Clive and Jessica have been dating for six months and, as their friends can attest, are either arguing — or passionately making up for it. As up and down as their relationship is, few people in their circle dare to guess whether it will lead to marriage. Researchers at the University of Illinois, however, may be able to predict the couple's odds of making it to the altar — and they don't even need to meet them first.
University of Illinois researchers spent nearly a year categorizing dating couples into one of four different types of relationships. Based on the category that best fits a couple's behavior, researchers say they can predict whether the couple will marry — and even how successful that union will be.
After studying the results, which will be published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, researchers were able to identify and define four distinct dating-style categories:
1. The conflict-ridden couple: Arguments may be common and have a temporary negative impact on commitment, but relationship decisions are not
2. The dramatic couple: High in conflict, and makes major decisions based on negative events occurring in the relationship or aspects of the relationship
3. The partner-focused couple: High levels of conscientiousness and dependence, making relationship decisions based on one another's needs; most likely to report long-term success and happiness
4. The socially involved couple: high levels of satisfaction and stability, and a shared social network they rely on to make decisions about their commitment
To determine the groupings, researchers followed more than 700 people for nine months. Over that time period, 367 dating couples in their mid-20s were asked to self-report their dating behavior. Each person recorded how committed he or she was to potentially marrying his or her partner, along with detailed reasons for that commitment. The participants also were asked to give the reasons why their commitment level had changed, from wavering to becoming more solidified.
When a couple — like Clive and Jessica — falls into the "dramatic couple" category, that couple is twice as likely to break up. The ups and downs in relationships like this, paired with a greater number of outside friends, can cause commitment levels to crest and fall. And that can make couples start to think that all the hassle isn't really worth the good times they have together.
"It's not unlike when the transmission goes out on your car, and then your starter goes out," says Brian Ogolsky, an assistant professor of human development and family studies and one of researchers. "You begin to see little things eroding, and you start to see the relationship in a negative light."
Conflict-ridden couples, while not dissimilar to dramatic couples, experience a great deal more tension. This tension, despite the positive aspects of occasionally "making up," chip away at the relationship and become nearly impossible to sustain. "You'd go crazy if you had 30 to 50 years of mind-bending passion," Ogolsky says.
Socially involved couples, who have stable relationships and a wide circle of friends, have an ideal foundation for long-term commitment, according to researchers. However, it is the partner-focused couples who share a friendship and love are most involved in each others' lives — to the benefit of their commitment level, in terms of both satisfaction and long-term sustainability, and measured the highest levels of conscientiousness.
Why investigate something like this?
"The important message is that there are certain ways of making commitment-related decisions that propel you forward, and others push you backward," says Ogolsky. "It can be helpful for couples to think about these patterns and the ways they make important decisions about the future of their relationship."