How do you know if your relationship is built to last?
Maybe you’ve been there—you meet someone, you fall hard, everything seems to be going so well, and then, like a failing EKG on House, things slowly…die. You see each other less. Texts linger unreturned. If you’re lucky, you have “the talk.” If you’re not so lucky, you just wonder what’s going on for a few months. Ugh.
Perhaps to steel ourselves against such disappointments, daters of a certain age learn to speak tentatively about newfound love. “It’s too soon to tell,” we demur. “It’s great, but I don’t know where it’s going,” we sigh. Couples who have been together for months or years can also have similar questions, and might feel like they are languishing in a plateau of togetherness that lacks a clear future. While some people are unperturbed by relational vagueness, other people (ahem, me), are usually dying to know whether this is “it,” or whether they’ll have to get back out there next year.
How can you know if your relationship has staying power? Before I say anything more, go ahead and take Today’s Relationship Quiz.* If you’ve participated in the earlier quizzes in this series, then you know the drill. The quiz will help you measure a key “predictive ingredient,” and at the end, it will give you a score and some feedback about your relationship. Once you’re done, come on back and keep reading. (Your responses will be more natural if you haven’t read the whole article.)
Welcome back! As you likely deduced, today I am focusing on that third relationship ingredient with intriguing forecasting abilities: love. (See here and here to catch up on the first two.) These abilities are quite interesting when you think about it, since we don’t always think of love as the most stable of emotions. Many people seem to fall in love and then out again, or even worse, might love a partner who stops loving them. Such experiences can make love look fickle and untrustworthy.
While such experience are undeniable, there is reason to believe that measuring your love at any point in a dating relationship is actually a more reliable “staying power indicator” than we give it credit for. To understand why, let’s consider the predictive power of love in two scenarios: short-term and long-term love.
If you’ve just started dating, then you’ll be glad to hear of a study that used “love scores” (like the one you just got if you took my quiz) culled from new couples in the first month of their relationships to predict who would break up by month three. Surprisingly, these early scores made that prediction with 74% accuracy!1 That’s 3 out of 4 statuses properly predicted…not bad for the first month. The love scores from the second month of the study were even better; accurately predicting which couples would split up by month three 85% of the time.
In the same study, love scores also trended up a bit between the first and second month for couples who were still going strong in month three, but dipped a bit for couples who would break things off by the 90-day mark. Obviously the amount of love in a relationship matters, but it was surprising to me that it could predict break-up so early in relationships, at the stage when people may believe it’s “too early to tell.”
Notably, the researchers behind this study were not able to use those early love scores to forecast which couples would make it to the first anniversary. While other relationship scientists have foretold such statuses twelve months out, their participating couples had already been together a year or more.2,3,4 So much can change or come to light in the first twelve months of dating relationships, from a cross-country move for work to the discovery of a drinking problem or anger issue, that short-term predictions may be the best we can do with “early” love scores.
If you’ve been together for a while, however, you’ll be cheered by the results of one huge analysis of 33,000 people in longer-term relationships. After measuring the impact of a few dozen factors that could affect a couple’s staying power (e.g., conflict, personality, social network support), and then checking back months or years later to see who was still together, researchers identified only three factors with a “large predictive effect” on staying together: love, commitment, and positive illusions.5 (For more on all three, see the Top 3 Predictors of Successful Relationships.)
Since today’s subject is love, I must explain what love did to have so large an effect on the ultimate destiny of those 33,000 daters. To understand the answer, let’s consider the opposite situation. If love had no effect whatsoever on the outcome of all those dating relationships, then we should find a similar range of “love scores” among people who ultimately break up and people who stay together. But the scores of those two groups were not very similar. In fact, they were pretty different. Here’s an extremely scientific little visual I whipped up in Paint to demonstrate:
As you can see, the two groups’ love scores only overlapped by about 50%. So, okay, that does mean that some people on the lower end of the “stayed together” group scored the same as people on the higher end of the “broke up” group. But the overall trend is noteworthy. Higher love today means you are much more likely to stay together for the next several months or years. In statistician-speak, the broke-up group’s love scores were almost one standard deviation lower than the love scores of the stay-together group (d=-0.85), which qualifies for a large effect size.6 Not small or medium. Large…which frankly isn’t all that common in social science research.
In short, how much you love your partner matters. It matters even if you’ve just started dating, and it matters if you’ve been together for a long time. Whether your love is palpable or tepid, it says something about where you’re going. And for most people, lots of love means staying power and a shared future.
Did you miss the earlier posts in this series?
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*Editors’ note: This quiz is part of an informal project on great relationships conducted by contributor
Melissa Schneider, LMSW, and is not supervised or conducted by ScienceOfRelationships.com,
other contributors, or the academic institutions affliliated with other contributors.
1Fletcher, G., Thomas, G., & Simpson, J. (2000). Ideals, perceptions, and evaluations in early relationship development. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(6), 933-940.
2Van Lange, P. A. M., Rusbult, C. E., Drigotas, S. M., Arriaga, X. B., Witcher, B., S., & Cox, C. L. (1997). Willingness to sacrifice in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 1373-1395.
3Murray, S. L., & Holmes, J. G. (1997). A leap of faith? Positive illusions in romantic relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 586-604.
4Lund, M. (1985). The development of investment and commitment scales for predicting continuity of personal relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2, 3-23.
5Le, B., Dove, N., Agnew, C., Korn, M., Mutso, A. (2010). Predicting nonmarital relationship dissolution: A meta-analytic synthesis. Personal Relationships, 17, 377-390.
6Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates.
Melissa Schneider – Science Of Relationships articles | Website
Melissa is a licensed Dating and Relationships Counselor and the Co-Founder of LuvWise.com. Follow her blog or connect on Twitter. Take her free relationship test or work with her to get over that breakup and learn how to build your own great relationship, right from the very first date– find out how.
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