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The Partner Paradox: Why Buddying Up to Achieve Goals May Backfire

This last result has important implications for how we think about dependence in relationships, according to Fitzsimons and Finkel. We tend to think of dependence in terms of intimate and sexual needs, but these findings suggest that dependence might also arise from a partner’s unique ability to assist with life’s goals. Indeed, long-term partners may develop a shared self-regulatory system, relying on one another for support with mustering the discipline needed to face life’s challenges. In the short term, relying on a partner for help with self-control in one arena means we could be undermining our commitment to that specific aim. But Fitzsimons and Finkel suggest there could a surprising trade-off: because we are investing more in our relationships, we might well end up possessing more discipline for a couple’s shared goals. In the end, the partnership benefits.

(Further Reading)

  • Outsourcing Self-Regulation. Gráinne M. Fitzsimons and Eli J. Finkel in Psychological Science. Published online February 8, 2011.

This article was originally published with the title "We're Only Human: The Partner Paradox."

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