking up, both of which can be costly in evolutionary currencies.
Mate preferences matter beyond initial mate selection, profoundly influencing both relationship dynamics and effort devoted to keeping partners.
Mates gained often have to be retained to reap the adaptive rewards inherent in pair-bonding — an evolutionary hallmark of our species.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior (Conroy-Beam et al., 2016).