LIFE

Comparing Yourself With Your Partner Can Actually Enhance Your Relationship

For better and for worse.

07/11/2016 6:12 AM AEDT | Updated 07/11/2016 6:33 AM AEDT
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We're all different. Let's appreciate that.

Consider this: you've been in a relationship for twelve months and things are looking steady. Feeling a little too comfortable, your mind may start to wander and you find yourself comparing your relationship with that of your best friend's friend's sister -- or your current partner with one from your past.

Drawing comparisons between couples never ends well. But what about comparing your partner to yourself? Research tells us this follows a different -- and more useful -- path.

It seems that there is something that is cognitively happening around the expansion from the self to the partner and your relationship.

We know what you're thinking. So, The Huffington Post Australia has enlisted the help of Dr Rebecca Pinkus, lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Sydney, to explain her research.

"The typical reaction to comparisons is that people experience self-evaluative contrast. They feel bad about the self after being outperformed, and they feel good about the self after outperforming another person," Dr Pinkus told Huffpost Australia.

"When the person they are comparing to is their romantic partner, another set of responses seem to come into play. Rather than thinking only of the self, they also think about their partner and their relationship."

"In fact, it seems like it is a benefit to the longevity of the relationship."

Pinkus' research weighs in on close, committed relationships -- not newly-blossomed ones -- and explores how individuals balance concerns about the self with those of the relationship itself. Common reactions to illustrate her findings include feeling proud of your partner when they succeed and feeling their burden when they perform poorly.

"It seems that there is something that is cognitively happening around the expansion from the self to the partner," Pinkus said.

"It's not just about me and my successes and/or failures. 'We-ness' might be one reason why people empathise with their partner and think about outcomes for the 'team' instead of just the individual."

Nick David
Appreciating your partner's strengths does not mean you need to discount your own.

What about me?

When it comes to maintaining your sense of self, this approach could be perceived as self-destructive. Whilst this is an area for further research, Pinkus suggests maintaining individuality by accepting your own skills as being separate to those of your partner.

Appreciating your partner as a strength is not necessarily a weakness for the self.

"There are always different niches within a relationship and we don't always have to be good at the same things. Appreciating your partner as a strength is not necessarily a weakness for the self," Pinkus said.

"Similarly, other research shows that when we consider domains that are important to both partners, such as income and intelligence, there are still benefits."

The key here is to not consider absolute success and failures.

"We are talking about relative performance," Pinkus said. "That is, looking at your partner, appreciating their skills and their assets and recognising that that doesn't say anything about you."

So, how do we go about this?

Pinkus recommends expressing gratitude and appreciation towards your partner.

"There's this cycle of appreciation that is shown to improve or maintain relationships," Pinkus said.

There's always an optimal balance between maintaining things that you are proud of as an individual and things that make you proud to be part of a team.

"Our research involved partners filling out gratitude journals. On days when one partner is feeling more appreciated, that person the next day would typically report appreciating their partner. It goes back and forth."

These do not need to be grand gestures.

"It can be as simple as actively listening and showing your partner that you are interested in what they have to say," Pinkus said.

And weighing up this gratitude with an appreciation of your own skills and assets is key.

"There's always an optimal balance between maintaining things that you are proud of as an individual and things that make you proud to be part of a team," Pinkus said.

This is certainly food for thought.

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