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Do Romantic Partners Help or Hurt Goal Pursuit

by Dr. Lisa Hoplock.

It’s the end of a long day, you’ve had a goal to exercise a few times a week, and you’re trying to decide if you’re going to go for a run tonight. You’re in a romantic relationship and you think about how your romantic partner made you a healthy dinner last night. Do you a) decide not to go for the run or b) go for the run? It may seem that ‘a’ is the obvious choice, but the research is actually mixed.1,2 Turns out that how a partner is supportive may make a critical difference. Specifically, the results of three studies found that when women thought of a time when their romantic partner did something concrete to help the women pursue their fitness and health goals (e.g., looked after the kids), the women were more committed to their goals.3 In other words, women with concretely supportive partners more often went for option b. But thinking of a time when their partner said something supportive wasn’t as effective as receiving specific assistance. This research primarily focused on women, so more research needs to be done to see if these results hold for other genders. Take aways? When it comes to supporting a (female) partner, actions speak louder than words. Try thinking of concrete ways that others have helped you pursue your goals, and do what you can to help others pursue their goals as well.

1Fitzsimons, G. M., & Finkel, E. J. (2011). Outsourcing self-regulation. Psychological Science, 22, 369–375. doi:10.1177/0956797610 397955

2For example, Anderson, E. S., Winett, R. A., & Wojcik, J. R. (2007). Self- regulation, self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and social support: Social cognitive theory and nutrition behavior. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 34, 304–312. doi:10.1007/BF02874555

3Briskin, J. L., Kopetz, C. E., Fitzsimons, G. M., & Slatcher, R. B. (2017). For better or for worse? Outsourcing self-regulation and goal pursuit. Social Psychological and Personality Science. Online first.

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