Rebecca Pinkus

How does it feel when your partner is more successful than you are?

Can you remember what it felt like when a rival got a higher mark than you did on a high-school English essay? Or how about when your older sibling was winning athletic awards while you were struggling to get onto a team? Or when your best mate’s 21st birthday bash was more fun than any of your parties? Provided that grades, athleticism, and popularity were important to you, then none of these situations would have felt particularly pleasant. Such situations are likely to put you in a negative mood and make you feel badly about yourself. So what happens when the person who is more successful than you is not a rival, a sibling, or a friend, but rather someone that you have chosen to share your life with? Will you toast to your partner’s success or wallow in self-pity? What does that mean for the fate of your relationship?

Research has shown that if you can see the situation from your partner’s perspective, and also if you stand to gain from your partner’s success, then you are likely to experience such comparisons to your partner in a positive way. Although knowing that you are worse than your partner at something can still make you feel bad about yourself, knowing that your partner has been successful helps to take the sting out of those hurt feelings. People who  imagined or remembered a time when their partner was more successful than they were experienced not only more positive feelings, but they also rated their partner and their relationship more positively than people who imagined or remembered a time when they were more successful than their partner (Pinkus, Lockwood, Schimmack, & Fournier,  2008). Those positive feelings appear to be driven by people empathising with their partner (i.e., perspective-taking; Pinkus, Lockwood, Marshall, & Yoon, 2012).

The next step in this research programme is to examine people’s behaviours in these comparison situations, in addition to their feelings and perceptions. Specifically, we want to investigate how particular feelings that arise in comparison situations can motivate behaviours which can either benefit or harm the relationship. By investigating these constructs using a variety of research methods, we hope to provide important insights into the processes that make some relationships thrive and others fail.

Researchers in social processes seek to examine how people perceive, understand, and interact with others, and how positive relationships develop. We also seek to understand how positive skills such as financial decision making develop and change.

Broadly speaking, this research program investigates how we perceive, understand, and interact with others, and how positive relationships develop. We seek to understand these various processes within a social cognitive framework, and by employing multiple methodologies and measures. A key component of the research program is to study group behaviour not only from an individual’s perspective but from multiple perspectives (e.g., from both members of a romantic couple). Interpersonal and intergroup relationships are part of daily life, and close relationships are crucial to individuals’ well-being. Identifying the factors that maintain harmonious intergroup relationships and satisfying close relationships can assist individuals in achieving positive and healthy lifetime outcomes. Relationship quality also has long-term implications throughout the life course. Thus, strong, satisfying interpersonal relationships form the foundation of supportive family structures, and contribute to well-being throughout the lifespan.

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