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Researchers have discovered the secret ingredient to high achievement: your partner

Partners implicitly adopt each other’s aims and avoidances, according to new research from the University of Basel.

Researchers have discovered the secret ingredient to high achievement: your partner
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Choose your partner carefully: The person you shack up with will deeply impact your future goals and achievements.

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This is the finding of a study at the University of Basel, where over the course of a year, researchers twice assessed the daily goals of 456 long-term heterosexual couples for two weeks.

Their findings will make more sense if you understand how goals function. Psychologists generally sort goals into two flavors:

  • Achievement goals, in which someone tries to obtain a desired outcome, such as a graduate degree or a meaningful travel experience
  • Avoidance goals, in which someone avoids an undesirable outcome, such as avoiding bankruptcy or looking dumb

Both types of goals drive behavior. The researchers found that over time, partners share both the same avoidance goals and achievement goals. For example, if one partner sought personal growth or meaningful experiences, so too did the other; if one partner avoided conflicts or stress, so too did the other.

This is big! It means that partners don’t just support each other, but implicitly adopt each other’s aims and avoidances. The study found that these mirrored goals appeared regardless of gender, age, or relationship length.

Interestingly, the researchers found a time delay as to when a partner takes up a newly emerging goal. Rather than immediately jumping on a mate’s bandwagon, partners don’t buy into a hubby’s interests until days or months later, once it sticks.

“This could be an adaptive mechanism to maintain the stability of the relationship by not being influenced by every momentary shift made by the partner,” says first author Jana Nikitin, a professor of psychology at the University of Basel, explaining why you get a temporary free pass on your lover’s sudden yen for long-distance hiking or weeklong silent meditation retreats. Phew.

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