Treating Longtime Partner Like a First Date Can Boost Morale and Well-being

May 16, 2007

The quickest way for longtime couples to rekindle romance may be to pretend they’re strangers, according to a University of British Columbia psychology study.

By acting as if they’re on a first date, they’ll likely put their best face forward and end up having a better time, says investigator Elizabeth Dunn, an assistant professor at the UBC Dept. of Psychology.

“We make an extra effort when meeting strangers because we want them to like us,” says Dunn. “And by trying to be more pleasant, we end up actually feeling better – but we tend to overlook this benefit.”

Dunn’s co-investigators are UBC Psychology Asst. Prof. Jeremy Biesanz and former University of Virginia students Stephanie Finn and Lauren Human. Human is now a graduate student at UBC.

Last month, their research won second prize and $4,000 at the largest international contest for pioneering psychology research, sponsored by the London-based Mind Gym, a consulting and publishing company that uses psychological research to help corporations and individuals function better.

The study, Misunderstanding the Affective Consequences of Everyday Social Interactions: The Hidden Benefits of Putting One’s Best Face Forward, will be published in the June 4, 2007 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The researchers asked 31 couples to interact with either their romantic partner or a stranger of the opposite sex and asked them how they felt about this. They found that the volunteers significantly underestimated how good they would feel after meeting a stranger, compared to interacting with their romantic partner.

In a subsequent study, the researchers asked long-term couples to interact with their partners as though they had never met, and found that the participants’ sense of well-being rose significantly.

Dunn says when people interact with close friends, family or romantic partners, they know they can get away with acting unpleasant, blasé or bored. But by making an effort to seem pleasant -- as people typically do when interacting with strangers or acquaintances -- their mood will naturally elevate.

The study also recommends meeting new people to elevate mood.

Source: University of British Columbia

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