After the combo of Christmas and Valentine’s Day, you may be delighted that we’re between gift-giving holidays. But for me, even though the spending has lulled, my thoughts often wander towards the topic of the perfect gift.
In a previous post, a colleague suggested that instead of traditional, material gifts, partners may be better served to use their skills to provide a needed service. For example, “fixing an iPhone app or helping to solve a problem that you are having from work” would go a long way as a testament of esteem and affection. As it turns out, her suggestion of providing helpful behaviors to your partner may not only be an effective strategy for the holidays, but one that rings true all year long.
In a recent set of studies, psychologists found that relationship partners may actually use helpful behaviors, like finding a partner’s lost keys or running a loved one’s errands, as a form of “relationship insurance.”1 Just like Geico, Progressive, or State Farm, such behaviors are designed to protect against the loss of something valuable– your relationship.
Generally speaking, people seek closeness when they feel that others will be responsive to their needs.2 Feeling valued by our partners gives us the confidence to trust that we are in good hands. Just like with traditional insurance, however, there may be times when we feel vulnerable and need to seek out supplemental assurances that everything will be just fine.
As it turns out, when people begin to question whether they are “bringing as much to the table” as their partner, they automatically engage in behaviors designed to demonstrate their value or worth. By organizing schedules, preparing meals, or repairing broken items, individuals are providing tangible benefits that serve to make them practically indispensible to their partner.
Ingenious, right? Although it may not be all that romantic, one way to ensure that your significant other stays committed to your relationship is to strategically engage in behaviors that prove just how invaluable you are and just how difficult it would be for your partner to live without you.
Different personal and relationship factors may trigger feeling of inferiority within a relationship. However, across the couples studied, the outcome was the same. These feelings led to behaviors designed to provide instrumental benefits, which served to increase a partner’s dependence on and commitment to their relationship. Although it may be months until the next major present-giving holiday, you just might find that it isn’t all that long before you or your partner engage in a little supplemental “gifting” for the good of your relationship!
1Murray, S. L., Aloni, M., Holmes, J. G., Derrick, J. L., Stinson, D. A., & Leder, S. (2009). Fostering partner dependence as trust insurance: The implicit contingencies of the exchange script in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 324-348.
2Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G., & Collins, N. L. (2006). Optimizing assurance: The risk regulation system in relationships. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 641-666.
Dr. Sadie Leder – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Leder’s research focuses on how people balance their desires for closeness and protection against rejection, specifically during partner selection, goal negotiation within established romantic relationships, and the experience of romantic love, hurt feelings, and relationship rekindling.