Seeking security or growth: A regulatory focus perspective on motivations in romantic relationships

Heike A. Winterheld, Jeffry A. Simpson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations

Abstract

Using a multimethod approach, we examined how regulatory focus shapes people's perceptual, behavioral, and emotional responses in different situations in romantic relationships. We first examined how chronic regulatory focus affects romantic partners' support perceptions and problem-solving behaviors while they were engaged in a conflict resolution discussion (Study 1). Next, we experimentally manipulated regulatory focus and tested its effects on partner perceptions when individuals recalled a prior conflict resolution discussion (Study 2). We then examined how chronic regulatory focus influences individuals' emotional responses to hypothetical relationship events (Study 3) and identified specific partner behaviors to which people should respond with regulatory goal-congruent emotions (Study 4). Strongly prevention-focused people perceived their partners as more distancing and less supportive during conflict (Studies 1 and 2), approached conflict resolution by discussing the details related to the conflict (Study 1), and experienced a negative relationship outcome with more agitation (Study 3). Strongly promotion-focused people perceived their partners as more supportive and less distancing (Studies 1 and 2), displayed more creative conflict resolution behavior (Study 1), and experienced a negative relationship outcome with more sadness and a favorable outcome with more positive emotions (Study 3). In Study 4, recalling irresponsible and responsible partner behaviors was associated with experiencing more prevention-focused emotions, whereas recalling affectionate and neglectful partner behaviors was associated with more promotion-focused emotions. The findings show that regulatory focus and approach-avoidance motivations influence certain interpersonal processes in similar ways, but regulatory focus theory also generates novel predictions on which approach-avoidance models are silent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)935-954
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Volume101
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 1 2011

Keywords

  • Close relationships
  • Couples
  • Regulatory focus
  • Self-regulation

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