People think about breaking up more when they look outside their relationship for psychological fulfillment

Are your psychological needs being met?

People think about breaking up more when they look outside their relationship for psychological fulfillment

As humans we all have psychological needs that we are driven to fulfill, be they companionship or safety, a sense of belonging or personal growth. And we often meet these needs through our relationships with others: They care for us, make us feel secure, and help us develop as individuals.

When we are in romantic relationships, our partners are commonly the main source for fulfilling those needs. But sometimes they are away, or are simply not equipped to meet our particular needs. In those cases we turn elsewhere, to friends, family, and others in our lives. This may benefit us personally — but how does it affect our relationship?

To find out, Laura Machia and Morgan Proulx at Syracuse University conducted a series of studies, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, looking at need fulfillment among American adults in relationships. The first study drew on data collected in the mid-1990s from almost 4,700 participants of the Midlife in the United States longitudinal study. Participants reported how many hours per month their partner, and others outside of their relationship, fulfilled one particular need: emotional support. They also completed a number of scales measuring the quality of their relationship and how often they'd thought that their relationship could be in trouble.

The researchers found that the more emotional support people received from outside their relationship, the more negatively they rated their relationship and the less stable they felt it was. And it wasn't simply that these participants were making up for a lack of fulfillment from within the relationship, the findings held even when the researchers took into account the extent of support provided by participants' partners.

Instead, the team wondered whether having one's needs met outside of a relationship made people more aware that there were other viable options to turn to than just a partner. In a subsequent study, they gave 413 university students questionnaires measuring the "perceived quality of alternatives," rating their agreement with statements like "My needs for intimacy, companionship, etc., could easily be fulfilled in an alternative relationship." Participants also completed scales measuring how often their partner, and other people, met their needs (for instance, self-improvement or companionship), as well as how often they thought about ending their relationship.

The team found that the more participants' needs were fulfilled within a relationship, the worse they perceived the option of going to other people to meet their needs. But the more they actually received fulfillment from those outside sources, the better they rated them — and the more they thought about ending their relationship.

It's an intuitive finding: When people go outside of their relationship to try and meet their needs, they learn there are other options out there and they don't have to rely just on their partner. That doesn't necessarily mean they are finding other romantic partners, the authors add. Rather, receiving fulfillment from outside their romantic relationship "allows an individual to feel that being single, spending time with friends, or finding a new romantic partner at some point is a more viable option for them, in that their need fulfillment would not suffer considerably, should they opt to take one of those paths."

For the most part, the study didn't distinguish between different kinds of psychological need, so it remains to be seen whether there are particular needs to which the results apply most strongly — perhaps those that are closely linked to romantic relationships, for instance, like security and intimacy. There may also be individual differences in how susceptible people are to the effects, something the authors say they will look at in future work.

Reprinted with permission of The British Psychological Society. Read the original article.

Live on Thursday: Learn innovation with 3-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn

Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live this Thursday at 1pm ET.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to your calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo

Keep reading Show less

Physicists solve a 140-year-old mystery

Scientists discover the inner workings of an effect that will lead to a new generation of devices.

Carrier-resolved photo-Hall effect.

Credit: IBM
Surprising Science
  • Researchers discover a method of extracting previously unavailable information from superconductors.
  • The study builds on a 19th-century discovery by physicist Edward Hall.
  • The research promises to lead to a new generation of semiconductor materials and devices.
Keep reading Show less

Want students to cheat less? Science says treat them justly

Students who think the world is just cheat less, but they need to experience justice to feel that way.

A student tries to cheat.

Credit: Roman Pelesh/Shutterstock
Surprising Science
  • Students in German and Turkish universities who believed the world is just cheated less than their pessimistic peers.
  • The tendency to think the world is just is related to the occurence of experiences of justice.
  • The findings may prove useful in helping students adjust to college life.
Keep reading Show less

A key COVID-19 immune response in children has been identified

This could change how researchers approach vaccine development.

A South Korean child wears a mask to prevent catching the coronavirus (COVID-19) while riding a scooter on February 27, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea.

Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images
  • The reason children suffer less from the novel coronavirus has remained mysterious.
  • Researchers identified a cytokine, IL-17A, which appears to protect children from the ravages of COVID-19.
  • This cytokine response could change how researchers approach vaccine development.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…