Why ‘soulmates’ struggle with conflict in their relationship

Do you have a 'unity' or 'journey' approach to your relationship? (image courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net)

Do you have a ‘unity’ or ‘journey’ approach to your relationship? (image courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net)

“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” Emily Brontë

The image of romantic togetherness may sound idyllic – meeting your soulmate and living happily ever after – but it could ultimately be damaging to your relationship. A psychological study has found that people in romantic relationships who regard their partner as their ‘soulmate’ or their ‘other half’ can struggle when it comes to conflict. After all, if they were a match made in heaven, why on earth would arguments or discord affect their perfect union?

The key to a happy life together lies in how people view and evaluate their relationships. While there may be a multitude of ways of thinking about relationships, the social psychology researchers identified two frames through which to view relationships. One is the ‘Unity’ view, where couples believe they were made for each other and meant to be together. The second is the ‘Journey’ frame, which sees a relationship unfolding over time, with conflict helping to grow the partnership and make it stronger.

In two experiments Professor Spike W. S. Lee of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and Norbert Schwarz of the University of Southern California tested couples on the unity vs journey spectrum. The first experiment was a knowledge quiz that recalled either conflicts or celebrations with their partner. The second, subtler experiment involved identifying shapes that formed a whole (representing unity) or drawing a line from A to B (representing journey).

As anticipated, recalling celebrations made people satisfied with their relationship regardless of how they thoughts about it. Recalling conflicts made couples feel less satisfied with their relationship—but significantly only with the unity frame in mind, not with the journey frame in mind.

Professor Lee concluded: “People who implicitly think of relationships as perfect unity between soulmates have worse relationships than people who implicitly think of relationships as a journey of growing and working things out.” If you think of your relationship as a journey, he added: “You’ll feel better now, and you’ll do better down the road.”

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