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Comparing your partner to someone else's? Find yours comes up short?

Psychologists explain what happens when people compare their partner to someone else's

Date:
July 21, 2015
Source:
University of Toronto
Summary:
When people compare their significant other to someone else's, they occasionally find reason to think their partner is inferior in some aspect -- appearance, occupation, sharing of household duties or raising children, etc. However, some find ways to protect their partner from the negative implications of comparison based on the degree to which they see themselves and their partner as one unit -- a phenomenon dubbed 'self-other overlap', allowing them to maintain positive views of their partner.
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FULL STORY

When Julie compares her husband George to her friend's husband Sam, she can't help but notice that Sam is better is better at helping his children with homework. But rather than be upset about George's shortcomings in the children's homework arena, Julie reasons that since she enjoys doing homework with their children, it's not that important that George do it.

What Julie has just done is protect her partner (and their relationship!) from the negative implications of her own comparison. But not all members of a couple engage in these justifying explanations of their partner's behaviours or characteristics.

According to new research, whether or not someone protects a partner from the negative implications of comparisons depends on the degree to which they view themselves and their partner as one unit. This phenomenon has been dubbed 'self-other overlap' by psychologists.

"People who are high on self-other overlap will attempt to protect their partner and minimize the threat by rating the trait or skill that they compared their partner on as less important," said University of Toronto psychology PhD candidate Sabrina Thai. "Furthermore, these people are able to maintain positive views of their partner in spite of unfavourable comparisons. They still see their partner as being close to their ideal partner, which has positive implications on their relationship."

Thai's finding, "Comparing You = Comparing Me: Social Comparisons of the Expanded Self," was published in the July issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and co-written by U of T psychology professor Penelope Lockwood.

"Our studies provide the first evidence that people do compare their partner to others with significant consequences for the relationship," says Thai. "People who are low in self-partner overlap have difficulty maintaining positive partner perceptions following threatening comparisons of their partner to others. This may be a key source of stress and conflict in people's relationships.

"Moreover, by highlighting the benefits of high self-partner overlap, this research may identify a possible future intervention technique. Perhaps temporarily boosting someone's perceptions of self-partner overlap may help them cope with and overcome the negative outcomes of comparing their partner."


Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Toronto. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Penelope Lockwood et al. Comparing You = Comparing Me: Social Comparisons of the Expanded Self. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, July 2015

Cite This Page:

University of Toronto. "Comparing your partner to someone else's? Find yours comes up short? Psychologists explain what happens when people compare their partner to someone else's." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 July 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150721091749.htm>.
University of Toronto. (2015, July 21). Comparing your partner to someone else's? Find yours comes up short? Psychologists explain what happens when people compare their partner to someone else's. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 22, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150721091749.htm
University of Toronto. "Comparing your partner to someone else's? Find yours comes up short? Psychologists explain what happens when people compare their partner to someone else's." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150721091749.htm (accessed February 22, 2017).