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‘Deceptive Affection’ May Actually Keep Relationships Going

Deceptive Affection May Actually Keep Relationships Going Now that Valentine’s Day is over, the sobering reality is that the days that follow February 14 are associated with a spike in relationship breakups.

This behavior may be explained by a new study that suggests affectionate behavior is not all that is seems.

“Gestures such as hand-holding, kissing and cuddling could be indicators that your partner is mad at you,” said DePaul University’s Sean Horan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of relational communication.

In the study, Horan examined how and why deceptive affectionate behavior occurs. Deceptive affection means that an individual in a romantic relationship chooses to express affection he or she does not actually feel.

Remarkably, this behavior is relatively common. Horan and co-researcher Melanie Booth-Butterfield, Ph.D., discovered that non-married individuals expressed deceptive affection about three times a week to romantic partners.

“Couples use deceptive affection because they feel negatively about their partner and want to save face, avoid embarrassing their partner or sidestep a situation that may land them in hot water,” said Horan.

Examples of this kind of deception include lying about one’s own feelings or feelings about a partner and expressing affection instead of negative feelings, the researchers said.

One participant confessed she didn’t want to hug or cuddle her boyfriend because she was in a bad mood but did so anyway.

Another told his girlfriend he loved her to get off the phone faster so he could watch a basketball game. And when one woman’s boyfriend asked if she liked his new haircut, she lied and said she did, in order to spare his feelings.

Couples use verbal and non-verbal affection in hopes that a sweet caress or profession of love will mask their true feelings, according to the study.

Despite the harmful connotations, Horan argues this isn’t necessarily negative behavior.

“Using affection to lie appears to be a regular activity in romantic relationships that most people don’t seem to mind,” he said. “In fact, deceptive affection might actually help maintain a relationship.”

The study is forthcoming the journal Communication Quarterly.

Source: DePaul University

‘Deceptive Affection’ May Actually Keep Relationships Going

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). ‘Deceptive Affection’ May Actually Keep Relationships Going. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 20, 2019, from
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Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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