There are few things sexier than a bunch of scientists sitting in a lab, analysing the factors that can make relationships go wrong.
So break out the candles and the dark chocolate — things are about to get really romantic.
A new study, led by psychologists at the University of Tennessee, found there’s a deadly combination of characteristics that predict relationship dissatisfaction: sensitivity to rejection and the tendency to cut off your partner emotionally.
For the study, which was cited on Psychology Today, researchers had 217 undergrads who were in exclusive relationships, most of whom were freshmen and female, fill out a series of surveys.
One survey measured rejection anxiety, with prompts such as, “You ask your boyfriend/girlfriend if he/she really loves you. How concerned would you be over whether your boyfriend/girlfriend would say yes?”
Another survey measured a characteristic called “differentiation of self,” which refers to your ability to balance independence from and dependence on your partner. One component of self-differentiation is emotional cutoff, or your tendency to distance yourself from others to appear independent.
Finally, the researchers measured the participants’ satisfaction with their current relationships. Participants had to indicate their agreement with statements like, “My relationship with my partner makes me happy.”
Previous research had found that people who were more sensitive to rejection were less satisfied in their relationships — and that’s exactly what the current study suggests. But the researchers on the current study went a step further, looking at the role that self-differentiation played in the link between rejection sensitivity and relationship satisfaction.
Sure enough, they found that high rejection sensitivity predicted low relationship satisfaction through low self-differentiation, specifically through emotional cutoff.
In other words, people who are really worried about getting hurt might distance themselves from their partners emotionally, which ends up making the relationship less satisfying in the long run. You effectively sabotage your own chances at happiness.
The researchers acknowledge that this study has a number of limitations — most notably that the study was conducted on college students. Since college is a time when the struggle for independence is particularly salient, the same findings might not apply in the general population.
Moreover, the researchers can’t say for sure that rejection sensitivity and emotional cutoff directly cause relationship dissatisfaction — it might work the other way around. But the researchers note that rejection sensitivity often begins in childhood, so it’s unlikely that it’s merely a product of an unsatisfying romance.
Still, these findings do support the idea that you often create what you fear. You can be so worried about getting burned that you’re not fully present in the relationship, which makes it harder to get close to the other person.
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