Psychologists observe that people talk and think about love in apparently limitless ways but underlying such diversity are some common themes that frame how we think about relationships.
For example, one popular frame considers love as perfect unity ("made for each other," "she's my other half"); in another frame, love is a journey ("look how far we've come," "we've been through all these things together").
According to study authors Spike W S Lee of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management and Norbert Schwarz of the University of Southern California, these two ways of thinking have the power to highlight or downplay the damaging effect of conflicts on relationship evaluation.
"Our findings corroborate prior research showing that people who implicitly think of relationships as perfect unity between soul-mates have worse relationships than people who implicitly think of relationships as a journey of growing and working things out," said Lee.
"Apparently, different ways of talking and thinking about love relationship lead to different ways of evaluating it," Lee said.
In one experiment, Lee and Schwarz had people in long-term relationships complete a knowledge quiz that included expressions related to either unity or journey, then recall either conflicts or celebrations with their romantic partner, and finally evaluate their relationship.
As predicted, recalling conflicts leads people to feel less satisfied with their relationship - but only with the unity frame in mind, not with the journey frame in mind.
Recalling celebrations makes people satisfied with their relationship regardless of how they think about it.
In two follow-up experiments, the study authors invoked the unity vs journey frame in even subtler, more incidental ways.
Again, conflicts hurt relationship satisfaction with the unity frame in mind, not with the journey frame in mind.
The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.