This guest article from Psych Central was written by Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP
A recent study reported in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that young couples are actually better than long-term partners at knowing each other’s preferences. In this study of 38 young couples aged 19 to 32 and 20 older couples aged 62 to 78; the older couples had far more difficulty correctly predicting their partners’ food preferences.
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Adding to this counterintuitive finding is the fact that the older couples actually expressed more confidence in “knowing” their partners than the younger couples and they actually knew less. Older couples also predicted that their partner’s preferences would be similar to theirs – they were wrong!!
What Does This Suggest?
The authors of the study prompt us to wonder – How do we fall out of “knowing” our partners? Is there a tendency over time to pay less attention to our partners? Do we actually project more and understand less?
The Reality of Change
The definition of the verb “to know” is to understand as fact or truth, to be acquainted with, and to understand from experience. We may know, for example that in terms of personality traits, our partner is more open to experiences than we are, more extroverted, less nervous, perhaps more affectionate. While such traits are enduring in some ways, they are compounded by many other factors that shape both our knowledge of self and our partner.
Perhaps the underlying message of the study above is the realization that partners and the relationships they share are never static. Whether by choice, age, or crisis, people change.
The challenge that emerges is the need to believe that we “know” our partner in order to feel safe while at the same time recognizing there is so much”more to know” over time. Reflecting this, in his book, Can Love Last? Stephen Mitchell proposes that for romance to last, partners need to blend the familiar with the mystery and intrigue of the unknown.
The Challenges of Knowing
When working with couples trying to understand one another, it goes without saying that the counterpart to “knowing” your partner is the “wish to be known.” A close look at the following couple dynamics will highlight some of the challenges to really knowing and being known over time.
Presumptions of Knowing
While most partners are delighted by the other’s efforts to remember the exact name and size of their designer coffee or the perfect returnable holiday gift, presumptions of knowing often impede the process of knowing a partner.
Most partners don’t want the other to finish their sentence or question a change “Since when do you order fish?” “You never want dessert. Are you sure you want cheesecake?”
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In many cases the presumption to know precludes the possibility of growing. “I turned down the hiking invitation with the Clarks – I told them you don’t like to sweat.” (This comment is likely to do more damage than just preclude possibilities).
Failure to Recognize Change