The next time your relationship is about to end, you might want to think about whether or not it was all a misunderstanding. According to a small study, men and women cooperate in completely different ways.
"Cooperation — having the ability to work things out with your partner, while achieving mutually beneficial outcomes — is so important in relationships, and I wondered what kind of emotional connectivity comes from cooperating with your partner," Ashley Randall, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Arizona's John & Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, said in a press release.
Randall wanted to see why, for example, someone can have a bad day at work, and then go home and end up projecting their bad mood onto their partner. To find out, she videotaped 44 heterosexual couples having a conversation about their shared lifestyle, including subjects on health and diet. Then, when the video was played back to the couples, they were asked to use a rating dial, and to give momentary feedback regarding how they were feeling emotionally.
She found that during mutual levels of cooperation, men would experience an "inphase" response in which they try to emulate their significant other's emotions — if she's expressing positive emotions, he'll be more positive too, and vice versa. On the other hand, Randall found that women typically experienced an "antiphase" response in which she would show less positive feelings in response to her significant other's positive feelings.
Randall cites social psychology literature, which says that while women generally tend to cooperate more, men might just want to avoid conflict, meaning that men might just be subconsciously trying to reach a speedy resolution. By doing this, the man appears less authentic. Randall suggests that if the woman suspects an ulterior motive, she may become less positive and try to tap into his real feelings by questioning him.
"If you think about a couple that is trying to cooperate with one another, the man might go along and say, 'oh sure, honey, this is great, are we almost done?' whereas the women might say, 'I'm so glad that you're happy, but I just want to talk about this one other thing because I think we're really getting at a resolution," Randall said.
The findings from this study suggest that women may be the emotional regulators during cooperation, Randall said.
"Cooperation is something that's invaluable and instrumental in a successful relationship but men and women experience it differently," Randall said. "This research provides another avenue to understanding how partners' emotions can become linked, but future research is needed on how these emotional patterns may ultimately contribute to the longevity, or demise, of the romantic relationship."
Source: Randall A, Post J, Reed R, et al. Cooperating with your romantic partner: Associations with interpersonal emotion coordination. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 2013.