“Will you be my Valentine?” – Is That the Right Question to Be Asking?
It’s February and Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching. Many people may be seeking that one special person to spend it with. The question, “Will you be my Valentine” can be heard in the air, and whether you’re asking a brand new love or a long-term partner, the question can evoke feelings both of romantic uncertainty and possibility. But for the well-being of ourselves and our relationships, “Will you be my Valentine?” may be the wrong question. Instead, the more important question to ask is “Should you be my Valentine?”
Relationships can be one of the most important sources of happiness in your life. So, not surprisingly, human beings are generally highly motivated to form and maintain relationships. After all, the future of humankind depends on people coupling up to conceive and raise the next generation. But because of this drive to form relationships, being in any relationship can seem better than being alone. A variety of factors can lure us into relationship complacency – compatibility, friendship, shared interests, comfort, fear of being single, or low expectations. The drive to be paired off may lead you to settle for the relationship you have, instead of the relationship you deserve.
Figuring out whether your relationship is thriving or merely surviving can be overwhelming. In the hunt for “the one,” how can you know for sure if your partner is the type of person who’s best for you and your long-term happiness or just a crutch? Luckily there are scientists who study relationships and have determined factors to consider when weighing whether your partner should be your Valentine.
Greener Grass No one wants to settle. We all want to be with the best possible partner. When dating, how often do you find yourself wondering if you could do better? Is there someone out there for you whom you may find more interesting and enjoyable, smarter or funnier? Does your current partner pale in comparison with what else might be out there? Researchers call these perceptions of other possible partners your quality of alternatives. Psychologists measure your perceived quality of alternatives by assessing responses to statements such as “If I weren’t dating my partner, I would do fine – I would find another appealing person to date.”
Agreeing with this kind of statement and believing you have high-quality alternatives may sound desirable because you have confidence in yourself and your ability to attract a good partner. However, thinking about and monitoring other partners’ qualities can undermine your present relationship’s stability. This type of decreased commitment to whom you’re currently with increases the likelihood of cheating. Ultimately, you should be in a relationship where you don’t even notice any other greener grass because you’re with someone whom you think is the best for you, and who thinks you’re the best for him or her.
Building a Better You Relationships provide a lot of benefits. Someone to share your Netflix account with, to talk with about your day, to take care of you when you’re not feeling well. A good relationship also provides a partner who helps you become a better person. Researchers refer to this experience as self-expansion. It’s your relationship’s ability to provide you with opportunities for self-growth. Whether you learn a new skill or hobby, develop a new perspective on politics, gain a new identity such as “organic gardener” or simply feel like a better, more capable person, self-expansion has benefits.
Relationships that include more self-expansion are more satisfying, more committed, have higher levels of passionate love, experience less boredom, and have partners who are less likely to stray.
Given the potential consequences of being stuck in a rut, less passionate love and more cheating, if your partner is not helping build a better you, it may be time for a better partner.
Opinions of Others in Your Inner Circle Do Matter Who is the best judge of your relationship’s future? You, or your friends and family? In a quest to find out the answer, researchers asked people in romantic relationships to predict their relationship’s future and compared their predictions to those made by a close friend and by a family member. The daters thought their own relationship would last two to three times longer than what their friends and family anticipated. And people rated their own relationships as significantly better than how others saw them from the outside.
Parents, perhaps because their own relationship experiences gave them insight into what to look for, were most likely to identify problems. Friends made the most accurate predictions, but it was the person in the relationship who was most confident in the assessment they made about their own relationship.
Consider that for a second – when thinking about our own relationship, this research suggests that we are highly confident in our predictions, which are often inaccurate. Give your friends and family some credit, because they may have unique insights into your relationship. After all, they’re looking out for your best interests and have a greater ability to see the relationship clearly and objectively without getting swayed by the emotions and attraction you likely have for your partner. When in doubt, ask the people in your life who care about you whether your partner really should be your Valentine.
Knowing whether you are with the best possible partner for you is difficult. While many of us get driver’s education and sex education in high school, we don’t get “relationships ed.” But learning what science has to say about what makes for a good relationship can help. Being informed ultimately helps us make better decisions about whether to stay or go. After all, not being part of a sappy couple during the chocolates-and-flowers Valentine’s hoopla is hardly the end of the world – especially if it means you’re ready to find the relationship you should have, according to science.