Don’t tell me who to love
Romantic relationships are born within a broad social network, including family and friends (Sprecher et al. 2006; Wrighe & Sinclair, 2012), which has effects. The latter refer to the way in which the network’s approval of its relationship increases its positive results, and how, on the contrary, social disapproval can lead to its cessation (Felmlee, 2001).
Advertising message This study has two main purposes: on the one hand to examine how social network reactions, whether positive or negative, influence romantic relationships, including the choice of partner and the development of love and mutual commitment; on the other, consider how the responses to attempts at social influence can be tempered by psychological reactivity. It is, in fact, unlikely that people are homogeneous in their reactions to the attempts of influence of others, so this research offers a survey on reactivity, understood as a personal characteristic that can buffer the effect of the interpersonal network. Specifically, Sinclair et al. (2015) conducted three studies in which they examined the influence of the opinions of relatives and friends on feelings towards a romantic partner.
The authors recruited, through an online questionnaire provided at a large university, participants (N = 858) involved in romantic relationships, in order to measure their perception of the opinions of the social network and the quality of the relationship. In addition, two scales of psychological reactivity (challenge reactance and independent reactance) were included, in order to examine whether individual differences cushion the negative impact of social disapproval. In particular, the challenge reactance reflects the desire to do the opposite of what is recommended by others, while independent reactance means emotional resistance to perceived attempts at influence.
Each participant (N = 340), recruited through the university via online questionnaire, was randomly assigned to read one of the four scenarios, related to a romantic partner, in which the source of the opinions was manipulated (friends or relatives) and the type of opinion (approval or disapproval). The participants then reported their possible psychological reactions triggered by the scenario of the cartoon proposed to them and how much they would have engaged in the hypothetical relationship. In this case, psychological responsiveness was studied as a response to the situation, rather than as an individual trait.
In the latter study, a virtual dating paradigm (Wright and Sinclair, 2012) was used to further explore the interaction of psychological responsiveness and the effect of the social network. In particular, in this case the influence of psychological reactivity on the opinions of third parties was considered in the very early stages of the beginning of a relationship. In the virtual dating game, participants not engaged in any romantic relationship, interacted online with two single men or women and received feedback from friends or relatives (approval or disapproval) about the hypothesis that one of the partners would have been a good partner or not. In study 3, therefore, it was possible to evaluate the reactions of individuals (N = 228) in front of a real appointment.
Advertising message Regarding the effects of the interpersonal network, study 1 showed that individuals express more love and commitment towards their partner when the members of their social circle are supportive. Furthermore, psychological reactivity moderates the relationship between the opinions of the network and the love for one’s partner. Specifically, a high level of independence reactance has allowed the members of the couples considered to resist the threat of disapproval of the network, to the point of being able to continue to love their partner regardless of social opinion, rather than reacting by doing the exact opposite of what friends or parents claimed (for example, loving the disapproved partner more or least loving the approved partner). Study 2 revealed that the views of the network can cause differences in the expected commitment to a hypothetical partner and that the effect of the interpersonal network is mitigated by the fact that the subjects react to the opinions. In particular, the approval of members of the social circle raises the degree of commitment that individuals think they can have towards a potential romantic partner, just as disapproval decreases it. Furthermore, if individuals, with a strong desire to make free decisions, believe that friends and relatives interfere with their romantic decision-making process, they maintain their evaluations regardless of the opinions of others. Finally,
Therefore, we can conclude that people with a high degree of independence maintain their assessments even in the face of opposition from their social circle. Furthermore, the perception of the threat to one’s decision-making autonomy regarding the romantic sphere, can modify the individual reactions in the face of the disapproval of parents or friends regarding a wide range of partner evaluations: perception of love, commitment, sympathy and positive characteristics of the partner. Those with a low level of independent reactance, however, are far more vulnerable to others’ judgment and disapproval.