Seven Signs of Relationship (Dis)Satisfaction

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‘love’ and ‘commitment’, the words ‘relationship satisfaction’ are unlikely to
strike fear into the heart of the unreconstructed man (or reconstructed woman).
But once a relationship has become long-term, although we still talk about love
and commitment, in some ways it’s satisfaction that comes to the forefront.
Indeed, low satisfaction is an important predictor of relationship breakdown.
So, what factors have psychologists found are important in how satisfied we are
with our relationships?

satisfaction has been measured at both cognitive and behavioural levels
(Fincham & Beach, 2006). Here are the main behaviours important in
Support behaviour. The giving and receiving of supportive behaviour has not
only been found to affect relationship satisfaction but also general health
The negative loop. One of the signatures of a dissatisfied couple is the
negative loop. This is where you start off commenting on the lack of milk in
the fridge and end up trading full-scale character assassinations.

Demand-withdrawal pattern. Another signature of the dissatisfied couple is the
demand-withdrawal pattern: you wonder out-loud about a visit to the in-laws,
they turn the TV up. The stereotype is that women demand and men withdraw, but
who wants to be stereotyped?
here are some of the main cognitions (thoughts) that are important:

Unrealistic beliefs. She’s not stubborn. She’s determined and principled. He’s
not lazy. He’s laidback, chilled out. It may seem strange to say that
‘cognitive distortions’ and ‘unrealistic beliefs’ are associated with
relationship satisfaction. But, as long as your reinterpretations of what
others might consider flaws are positive, then unrealistic beliefs can be very
good for your relationship.

Attribution patterns. Was she late from work ‘just this once’ for reasons
beyond her control? Or, is this sort of thing always happening and she could
just as easily make it home if she tried? Attributions are the reasons we
attach to our own and other’s behaviour, what we see as its cause. Patterns of
attributions which paint partners in a good light are associated with
relationship satisfaction.

Partner and ideal standards discrepancies. Guaranteed dissatisfaction: I want
Angelina Jolie. I will accept no substitute.

Memory. Satisfaction is associated with feeling your relationship has improved
in recent times.
yes or no?

it seems obvious that relationship satisfaction should be a sliding scale, say,
from 1 to 10. But, what some of the evidence suggests is that it might be just
yes or no. Many of the processes important for relationship satisfaction tend
to operate in self-reinforcing loops. So that if you start to become
dissatisfied, for example, by a change in attributional patterns, things
rapidly go from bad to worse.

or not relationships can really be put into two categories, it certainly makes
for an entertaining game while you’re out people watching: them? No, not
satisfied. Those two? Yes, satisfied.

you rush off to practice your attributional processes or work on your
demand-withdrawal patterns, it’s useful to know some limitations of this
of these findings are based on research carried out in the US meaning it might
not generalise to the rest of the world.

studies are based on self-report data. Psychologists are acutely aware of the
fact that people don’t always tell the truth, or even know what’s going on in
their own heads, but sometimes there’s no alternative. Flawed understanding is
better than ignorance (just).

glaring omission is any mention of emotion in relationship satisfaction. While
emotion is clearly important, Fincham & Beach report the research on emotion
has been contradictory.
the author

Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in
psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in

has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also
the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and
several ebooks.

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.