The term “love” can often be used as a synonym for a feeling of euphoria, yet the reality is that love is not simplistic, nor is it binary. It encompasses a great range of emotions and interactions between two people who may or may not be able to create a lasting bond. But how does a couple decide whether they are meant to be together or if the relationship should come to an end? New research suggests that our perception of romantic partners’ characteristics influences our evaluation of their suitability in a relationship, and this has important implications for sustainable love.
Some traditional theories have suggested that humans automatically prioritize certain traits which indicate suitability as a partner. However, this notion is challenged by recent studies, which first proposed that romantic judgments involve both an emotional component and a cognitive component. For example, men and women tend to prioritize different features in a potential partner—such as physical attractiveness or financial stability—depending on the type of relationship they wish to pursue. This means that a cursory assessment of a significant other’s traits, such as gender and age, may predispose them to making a particular kind of judgment.
In assessing a well-suited partner, humans also account for compatibility. The more that couples share in common, the more likely they are to form a meaningful connection through increased understanding, communicated values, and shared interests. Prior research also noted that for a successful union, physical attraction is a necessity, as is an emotional connection between you as an individual and your partner. Furthermore, a suitable match often consists of two emotionally stable partners who are willing to cooperate in order to make their relationship work.
These considerations are further supported by a new theory which may shed light on the parameters by which partners assess one another’s suitability. The theory, known as the Attraction Evaluation Model, proposes that our romantic judgments involve both a degree of perplexity (based on our surprise or lack thereof at a partner’s specific traits) and burstiness (our response to sudden or unexpected changes in attributes). According to the model, couples engage in a constant cycle of assessment and reassessment in order to assess and reaffirm whether a union is compatible and satisfying.
Most importantly, this theory highlights the role of anticipation. While it may seem that quickly judging a partner's ability to fulfill our needs is an initial phase in determining whether a relationship will last, this process in fact relies on a deeper exploration of a partner's qualities. Rather than simply selecting a partner based on our first prediction of their capacity to provide what we desire, this new theory stresses the importance of anticipating a partner’s qualities and investing in their growth in order to sustain a successful relationship.
If this theory holds true, it suggests that the healthiest couples will prioritize examining the unique range of qualities their partner possesses, rather than simply looking for someone who meets their personal criteria. It further points to the essentiality of unconditional love and acceptance in creating a successful union. Indeed, this theory underscores the need to cultivate self-awareness and compassion in order to discover your ideal partner and nurture a substantial relationship.
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