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A particular area of interest for Baxter and Bullis (1986) is the manner in which couples recollect the turning point in their relationship, and how well those recollections match up with one another. After interviewing hundreds of couples whose relationships had declined or disintegrated, the researchers found that only 54% of the couples attributed their relationships downfall to the same turning point. Misaligned perceptions of many types are, in fact, a major cause of conflict and failure in committed romantic relationships.
Research on self-interpretation suggests that individuals might embellish their personal virtues to make up for perceived faults. In a study by Greenberg & Pyszczynski, (1985) individuals were confronted with the knowledge that another person knew of a serious fault in their characters. These threatened individuals then emphasized their many virtues in domains unrelated to this fault, presumably in an attempt to reaffirm themselves in this critical other's eyes, and buffer self-esteem.
Steele (1988) also argued that allowing individuals to affirm valued, positive aspects of their identities can reduce feelings of dissonance associated with negative, identity-inconsistent elements. For example, individuals who chose to write counter attitudinal essays did not alter their attitudes if they were able first to reduce dissonance by affirming a valued aspect of their self-concepts. Apparently, affirming self-integrity in this way quells dissension and allows individuals to tolerate or ignore potential threats to self-esteem, such as attitude-behavior inconsistencies. Similarly, affirming convictions by accentuating a partner's positive qualities might allow individuals to tolerate or ignore faults (Steele, 1988).
Other equally compelling lines of research, however, suggest that embellishing positivity may not really be as effective as defusing negativity in maintaining confidence. Rusbult and her colleagues argue that avoiding destructive behavior may be far more important for relationship satisfaction than attempting to maximize positive behaviors (Rusbult et al., 1991). Similarly, negativity in emotional behavior may be a particularly strong predictor of declines in satisfaction among newly married couples (Huston & Vangelisti, 1991). In these studies, positivity does not appear to overshadow negativity. Within this perspective, adding further positive elements to existing, idealized perceptions may have limited success in bolstering confidence as a relationships progress.
The literature review has demonstrated that committed, romantic relationships are not always as committed or romantic as they were originally, when invasive and destructive factors threaten the loving feelings involved. Indicators of turning points in relationships can range from the gradual and vague to the momentary and specific, but generally, issues of sexuality, communication, conflict and mismatched perceptions are involved in the decline of a committed romantic relationship.
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