Relationships, in which one of the partners places too much emotional weight on another one, are more likely to undergo unnecessary strain, and even be destroyed. This is what psychologists call relationship-contingent self-esteem (RCSE) and, according to University of Houston scientists, this unhealthy factor can cause uncomfortable situations that do more harm than good in romantic relationships.
People who have high levels of RCSE are extremely committed to their relationships, but at the same time they put themselves at an increased risk of becoming devastated even when a relatively minor event happens to go wrong, explained Chip Knee, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston and director of the University's Interpersonal Relations and Motivation Research Group. Too much of the wrong kind of commitment can actually destroy a relationship, Knee said.
According to the experts, RCSE can cause a serious depression and anxieties during quite common relationship-based incidents such as arguments, brief spats over unimportant matters or a critique of a partner's personality or looks. RCSE also can lead to manic and obsessive behaviors with regard to love and put a person at an increased risk of developing serious mood swings and changes after a breakup, separation, divorce or threats to a relationship. Identifying the condition in the early stages of a relationship can prevent undesired negative consequences or help partners understand that they might be not compatible with each other.
In their study, titled "Relationship-Contingent Self-Esteem - The Ups and Downs of Romantic Relationships," Knee with a group of colleagues analyzed the impact of relationship-contingent self-esteem among nearly 200 heterosexual college students in a series of studies. One of them included a two-week diary experiment in which the participants were asked to recall the most positive and negative events that took place in their romantic relationships. In addition, all the students had to rate how they felt about themselves and their relationships.
The results of this particular study showed that individuals who had stronger levels of RCSE felt worse about themselves during unpleasant and unhappy moments in their relationships. It is as if it does not make any difference why the negative event happened or whose fault it was, but the partners with higher RCSE levels still felt bad about themselves, Knee said. Such people are also prone to express more emotional reactions to relationship-based occurrences, researcher added. For example, instead of taking some quiet time in order to think over and analyze a situation and figuring out how to handle it in a best way, those with RCSE react immediately and impulsively. When something goes wrong in a relationship, they do not separate themselves from it, but on the contrary, immediately feel personally responsible for any negative event which, in turn, triggers anxiety, more depression and hostility.
The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.