Why do relationships lack depth these days

Partnership: The length of a relationship can be predicted

A good friend recently called me to tell me that her boyfriend had left her after half a year of relationship. During the affected silence that followed, a thought came to my mind that I had already had at the beginning of the relationship: "It won't last long."

She was in love directly, he was still hesitant. She wanted to see him every day, he insisted on regular time with friends. The expectations of a partnership were completely different. "Opposites attract," said my friend at the time when I cautiously raised my concerns.

Before she finally hung up with a sniff, six months later the sentence fell quietly: "If I had known that beforehand."

But is it really possible to predict the length of a human bond as complex as a partnership? A long-term study by researchers at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena and the University of Alberta in Canada examined exactly that and came to the conclusion: Yes, it is possible.

The relationship variables

Almost 2,000 couples were interviewed regularly over a period of seven years, 16 percent broke up over time. In the interviews, specific questions were asked about variables that the researchers used to predict the duration of the relationship.

For example: relationship satisfaction, number of conflicts, desire for a long-term relationship and the need for closeness or independence.

"We found that couples who split up are more dissatisfied at the beginning and have more conflicts. These conflicts increase over time. The desire for a long-term relationship decreases," says Dr. Christine Finn from the Institute for Psychology at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena.

Afterwards you are usually wiser - the end of the honeymoon phase comes quickly

Relationship models in psychology

From a psychological point of view, the development of a relationship can be described using different models.

Theory 1: At the beginning of the relationship, all couples experience a honeymoon phase in which they are equally satisfied.

A breakup can then be traced back to problems that arose during the relationship. Couples who stay together, on the other hand, have managed to establish long-term satisfaction from the honeymoon phase.

Theory 2: The two partners start at the beginning with a different level of happiness. The unequal starting situation increases the risk of failure because dissatisfaction continues to grow.

For couple therapist and single coach Eric Hegmann, the first few months together show a tendency for the course of the relationship. "Certainly there are couples who start with worse chances than others, where the differences are so much greater than the affection for one another. But most discover this in the first six months of being in love and then decide not to continue the phase of getting to know each other a relationship."

Accumulating distress

In the course of the study, the researchers found that the development of the relationship between the couples who broke up is more likely to be described by a hybrid of the two popular models.

Frequent arguments are bad conditions for a lasting relationship

"We called the model accumulating distress," says Finn. This means that if a couple often argues at the beginning of the relationship and the partners are unhappy, then the researchers were able to conclude that the relationship will not last long.

Because it doesn't get any better. In the course of the relationship, there are more and more conflicts, you distance yourself emotionally from the partner and finally the separation is the last resort.

Love as a cost-benefit calculation?

Now a deeper question arises: Would it have saved my friend from heartache to know whether the relationship would last long? Or does the knowledge that a relationship will not be long-term destroy potential partnerships?

"The desire to know early on whether the investment in the relationship and the partner will be worthwhile is understandable," says couples therapist Hegmann. Nevertheless, in his eyes it is not beneficial to regard love as a kind of cost-benefit calculation.

That would mean that I only want to date someone if the relationship will last for a long time, and not give a short-term relationship the chance to shape me personally through the experiences.

Christine Finn is also critical of this. "Just because not everyone starts with rose-colored glasses and everything is perfect at the beginning, but because you have to deal with problems and conflicts, a partnership like this is not wasted time."

Online couples trust each other more

According to Finn, the unbroken success of online dating platforms shows that the need to have a partnership is stronger than ever. Said dating portals are said to be superficial despite finely calibrated algorithms that are supposed to identify the supposedly perfect partner.

With Tinder, for example, the user decides on average within a few seconds on the basis of an image whether to "match" the person by swiping to the right or never to see the person again by swiping to the left.

Love at first click? Online dating is surprisingly easy and successful

Even so, online couples can also develop closer emotional bonds. According to a Parship study from 2016, online couples are 96 percent ready to confide in their innermost feelings, while offline couples are only 76 percent willing.

In addition, only two percent of the online couples stated that they regularly quarrel with their partner, while 27 percent of the offline couples regularly flew the scraps.

Learn from conflict

According to couples therapist Hegmann, many couples give away the potential to learn from conflicts and grow together. "With professional support, many relationships could definitely be saved. For many, it would surely be astonishing to learn how well couples can lead a happy relationship, even with great differences."

Nevertheless, there is a situation in which even couples therapy can no longer help. "From my point of view, couples who cannot be rescued are those in whom one partner has already terminated the relationship and can no longer be reached," says Hegmann.

Also read: Emotional affair - cheating without sex

Proximity and space are most important

In addition to finding out which couples will split up, the long-term study also showed which couples have the greatest chance of a long and happy relationship beyond the honeymoon phase.

It is the couples who share the desire for emotional closeness, but also the need to develop individually. "Even if we did not specifically capture the aspect of communication, the results show that it is very important to clearly communicate your own needs to the partner in order to work together on the relationship," says Finn.

So next time I speak to my girlfriend, I will advise her to see the failed relationship as a lesson rather than a waste of time, and to look for someone who needs just as much closeness and attention as she does next time.

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