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“Do You Pursue Love or Does It Pursue You?”

Amy asked “do you pursue love or does it pursue you? Do you think that people are in one of these two categories or is it ever changing in our lives?”

Dear Amy,

Great question; this is essentially getting at what researchers call “implicit theories of relationships.”1 What’s important is what you believe about relationships and love, not necessarily that there’s a one-size-fits-all prescription for relationships.

With implicit theories of relationships, different people have different beliefs. (Click here to take a quiz to help determine your own view of relationships.) Do you think that there’s a “soulmate” out there that you’re destined to find, and once you do there will be fireworks and love at first sight? If so, you are high in “destiny beliefs”2 and to use your term, you probably believe that “love pursues you.” On the other hand, some folks believe that relationships progress slowly and that overcoming challenges can bring a couple closer together. People who have “growth beliefs,” believe that relationships take effort and that you have to work to pursue love.

Implicit theories are important because they are associated with different ways of behaving in relationships. People with destiny beliefs are less likely to work through conflict with their partners. If things aren’t perfect and we’re fighting it must be a sign that we’re not soulmates, so I should probably move on in my search for my one true love. Essentially, destiny theorists are more likely to give up, break up, and move on to the next person; they take responsibility for ending their relationships and don’t see the point in hanging out with their ex after the relationship has ended. People with growth beliefs put more effort into resolving problems and even put a positive spin on negative aspects of their relationships. To them, working through conflict is part of what brings couples together and isn’t an indication that the relationship is going badly.3

It’s not necessarily the case that it’s better to have growth or destiny beliefs. While people high in destiny may give up too soon, those high in growth might needlessly put energy into dead-end relationships. It’s more important to understand your own beliefs and expectations for your relationships, and to see how that matches up with your partners’ views.

The last part of your question is a bit more complicated to answer. Above, it sounds like growth and destiny are opposites; that you either believe one OR the other. In fact, research shows that they are independent dimensions, which means you can be high in growth and low in destiny, vice versa, or low/high in both (see the picture below).4 In addition, we don’t know a lot about how individuals’ implicit theories might change or stay the same over time. Over short periods of time (e.g., 8 months), these beliefs seem pretty stable,5 but no one has studied them for longer than that. It’s possible that they change as one experiences more relationships.

From Knee et al. (2001)

This article was adapted from the book Science of Relationships: Experts Answer Your Questions about Dating, Marriage, & Family.

Interested in learning more about relationships? Click here for other topics on Science of Relationships. Like us on Facebook to get our articles delivered directly to your NewsFeed.

1Knee, C.R., Patrick, H., & Lonsbary, C. (2003). Implicit theories of relationships: Orientations toward evaluation and cultivation. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7, 41-55.

2Knee, C. R. (1998). Implicit theories of relationships: Assessment and prediction of romantic relationship initiation, coping, and longevity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 360-370.

3Knee, C. R., Patrick, H., Vietor, N. A., & Neighbors, C. (2004). Implicit theories of relationships: Moderators of the link between conflict and commitment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 617-628

4Knee, C. R., Nanayakkara, A., Vietor, N.A., & Neighbors, C., & Patrick, H. (2001). Implicit theories of relationships: Who cares if romantic partners are less than ideal? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 808-819.

5Franiuk, R., Cohen, D., & Pomerantz, E. M. (2002). Implicit theories of relationships: Implications for relationship satisfaction and longevity. Personal Relationships, 9, 345-367.

Dr. Benjamin Le – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV

Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.

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