In the 26th installment of SAGE’s Relationship Matters podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, Katlyn Gangi (formerly Roggensack) talks about her research on honesty in relationships.
Gangi, now a PhD student in the Department of Communication at the University of California in Santa Barbara, conducted the research with Dr. Alan Sillars while at the University of Montana.
The researchers were interested in the assumptions people have regarding what honesty and deception means to romantic partners. Gangi explains on the podcast,
We don’t go into relationships blindly without any expectations of how others will act…we have rules for all sorts of things…and these rules help create structure and predictability in our relationships…Rules about honesty and deception though are kind of in a class of their own…Often people only start talking about these things once a rule is perceived to be broken…Somebody does something that doesn’t meet up to your expectations or surprises you or upsets you and then you say, ‘Hey, why did you do that? I thought that these were the expectations in our relationship and it seems like you think something different’.”
The team started out with an explorative study that produced a long list of rules people in relationships have about honesty and deception. Then, for the main study, couple members sat down individually with the list of rules and indicated which ones they adhered to and which ones they believed their romantic partners followed. Specifically, the researchers wanted to know if people were able to accurately predict their partners’ rules and how that level of understanding or misunderstanding relates to conflict in the relationship and to overall relationship satisfaction.
People thought that they agreed on rules for honesty and deception much more than they actually did. In particular, people overestimated the extent to which they understood their partner’s beliefs. Additionally, when asked how confident people were about their understanding of their partners’ beliefs, people who were very confident had just as little an understanding of their partners’ beliefs as everyone else. In other words, people thought they knew how their partner viewed honesty, but they were very wrong.
The researchers went on to note some striking findings for those in committed relationships. Gangi explains, “In more committed relationships, we found that partners adopted less flexible rules…They assume greater agreement about these rules and they are more confident about how well they know their partner, but the consensus on agreement on these rules is no greater than in less committed relationships.” So, basically, it seems that the degree of commitment in a relationship may be related to an even greater false confidence in believing that one understands a partner’s way of thinking.
Roggensack, K. E., & Sillars, A. (in press). Agreement and understanding about honesty and deception rules in romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, doi: 10.1177/0265407513489914