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Perception of Partners’ Efforts Key to Relationship Maintenance

Seeing That Partner Is Reaching Out Is Key to Couples Success

A new study suggests that conflict in a relationship can cloud a person’s ability to recognize their partner’s attempts to reach out to them.

University of Illinois researchers say the perception that a partner is working on the relationship is important.

“When we evaluate relationship maintenance in couples, the important measure is not what’s actually happening in the relationship but how those persons perceive their partner’s efforts. That perception creates the climate in which attempts at reconciliation will either be accepted or rebuffed,” said Dr. Brian Ogolsky, a professor of human development and family studies.

After an argument, in a newly chilly emotional climate, communication styles can be very important, he noted.

For the study, 98 same-sex couples kept a 14-day diary in which they recorded conflict and answered questions about how they had responded to it. For example, did they withdraw? Did they lash out? Did they blame the other person? Did they threaten to leave?

Or did they take a more positive approach? Did they persist in their attempts to communicate? Did they prioritize solving the problem? Answers to these questions predicted whether they were able to recognize that their partner was attempting to mend the relationship.

“When conflict occurred, it influenced the way persons rated their partner’s general efforts to work on their relationship. If partners withdrew or become contemptuous or critical, the bad feelings lingered, and that negative emotion dampened people’s ability to process or perceive their partner’s attempts to repair what was wrong between them,” Ogolsky said.

Some couples use conflict resolution strategies that cause those bad feelings to dissipate, he said.

“Hostile feelings don’t gain a foothold among constructive communicators — people who talk things out and work through the problem in a constructive manner. That’s a game changer for the way a couple’s relationship will develop,” he noted.

Ideally, conflict resolution begins soon after the conflict occurs.

Good problem solvers are able to engage with each other in the moment of conflict or shortly thereafter, he said.

“Taking a moment to regroup and gather your thoughts is never a bad thing, but be careful that the moment you take doesn’t turn into a longer period of avoidance, which allows the problem to fester,” Ogolsky said.

The study showed that people with constructive communication styles tend to form relationships with partners who are also good communicators.

“Communication is just one aspect of relationship maintenance, but it’s an important one,” he said.

“If you use effective strategies to manage conflicts on a daily basis when those conflicts are small, you’re likely to create a warmer emotional climate and have better outcomes.

“It’s important because when you feel negative toward your partner, you’re not paying attention to the efforts he or she is making. That’s a problem for you because you feel like your partner’s not investing in the relationship, but it’s also a problem for your partner because they may actually be doing positive things that you’re not noticing,” he said.

The study appears in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Source: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Young couple photo by shutterstock.
Young couple photo by shutterstock.

Seeing That Partner Is Reaching Out Is Key to Couples Success

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). Seeing That Partner Is Reaching Out Is Key to Couples Success. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 14 Oct 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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