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This Simple Concept Can Have a Big Impact on Relationships, New Research Shows

New research published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that feeling understood by close friends or romantic partners can profoundly affect the importance of these relationships to our sense of who we are. The findings provide important insights into how personal interactions that promote understanding can significantly improve our self-image.

The new study aimed to investigate the impact of perceived understanding within personal relationships on individuals’ self-image. The researchers were particularly interested in how feeling understood by a loved one could make this relationship appear at the heart of an individual’s identity – a phenomenon called “relational identification”.

“Relationships shape not only our daily lives, but also our perception of ourselves,” said lead authors Sabrina Thai and Emilie Auger, assistant professor at Brock University and lecturer at Collège Ahuntsic, respectively. “For some people, a specific relationship may be crucial to defining who they are: they recognize the relationship as part of their conception of themselves and value it personally. We would say that they identify with this specific relationship. In the scientific literature, these people would be described as having a high level of relational identification.

“Research has shown that identifying with a relationship helps individuals cope with relationship challenges when they arise in a way that helps maintain and protect the relationship. Thus, we wanted to understand which experiences promote this feeling of identification.

“We thought that feeling understood can deeply resonate with who individuals are, and this could be a way that individuals come to value a relationship more.” By valuing the relationship more, it would be more likely to be integrated into their self-esteem. When people feel understood, they feel like another person understands them and how they see themselves and the world, which can make them feel like everything has more meaning.

“Feeling understood can be such a powerful experience, distinct from feeling cared for, that we wanted to explore its implications for individuals and their relationships,” the researchers explained. “We wanted to examine the impact of feeling understood by a romantic partner or close friend on an individual’s self-esteem.”

To examine this in depth, the research team conducted a series of four studies.

In their first study, the researchers used a person perception paradigm to test the extent to which being understood versus cared for influenced participants’ perceptions of the importance of the relationship. Participants were presented with scenarios describing two different relationship dynamics between “Jane” and her partner “Mike.” In one scenario, Mike was described as understanding but not particularly caring, while in the other scenario, he was described as caring but not understanding.

After reading these scenarios, participants rated identification of Jane’s relationship with Mike. They assessed the extent to which Mike was an integral part of Jane’s identity using a series of questions designed to assess the emotional and cognitive importance Jane attached to her relationship with Mike.

The Study 1 sample included 124 men, 136 women, and 1 gender fluid person, with an average age of approximately 39 years. The sample included both people who were in relationships and those who were not.

Participants rated Jane’s identification with her relationship significantly higher when her partner, Mike, was described as understanding rather than merely caring. This suggests that being understood, rather than simply cared for, is a more powerful indicator of the importance of the relationship in one’s self-concept.

The second study took a longitudinal approach, tracking the evolution of participants’ feelings of being understood and their relational identification over an eight-month period. Initially, participants rated the extent to which they felt understood, accepted, and cared for by their partners, as well as the importance of their relationship to their self-image. These measures were reassessed after eight months to observe how initial feelings of being understood predicted changes in relationship identification.

The Study 2 sample included 118 participants in a romantic relationship. They had an average age of around 28 and were involved in relationships with varying levels of commitment, ranging from dating to marriage.

The researchers found that the extent to which participants felt understood by their partner predicted an increase in the centrality of the relationship to their self-concept over time. This finding highlights the lasting impact of understanding on relationship dynamics. The researchers also used a cross-lagged panel design, which demonstrated that felt understanding leads to greater relationship identification rather than understanding-promoting identification.

In Study 3, researchers implemented an “ease of retrieval” technique to explore how ease of remembering times when one was understood by a partner or friend influenced feelings of understanding and identification of the relationship. Participants (140 men and 218 women) were asked to recall a few (easy conditions) or several (difficult conditions) instances in which they felt understood. This manipulation aimed to affect participants’ perceptions of how they are generally understood by those close to them.

After this task, participants rated their current feeling of being understood and their level of identification with the relationship. This method tested the hypothesis that difficulty remembering instances of understanding could unconsciously influence the perception of being understood and, consequently, the identification of the relationship.

Participants who easily remembered instances where they had been understood (fewer instances required) rated their relational identification higher than those who found it difficult to remember such instances (more instances required). This indicates that the subjective ease of remembering understanding experiences directly influences the perception of being understood and, subsequently, the value placed on the relationship.

The fourth study used a more direct visualization manipulation, in which participants (147 men and 207 women) were asked to imagine a scenario involving sharing a significant but undisclosed negative experience with a partner or friend. They then visualized their partner or friend’s response as either very understanding or not understanding.

“We chose to focus on negative experiences for two reasons: it can be more difficult for others to provide support following negative events, and people tend to feel more uncertainty following negative events, which makes the need for consistency even stronger,” Thai and Auger told PsyPost. .

This approach was designed to examine the immediate impact of perceived understanding (or lack of understanding) on ​​the participant’s sense of coherence and identification with the relationship. Participants reported how this imagined interaction influenced their feeling of being understood, their sense of coherence (the feeling that life has meaning), and their relational identification.

The researchers found that participants who viewed an understanding response reported not only a greater sense of being understood, but also a greater sense of coherence and stronger relational identification. This demonstrated the emotional and cognitive impact of perceived understanding in a controlled experimental context.

“Compared to participants who imagined feeling not understood, those who imagined feeling understood reported an increase in coherence, which in turn explains why they experienced an increase in relationship identification “, the researchers said.

Across studies, the recurring theme was that understanding within a relationship contributed significantly to how individuals perceived and valued their relationships as part of their self-concept.

“Every person has a multifaceted self-concept that contains many parts,” Thai and Auger told PsyPost. “Some parts of oneself are only experienced in certain situations. For example, if you are a die-hard fan of a sports team, you may only feel the superfan part of your self-concept when you watch your team play or when you are around other superfans. People have other parts of themselves that are experienced in multiple situations.

“For example, if you are a parent, you can think about being a parent even when you are not with your child and when you are doing other things, such as when you are working. We value these different parts of ourselves to different degrees. For example, you may value your parent more than your superfan.

“One part of the self that researchers talk about is associated with specific relationships, like your romantic relationship or an important friendship,” the researchers continued. “We were interested in the experiences that lead people to experience that part of their self-concept associated with a particular relationship or friendship in multiple situations, not just when they are with that person or when they think about that person . This experience should also lead people to value this part of their self-image more. When people see a specific relationship as part of their self-concept and value that part of the self associated with the relationship, we say that they are strongly identified with that relationship.

“Why do we care if people value this part of oneself more? Well, it actually has many beneficial effects when your relationship is tested by adversity. For these people, they are less likely to let hurtful things their partner does affect how they evaluate the relationship as a whole. For example, if your partner forgets to pick up the dry cleaners after you ask them…

News Source : www.psypost.org
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