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Self-Determination and Relationships

Researchers performed a study that might show making sacrifices, big and small, for your partner because you want to rather than because you feel obligated to, can result in feeling happier about your relationship.

To answer one of the most common conundrums of romantic relationships, Patrick asked 266 men and women in relationships to document either their own or their partner's pro-relationship behaviors (PRB) for two weeks. Pro-relationship behavior can be any sacrifice or accommodation made out of consideration for one's partner or one's relationship.

Patrick found that partners who engaged in PRB because they wanted to -- not because they felt pressured or obligated to -- were more satisfied in their relationships, more committed to them, and felt closer to their mates following PRB experiences.

But she also found that people who simply perceived that their partners engaged in PRB because they wanted to were also more satisfied and committed to their relationship after a partner's PRB.

Patrick says her research has practical applications. She sees it being used for individual and couples therapy. She says this new information gives couples and psychology professionals insight into why some relationships aren't fulfilling even when everything looks OK on the surface.

My question is, are they feeling more committed and more satisfied because they voluntarily performed these PRBs or is it the other way around - are they more likely to engage in voluntary PRB because they already are satisfied and committed to their partner? How do you know what is the cause and what is the effect? The article doesn't specify how exactly they measured a couple's level of commitment after each PRB experience.

This last part of the article i totally agree with, though, and it's not about picking up your dirty socks from the living room floor.

Along with Patrick, Ryan, who is a professor of psychology, psychiatry and education, and Deci, the Gowen Professor in the Social Sciences, a fourth Rochester researcher, Dr. Geoffrey Williams, associate professor of medicine at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, will present at the conference. He will unveil new findings that demonstrate patient involvement in a quit plan leads to smokers who are more motivated to quit because they genuinely want to, not because they are being nagged or bullied into kicking the habit. Williams said the method has also proved successful for patients managing diabetes, weight loss, and dental care.

Both Patrick's and Williams' research illustrates the crux of Self-Determination Theory: A self-motivated person derives more satisfaction in completing a given task, and is more likely to do it well.

You can't make people change if they don't want to.

By min | May 29, 2007, 2:55 PM | Science