Going through hard times in a relationship? A recent study suggests that thinking about the future might help you to maintain a healthy relationship as it helps to overcome conflicts and bring positivity.
“When romantic partners argue over things like finances, jealousy, or other interpersonal issues, they tend to employ their current feelings as fuel for a heated argument. By envisioning their relationship in the future, people can shift the focus away from their current feelings and mitigate conflicts,” said Alex Huynh, Researcher, University of Waterloo, in the study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Previous research suggested that people are able to reason more wisely over issues of infidelity when they are asked to do so from a third person perspective.
The new study reveals whether similar benefits in reasoning and relationship wellbeing can be induced by simply stepping back and thinking about the future.
For the study, the participants were instructed to reflect on a recent conflict with a romantic partner or a close friend. One group of participants were then asked to describe how they would feel about the conflict one year in the future, while another group was asked to describe how they feel in the present.
The researchers examined participants’ written responses through a text-analysis programme for their use of pronouns – such as I, me, she, he. These choices of pronouns were used to capture participants’ focus on the feelings and behaviour of those involved in the conflict.
Written responses were also examined for beneficial reasoning strategies — for example, forgiveness and reinterpreting the conflict more positively.
In particular, when participants extended their thinking about the relationship a year into the future, they were able to show more forgiveness and reinterpret the event in a more reasoned and positive light.
“Our study demonstrates that adopting a future-oriented perspective in the context of a relationship conflict — reflecting on how one might feel a year from now — may be a valuable coping tool for one’s psychological happiness and relationship wellbeing,” added Huynh.
The research also has potential implications for understanding how prospection, or future-thinking, can be a beneficial strategy for a variety of conflicts people experience in their everyday lives.