Steady couples keep their feelings in sync

UC DAVIS (US) — Despite life’s ups and downs, couples whose feelings are in sync consistently over time are more likely to stay together.

“We found that the longer periods of stability for the couple were great predictors of staying together,” says Emilio Ferrer, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis and principal author of research on the topic.

Researchers looked at surveys of 131 couples of various ages, married and unmarried, and analyzed their responses to daily questionnaires for at least 60 days and as long as 90 days.


The test subjects recorded their emotions for nine positive feelings such as “trusted,” “physically intimate,” and “free,” and nine negative mood feelings, such as “discouraged,” “lonely,” “angry,” and “deceived.”

The researchers followed up after one to two years to inquire about each test pair’s status as a couple. The researchers were able to get the information from 94 couples; 72 of them, or 76 percent, reported still being together. Their findings are published in the journal Multivariate Behavioral Research.

“Our emotions fluctuate every day and throughout the day… and there is substantial variation in the way individuals react to different things that happen,” Ferrer says.

Yet, even if both halves of a couple react differently, they can still be in the same place emotionally—and have a better chance of staying together, Ferrer says.

Differences in the emotions between members of a couple, even for three or four days at a time, was a predictor of couples breaking up. Ferrer says this was true even for couples whose times of unhappiness were followed by periods of happiness.

“If they move around on the chart and are not consistent, they were more likely to break up,” he says.

Co-authors were Joel S. Steele, a former student in Ferrer’s lab and current assistant professor at Portland State University; and Fushing Hsieh, a UC Davis statistics professor.

All couples surveyed were from the Sacramento region, and ranged in age from 19 to 74. The length of their relationships ranged from eight months to 35 years.

Of the 113 couples, 19 never responded when asked if they were still together one to two years later. Ferrer says it was unclear whether those who did not answer had moved, were tired of the study, or had broken up.

Two people in their 70s comprised one of the most emotionally consistent relationships, Ferrer says.

“So, either they figured it out by then, or they had always been this way,” he says.

This work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

More news from UC Davis: