The state of a relationship can affect how a couple remembers their time together, a new study suggests.
Research from the University of Illinois indicates that happier couples accurately remember events from their relationship, whereas those whose commitment to each other has not developed have trouble doing the same.
The study examined 232 couples who had been together for an average of two years but had not married. Each month, the couples were asked what their chances of getting married were, expressed as a percentage.
After nine months, the couples were asked to reflect on their relationship. Their recollections were then compared with how their relationship had actually progressed. This data was put into a graph to show the trajectory of each relationship.
Couples were divided into three categories: advancers, maintainers and regressers. Advancers were those who had become more seriously involved in their relationships since the start of the study. Maintainers kept the same level of commitment throughout, and regressers either went from a serious relationship to a more casual one, or broke up and got back together over the course of nine months.
Researchers found that the regressers did not accurately assess the state of their relationship. While they said things were fine, the score they gave the likelihood of getting married fell significantly.
Brian G. Ogolsky is a professor of human development and family studies at the University of Illinois and was co-author of the study. He speculated that people “like to feel that they’re making progress as a couple”, even if they are not. He said that couples whose relationship is in trouble develop “distorted recollections” in order to justify staying together.
He added that it was “fair to say [such couples] were in denial about the state of their relationship”.
Last year, a study found that fear of loneliness kept people in unhappy relationships, which could also explain the distorted recollections found by Ogolsky.