All those happy couples you see walking around in the throes of new love? It won't last...but the effects of love and romance do, say psychologists in a Journal of Personality (DOI: 10.1111/jopy.12102)
The authors focused on neuroticism – one of the five characteristics some psychologists use as basic dimensions of human personality which can be used to characterize every human being.
"Neurotic people are rather anxious, insecure, and easily annoyed. They have a tendency towards depression, often show low self-esteem and tend to be generally dissatisfied with their lives," Dr. Christine Finn explains. "However, we were able to show that they become more stable in a love relationship, and that their personality stabilizes."
The psychologists accompanied 245 couples in the age group 18 to 30 years for nine months and interviewed them individually every three months. Using a questionnaire, they analyzed the degrees of neuroticism as well as relationship satisfaction.
The study participants also had to evaluate fictitious everyday life situations and their possible significance for their own partnership.
"This part was crucial, because neurotic people process influences from the outside world differently," Finn explains. For instance, they react more strongly to negative stimuli and have a tendency to interpret ambiguous situations negatively instead of positively or neutrally.
The psychologists found that this tendency gradually decreases over time when being in a romantic relationship. The partners support each other, according to, but the cognitive level, i.e. the world of inner thought of an individual, plays a crucial role: "The positive experiences and emotions gained by having a partner change the personality – not directly but indirectly – as at the same time the thought structures and the perception of presumably negative situations change," Finn emphasizes.
To put it more simply: They believe love helps us to tackle life with more confidence instead of seeing things pessimistically straight away.
They were able to observe this effect in men as well as women. "Of course everyone reacts differently and a long, happy relationship has a stronger effect than a short one," said Prof. Dr. Franz J. Neyer, co-author and chair of Differential Psychology of the Jena University. "But generally we can say: young adults entering a relationship can only win!"
For Finn the results contain yet another positive message, not only for people with neurotic tendencies but also for those who suffer from depression or anxiety disorders: "It is difficult to reform a whole personality but our study confirms: Negative thinking can be unlearned!"