Expectations for Future Relationship Satisfaction: Unique Sources and Critical Implications for Commitment

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Abstract

Contemporary perspectives on relationship commitment posit that intimates decide whether or not to maintain a relationship based on their commitment to that relationship, and that they base such commitment partially on their current satisfaction with that relationship. Nevertheless, given that ending a relationship requires knowing about both the current state of the relationship and the likely future state of the relationship, we propose that people base their commitment to a relationship more on their expected future satisfaction with the relationship than on their current satisfaction with that relationship. Six studies provided evidence for these ideas. Study 1 demonstrated that expected satisfaction is shaped by not only current satisfaction but also several unique indicators of the likelihood of future satisfaction, including anticipated life events, plans to improve the relationship, and individual differences. Then, using a combination of cross-sectional, experimental, and longitudinal methods, Studies 2 through 6 demonstrated that (a) expected satisfaction was a stronger predictor of relationship commitment, maintenance behaviors, and/or divorce than was current satisfaction and (b) expected satisfaction mediated the association between current satisfaction and these outcomes. These findings highlight not only the need to incorporate expected satisfaction into extent perspectives on commitment, but also the importance of expectations for decision-making processes more broadly.

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