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We’ve all seen them or been a part of one at some point in our lives. I’m talking about those couples that, from the outside looking in, you really can’t understand why they work. On paper, the relationship seems like it shouldn’t have initiated or lasted, but in reality, there’s a whole world of sparks and attractions happening behind the scenes that we’ll never fully understand.
And while the reasons two people fall in love and make relationships work or not can’t be wholly understood from a mathematical or formulaic sense, six researchers recently set out to better understand what makes for lasting commitments between two people.
The team was comprised of M. Minda Oriña of St. Olaf College; W. Andrew Collins, Jeffry A. Simpson, Jessica E. Salvatore, and John S. Kim of the University of Minnesota and Katherine C. Haydon of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They used the rich mine of data in the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation (MLSRA), coupled with a lab procedure to try to understand what makes individuals committed or less committed to a relationship.
The team’s findings suggest a link between how supportive and nurturing a toddler’s mother was during his or her childhood and how supportive and nurturing adults are in their relationships as they age.
“Supportive, involved mothering in toddlerhood and an ability to work through conflict in adolescence are good predictors of becoming the 'strong link' – the person with the bigger stake – in adult relationships. If the opposite happened in earlier life, chances are the person will be the 'weak link' – the one with one foot out the door,” according to a press release by the Association for Psychological Science.
While it is important to understand the habits and commitment levels of each individual, what is more telling is the combination of the two.
“Two strong links will be benevolent and tolerant when the going gets rough. Two weak links may be lax about working things out, but their expectations are equally low—so there’s less friction. But when a weak link and a strong link pair up, the one with less investment has more influence,” according to the study.