Trust and Perceived Variability in Romantic Relationships

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jeffry A. Simpson, Ph.D.

Professor and Director of Doctoral Minor in Interpersonal Relationships
University of Minnesota

Little is known about how temporal fluctuations of relationship perceptions within individuals are related to relationship processes that destabilize relationships, or why some people experience larger fluctuations. We addressed these issues in three studies. In Study 1, long-term dating partners completed a 14-day diary that assessed each partner’s daily partner and relationship perceptions. Each couple was then videotaped trying to resolve the most important unresolved problem during the diary period. We examined whether: (a) individuals who trusted their partners less reported greater variability in daily relationship perceptions; (b) greater variability in relationship perceptions predicted more self-reported distress, more negative behavior, and less positive behavior during the conflict resolution task; and (c) individuals who trusted their partners less behaved less positively and more negatively during the conflict task. These same predictions were then tested in a second 21-day diary study involving cohabiting couples. In Study 3, the cohabiting couples also completed a lexical decision task designed to examine how larger fluctuations affect information processing. The findings will be discussed in terms of how temporal fluctuations in perceptions of partners/relationships may undermine relationships.

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