Washington: Couples whose commitment to each other has stagnated or regressed are far less accurate in the memories of their relationships, a new study has found.
Dating couples who have moved towards marriage over the course of their relationship remember accurately what was going on at each stage of their deepening commitment, but those in a troubled relationship do not, researchers said.
"People like to feel that they're making progress as a couple. If they're not - if, in fact, the relationship is in trouble - they may have distorted recollections that help them feel like they're moving forward because they need a psychological justification to stay in the relationship," said Brian G Ogolsky, a University of Illinois professor of human development and family studies.
The researchers expected to find some distortion in romantic partners' memories.
"One theory was that recollections might be higher across the board because people like to remember the best possible course of their relationships.
"But, as we looked at couples' actual experiences and compared relationships that were developing in a positive direction with those that were not, we saw that the accuracy of their memories diverged rather sharply. It's fascinating how memory works in couples," he noted.
Ogolsky said that both findings - that highly committed people remember their relationship history accurately and that couples in trouble don't - are important.
"When a couple is considering making a lifelong commitment, they have a lot at stake. It's important that they have accurate recollections of how their relationship evolved," Ogolsky said.
But, if a couple's relationship is undergoing a slow and painful death, it no longer serves their purpose to remember the course of the romance accurately. To avoid constant disappointment, they misremember how things are going, he noted.
The nine-month study followed 232 never-married heterosexual couples who had dated for just over two years on average.
Each month, participants rated their chances of marriage from 0 to 100 per cent, and researchers plotted a graph from the results. At the end of the study, participants reflected on their entire relationship to see how their recollections matched up with reality.
"Couples who had deepened their commitment remembered their relationship history almost perfectly. The graphs for this group were really interesting because the plot of the end-of-study recollection could be placed right on top of the one we had graphed from the monthly check-ins," Ogolsky said.