We examined whether the intensity of romantic affect is a function of deterrence to that affect (i.e., a reason for not feeling the affect) and explored the effect of deterrents that are relevant to the stimulus instigating the emotion. In line with the Emotional Intensity Theory, we found that positive affect toward the romantic partner was reduced by a minor salient partner flaw, was maintained intense by a moderately important flaw, and was reduced by a very important partner flaw. Study 2 replicated the results of Study 1. In Study 3, romantic negative affect in the form of anger at the romantic partner was a nonmonotonic function of the importance of a salient positive partner characteristic. Anger was reduced by a minor partner quality, was maintained intense by a moderately important quality, and was reduced by a very important partner quality. Theoretical and practical implications for romantic relationships are discussed.
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Another explanation for the results may be provided by Tesser and Beach (1998), who found that as negative life events increased, judgments of close relationships gradually became less favorable, jumped back toward positivity, and then gradually became less favorable. These researchers provided an awareness/correction explanation for the nonmonotonic effect, which assumes that participants are differentially aware of the deterrent and of the connection between the deterrent and the instigated emotion. This does not seem to be the case in our deterrence studies. In our studies, participants in all deterrence conditions focused their attention on the deterring partner characteristic, thought about it, and wrote a narrative or gave an example to illustrate that characteristic. It is therefore rather unlikely that participants were more aware of the effect of a moderate deterrent than of a low deterrent, and so forth.
The first author and two undergraduates independently coded the characteristics (the interrater reliability was acceptable, α = .79).
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We thank Christina Romo, Abbie Gilmore, Stephanie Cornwell, and Patricia Wood, who assisted with data collection. We especially thank Jack Brehm for the fruitful discussions that led to the development of this research and to Jack Brehm, Mark Ferguson, and David Lishner for their comments on an earlier draft. This paper is dedicated to the memory of Jack Brehm, the first author’s mentor, who passed away on August 9, 2009.
The complete list of the negative characteristics used in Study 2
My partner sometimes acts in an immature way.
My partner is sometimes short-tempered and can get easily frustrated or impatient.
My partner doesn’t spend as much time with me or give me as much attention as I would like.
My partner doesn’t communicate well; has problems expressing or listening to me.
My partner is sometimes overprotective and controlling.
My partner sometimes tends to be stubborn.
My partner has low self-esteem and tends to be reclusive and in a negative mood.
My partner is sometimes unreliable: I can’t depend on him/her.
My partner is sometimes dishonest and is difficult to trust.
My partner has a habit that sometimes is annoying.
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Miron, A.M., Knepfel, D. & Parkinson, S.K. The surprising effect of partner flaws and qualities on romantic affect. Motiv Emot 33, 261 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-009-9138-0
- Emotional intensity
- Romantic affect