Everyone has goals in life. Some are simple and short-term, like reading one book per week, while others are more intimate or ambitious like starting a successful company or settling down and raising a family.
A person’s goals are an incredibly personal topic. After all, our goals essentially represent our idealized view of the future; one’s hopes and dreams for a life lived their way.
Now, though, a thought-provoking new study has found that one’s goals may not be entirely their own after all. Researchers from the University of Basel conclude that one’s romantic partner can indeed have an influence on their goals over the long-term.
Importantly, this effect was seen in a variety of different romantic partnerships, regardless of the individual’s gender, time spent together with the other person in a relationship, or age.
More specifically, the team at UB wanted to investigate the “interdependence of approach goals and avoidance goals in relationships.”
Essentially, they wanted to answer the following questions: If one member of a relationship wants to achieve a favorable outcome (learn more new skills or travel more, for example), will their partner eventually start to pursue those same goals as well? Similarly, if one half of a romantic partnership actively avoids certain undesirable developments (excessive stress, arguments with their partner), will their other half also try to avoid those outcomes?
In short, the findings of this study certainly suggest the answer to those questions is yes. The study’s authors noted that when one member of a couple actively does their best to avoid arguments and unneeded stress in their life and relationship, their partner will follow suit.
Additionally, if one half of a relationship makes it a daily goal to achieve personal growth and meaningful experiences, their other half will want to achieve those feats as well.
The research team examined 456 couples for this project. On average, participants were aged 34 years old and had been together with their partner for nearly 10 years. Over two 14-day periods (spread out by a 10-12 month interval), participants reported their goals, as well as if they had tried to avoid conflict with their partner or share a meaningful experience. All of that data was analyzed to ascertain if these daily behaviors influenced the other person’s goals.
It’s important to note that it appears to take some time for one half of a relationship’s behavior and goals to influence the other person. Researchers referred to this as “delayed effects between partners.”
So, a person’s actions or goals on just one day probably won’t change their partner’s behavior, but long-term goals and behavior trends over months and years will. Researchers say this makes a certain degree of sense, considering everyone has the occasional off day or grumpy afternoon.
“This could be an adaptive mechanism to maintain the stability of the relationship,” says first study author Professor Jana Nikitin in a university release, “by not being influenced by every momentary shift made by the partner.”
It often goes unnoticed just how much the people in our lives influence our thoughts, behaviors, and hopes. Most people like to think of themselves as independent and unwavering, but every individual is the sum of their past experiences, relationships, and memories, and there’s no relationship or person more important than one’s romantic partner.
The full study can be found here, published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B.