Daily Experiences in Romantic Relationships Study

We are interested in how people in romantic relationships talk with their partner about every day things. Whether their daily experiences are positive or negative, we would like to know more about how much people talk about these events, their perceptions of these conversations, and how they feel about the relationship and their partner.

To better understand how these daily conversations affect a relationship, we asked participants to complete an initial 20 minute set of questionnaires, and then follow-up with two 10 minute daily questionnaires one and ten days later. In the initial questionnaires, we asked questions about participants' relationships and personal characteristics. In the daily questionnaires we asked participants to describe in more detail any conversations they may have had with their partners that day. Some participants were also asked to complete daily questionnaires twice, once the day after the initial questionnaires and a second time ten days later.

The first phase of the study provided us with important information about what couples talk about day to day, and how they deal with both positive and negative daily events in the context of their relationships. For the second phase of the study, we invited all participants to complete questionnaires 6 and 12 months following their original participation. The follow-up study is now complete. Results from the follow-up are being prepared for publication and we will be posting a summary of the results by May 2008. 

Please click here to learn about the results from this research.

Below is a summary of the research findings on the first phase of the Daily Experiences Project. We are continuing data analysis, and we will be posting information about the one year followup by May 2008.

If you participated in this study and would like to be contacted when updates are posted, please please let us know by sending an email to couples@sfu.ca. If you have any questions or comments about this research, please contact Dr. Rebecca Cobb or Jill Logan.

Sincere thanks to you all!

Dr. Rebecca Cobb and Jill Logan

Why did we conduct this study?

Research has tended to focus on how people respond to and cope with negative events and stressors. Although effective coping strategies are essential to our health and well-being, recent work by Gable and colleagues (2004) suggests that disclosing positive experiences to others – referred to as capitalizing – is associated with greater life satisfaction and personal well-being.

Furthermore, individuals who see their partners as responding with interest and enthusiasm report greater levels of relationship commitment, trust, satisfaction, and intimacy. The goals of the present study were to replicate these findings and to explore whether or not attachment security would predict perceptions of partners responses. We also sought to examine whether individual experiences during discussions of positive and negative events would have independent contributions to relationship satisfaction. 

What is attachment security?

Attachment security is composed of two dimensions: anxiety and avoidance. Anxiety refers to the degree to which individuals fear rejection, loss, or separation. Avoidance refers to the degree to which individuals avoid closeness and intimacy with others. Individuals higher in anxiety and/or avoidance tend to develop more insecure attachments to close others. To learn more about attachment theory please visit our links page. 

What did we expect?

Although we know that people do gain some benefit from sharing their positive experiences, we were interested in how security was related to individuals tendency to share their positive experiences with romantic partners, and their perceptions of the partners response. We expected that people who had a tendency to avoid intimacy would be less likely to tell their partner about daily experiences. This may be because they do not feel the need to talk with the partner, or perhaps because they are concerned that the partner might respond with a lack of enthusiasm or support. We also expected that individuals who are anxious in relationships and worry about how others perceive them would be more likely to share experiences with their partner. Anxiety may prompt sharing of positive events in order to gain reassurance, or to bolster a sense of connection with the partner. We also expected that higher anxiety and avoidance would be linked to more negative perceptions of the partners responses. However, for people who shared more positive events, and whose partner responded enthusiastically and supportively, we expected that those relationships would be more satisfying.

Who completed the study?

Participants were a diverse set of 222 undergraduate students involved in an ongoing romantic relationship. At the start of the study, participants averaged 23 years of age, and had been with their current partner for an average of 2.5 years. As you can see in the figure on the right, the majority of the participants were women.

Most of the participants (68.4%) were involved in dating relationships, 25% were cohabitating, and 6.6% were married.

The sample was well educated and ethnically diverse: 66.8% were Caucasian, 20.9% Asian, 1.5% Hispanic, and 10.8% identified themselves as other.

The majority of the participants (59.7%) cited no religious affiliation, 28.1% were Christian, and 12.2% other.

What did participants do?

Participants first completed an initial set of questionnaires that assessed attachment security, relationship satisfaction, and perceptions of how partners generally respond when participants shared positive and negative experiences. After completion of the initial questionnaires, participants received a series of daily questionnaires that were provided over the course of 10 days. A smaller group of participants completed only the first and last daily questionnaires so that we could assess the impact of daily reporting on relationship characteristics. The daily questionnaires examined the types of events participants shared with their partners, how often they shared, and perceptions of the partner’s reactions during these conversations.

Of the 222 people who started the study, 18 dropped out over the course of 11 days. A total of 89.7% of all possible daily questionnaires were completed, of which 70.1% were completed ontime.

What have we learned so far?

Participants’ age, relationship length, and sexual orientation were not associated with any of our main variables (i.e., attachment security, relationship satisfaction, and perceptions of partner responses). In general, participants tended to report high levels of relationship satisfaction. As predicted, the more likely people were to share their good news, and the more the partner was proud of the person, or enthusiastic about the news, the more satisfied people were in their relationship. These associations remained even after controlling for the importance of the event.

Contrary to expectations, higher avoidance did not predict individuals’ tendency to engage in capitalization. Greater anxiety was associated with fewer, rather than greater, attempts to share positive events with partners. These findings differ from research examining disclosure of personal experiences in the social support domain (e.g., Fraley & Shaver, 1998; Simpson, Rholes, & Nelligan, 1992). In other words, high anxiety and low avoidance is linked to increases in sharing negative events in order to seek support. This suggests that ways in which individuals "cope" with positive and negative events may differ and that they these processes may have independent contributions to relationship quality. Finally, when people shared their positive experiences, greater attachment insecurity was associated with a tendency to perceive partners as being disinterested, passive, or critical. 

What is the next step?

Next on our agenda is to examine the types of events that people talked about. The two figures below show the types of events that participants described on the first daily questionnaire. Not surprisingly, the majority of the events were related to school (e.g., taking exams, doing well on a paper). However, the next largest category of event type was related to personal relationships with friends, families, or others (e.g., supervisors/coworkers). We are interested in how partner’s reactions to negative events differ from positive events, and whether the two types of interactions – support and capitalization – differ in their contribution to relationship satisfaction.

"Other" negative events included things like missing the bus or losing the car keys 

"Other" positive events included things like seeing a good movie, or enjoying a good meal.

We also conducted a one year follow-up to this study examining changes in relationship satisfaction over time. Although participants completed repeated measures of relationship satisfaction over 11 days, satisfaction is very stable over short periods. Thus, there is little change in satisfaction to predict. Results from the one year follow-up will be posted in May 2008. If you would like to learn more about other research in the SFU Close Relationships Research Lab or find links to related sites, please visit our lab website.