Partnership: the length of a relationship can be predicted

Eternal love or hopeless intermezzo? Already at the beginning it becomes clear who will stay together in the long run. But do you even want to know?

Symbolic separation

Recently, a good friend 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 that I had already had at the beginning of the relationship came to my mind: "This won’t last long."

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

Six months later, before she finally hung up sniffling, she quietly said: "If I had known that beforehand."

But is it really possible to predict the duration of such a complex human bond as a partnership?? ALong-term study by researchers at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany, and the University of Alberta in Canada investigated just that and concluded: Yes, it is possible.

The relationship variables

Nearly 2,000 couples were interviewed regularly over a seven-year period, and 16 percent broke up over time. In the interviews, researchers were asked specifically about variables they used to make their predictions about relationship duration.

For example: relationship satisfaction, number of conflicts, desire for long-term relationship and the need for closeness resp. Independence.

"We’ve found: Couples who are going to break up are already more dissatisfied at the beginning and have more conflicts. These conflicts multiply over time. The desire for a long-term relationship is on the decline", says Dr. Christine Finn from the Institute of Psychology at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany.

A young couple in bed has problems and crisis

Afterwards, you’re usually wiser – the end of the honeymoon phase comes quickly

Relationship models of psychology

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

Theory 1: All couples experience a honeymoon phase at the beginning of the relationship 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 the satisfaction from the honeymoon phase over the long term.

Theory 2: The two partners start with different levels of happiness right from the beginning. The uneven starting point increases the risk of failure as dissatisfaction grows and grows.

For couples therapist and singles coach Eric Hegmann, the first few months together show a tendency for the relationship to progress. "Certainly there are couples who start out with worse odds than others, where the differences are so significantly greater than the affection for each other. But most discover this in the first six months of the infatuation phase and then just do not decide to continue the getting-to-know-you phase into a relationship."

Accumulating Distress

In the course of the study, the researchers found that the development of the relationship of the couples who broke up can be described more by a hybrid of the two common models.

Symbolic image - quarrel

Frequent quarreling is a poor prerequisite for a lasting relationship

"We called the model Accumulating Distress", says Finn. This means that if a couple already quarrels often at the beginning of the relationship and the partners are unhappy, then the researchers could conclude that the relationship will not last long.

Because it does not get better. In the course of the relationship, there are more and more conflicts, you become emotionally distant from your partner and finally separation is the last resort.

Love as a cost-benefit calculation?

Now a deeper question arises: would it have saved my girlfriend from heartbreak to know if the relationship will 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 couple therapist Hegmann. Nevertheless, in his eyes, it is not beneficial to view love as a kind of cost-benefit calculation.

Because that would then mean that I only want to date someone if the relationship is going to last, and not give a short-term relationship the chance to shape me personally through the experience.

Christine Finn also sees this critically. "Just because not everyone starts out with rose-colored glasses and everything is perfect at the beginning, but you have to deal with problems and conflicts, doesn’t mean that a partnership is a waste of time."

Online couples trust each other more

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

On Tinder, for example, the user decides within a few seconds on average, based on a picture, whether to "match" the person by swiping to the right Or never want to see each other again with a swipe to the left.

Online Dating

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

Nevertheless, online couples can also build a closer emotional bond. According to a 2016 Parship study, online couples are 96 percent willing to confide their innermost feelings, compared to only 76 percent for offline couples.

In addition, only two percent of online couples said they regularly argued with their partner, while 27 percent of offline couples had regular fights.

Learning from conflicts

According to couple therapist Hegmann, many couples give away the potential to learn from conflicts and grow together. "With professional support, many relationships would be quite salvageable. It would certainly be amazing for many to learn how well couples lead a happy relationship even with big differences."

Nevertheless, there is a situation in which even couples therapy can no longer help, he says. "From my perspective, unsalvageable couples are those where one partner has already called it quits and is no longer available", says Hegmann.

Closeness and space most important

But in addition to learning which couples will break up, the long-term study also showed which couples have the greatest chance of having 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 though we didn’t specifically cover the aspect of communication, the results nevertheless show that it is very important to clearly communicate one’s own needs to one’s partner in order to work together on the relationship.", says Finn.

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

A black swan follows a pedal boat in the shape of a swan (picture-alliance/dpa/F. Gentsch)

Love is blind and does not rust

Where love falls

The idiom, rather a semi-sentence heavy with meaning, is aimed at a relationship that seems odd, or that you don’t think has a chance of a happy future. A black swan from Munster became known nationwide in 2007 because he had fallen in love with a pedal boat. Well, where love falls.

Cars next to a warning sign with the inscription: Love makes you blind. Please drive slowly. Amphibian migration season (picture-alliance/dpa/V. Dornberger)

Love is blind and does not rust

Love makes blind

Of course, lovers don’t really go blind, but anyone who’s ever had a crush knows: you’re pretty uncritical of the person you love. One floats in the seventh heaven, sees everything positively. Weaknesses or unpleasant character traits are not even noticed. Love also makes animals blind, like the frogs that blindly set out to spawn.

Lady and the Tramp (picture-alliance/dpa)

Love is blind and does not rust

Love goes through the stomach

From time immemorial, it has been seen as a proof of love when a man/woman stands in the kitchen and whips up a delicious menu for hours, or bakes their favorite cake. An invitation to your favorite Italian restaurant around the corner will do, of course, because delicious food triggers feelings of happiness.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Rain)

Love is blind and does not rust

Old love does not rust

Even the ancient Romans knew: "vetus amor non sentit rubiginem", old love knows no rust. Familiarity, a shared past: a couple that has been together in love for a long time, but perhaps also an old childhood love that persists in the heart. By the way, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip have been married since 1947.

Woman makes air jump (BilderBox)

Love is blind and does not rust

Living on air and love

This saying fits young luck and describes people who are in love but have little money. It seems as if one lives on the air to breathe and the butterflies in the stomach.

Losers at the poker table (picture-alliance/Chromorange/A. Gravante)

Love is blind and does not rust

Unlucky at play, lucky in love

It’s a well-known saying, but where it actually comes from, no one really knows. With the saying one comforts losers.

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