These 4 Relationship Styles Predict How Long Yours Will Last

Photographed by Winnie Au.
This article was originally published on November 20, 2015.

How do you act when you're in a relationship? A new study may know: It turns out we tend fall into one of four major relationship styles. And those patterns may have a lot to do with how long our relationships last.

For the study, published last month in the Journal of Family and Marriage, researchers interviewed 376 heterosexual couples about their relationships three times over nine months. Everyone was asked about how satisfied they were in their relationships, and each participant was told to create a graph of his or her relationship trajectory. If participants' graphs showed a line trending upwards, that meant they felt they were more likely to get married to their partner. (If participants weren't into the idea of marriage, they were told to think of their graph as "lifelong commitment" instead.)

Results showed that the participants could be sorted into four distinct types of commitment styles based on their relationship satisfaction and the way they justified big moments in the relationship (both negative and positive):

Dramatic commitments made up about a third of the sample. Partners in these relationships tended to have huge fluctuations in their levels of commitment. These participants also tended to justify negative turning points in their relationships by saying that they "weren't good together" or that their partners spent time away from them. These relationships were most likely to break up over the course of the study. Women with this commitment pattern also reported the lowest level of relationship satisfaction, compared to the other pattern types.

Socially involved commitments, making up 21% of the sample, tended to cite social reasons for turning points in their relationships. These included phrases like "My parents loved him." (The phrases are in the past tense because the interviewers asked questions about specific relationship moments that happened in the past.) These couples became more committed to each other and had fewer fluctuations in their commitment levels than the other relationship types, partly because their common social networks were so important to them. These participants also had high levels of friendship-based love within their romantic relationships. (These are your typical "I'm so happy I get to marry my best friend" couples.)

Conflict-ridden
commitments accounted for only 12% of participants in the study. As the name suggests, these participants reported having more conflict than in any of the other patterns. These couples were similar to the dramatic couples in that they had a lot of "downturns" in their commitment graphs. But their dips in commitment weren't as steep as those of the dramatic participants. For women with this commitment pattern, the chances for breaking up were pretty much tied with those of the socially involved couples.

Partner-focused
commitments accounted for another 30% of the participants. These couples had the lowest chances of breaking up over the course of the study. When asked about the (mostly positive) turning points in their commitment graphs, they responded with phrases like "we had a lot in common" and "we spent a lot of time together." Participants in these relationships also tended to rate highly on the personality trait of conscientiousness, indicating that they're people who make (and achieve) long-term goals.

Previous research using a similar commitment-graph method found that this task could predict how long a relationship might last in an interesting way: Participants who could more accurately recall how they previously graphed their commitment were more likely to deepen that commitment (here, these folks might fall into the partner-focused category). So the same, not-at-all-groundbreaking guidance that seems to have always applied still works: Spending time together and paying attention to each other will probably lead to a happier relationship. Who knew?

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