Love and co-operation

By definition “co-operation” is working or acting together for the common benefit. The problem of course is that it is not all that common at all, at least in society at large. You would expect though that in a romantic partnership co-operation would be a more common phenomenon than in the wider society. Long term partnerships need an amount of co-operation if they are to survive. With this in mind some researchers decided to investigate how this co-operation affects the emotions of romantic partners.

In a romantic relationship co-operation comes down to having the ability to work things out with your partner, while achieving mutually beneficial outcomes. There has to be compromise in that process so what is the emotional outcome of that adjustment?

The researchers in this study found that during high mutual levels of co-operation with a romantic partner, men typically experience an “inphase” response to their partner’s emotions. That is, if the woman in the relationship is feeling more positive, the man will feel more positive. If she feels less positive, he will feel less positive. By contrast, women experience an “antiphase” pattern during co-operation, so if her partner is feeling more positive a woman will tend to feel less positive, and vice versa.

The researchers gave the example of a situation where a woman emerges from a department store fitting room and asks her husband what he thinks of a new item of clothing. He says that he likes it hoping the shopping can be finished. The likelihood is that the man’s enthusiasm won’t be enough and the woman will want to try on some more items.

Research shows that women generally tend to co-operate more, while men often try to avoid conflict. Thus, men might be subconsciously syncing their emotions with their partners’ emotion during co-operation in an effort to avoid conflict or reach a speedy resolution. Women may pick up on this and think the man is not really as positive as he seems and so become less positive herself in an attempt to get at his real feelings and reach a more mutually satisfying resolution.

It’s a tangled emotional web, but then, no-one said relationships are easy.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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