They say relationships are hard work, but what, exactly, is a couple supposed to toil at? Buying each other more stuff? Giving each other more back-rubs? Paying someone to assemble their IKEA furniture so as to avoid the inevitable mid-Ektorp bloodshed?
A new paper suggests that the answer might be much easier: Just be optimistic about the future of your relationship. In a study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Edward Lemay, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, found people who predicted that they would be satisfied with their relationship in the future were more committed to their partners and treated them more kindly in the present-day.
To study this rosy-hued element of relationships, called “forecasted satisfaction,” Lemay performed a series of experiments. First, he had participants rank how highly they scored across a series of previously established metrics of relationship commitment: how satisfied they are currently; how much they’ve invested in the relationship already (such as buying a house together, for example); and how good they think the alternatives to their relationship are (essentially, whether they think they could do better). They also answered a questionnaire about their expectations for the future of the relationship, responding to questions like, “I expect that I will be happy with this relationship in the future.” It turned out their sunny predictions for the future correlated strongly with how committed they were, over and above those other factors.