Mental contrasting and conciliatory behavior in romantic relationships

Abstract

When people in a relationship offend each other, it is important for them to behave in a conciliatory manner if they wish to reconcile. We tested in two studies if mental contrasting (versus other modes of thoughts) is an effective strategy for people to self-regulate their conciliatory behavior. In Study 1, we assessed student participants’ spontaneous mode of thought when thinking about an unresolved interpersonal transgression and measured their commitment to reconcile. Eight days later, we assessed their conciliatory behavior. Participants who spontaneously mentally contrasted reported more commitment to reconcile and showed sensible conciliatory behavior (i.e., based on their expectations of solving their interpersonal concern). In Study 2, romantic couples were invited into the lab and asked to identify unresolved incidents in which one partner (the perpetrator) had offended the other (the victim). After perpetrators were induced to mentally contrast or indulge about a successful reconciliation, we videotaped the couples discussing the incident. Only perpetrators who mentally contrasted showed sensible conciliatory behavior and reached effective reconciliation (measured right after the experiment and 2 weeks later). The findings imply that mental contrasting supports perpetrators to show conciliatory behavior when it promises to be successful, but discourages it when it seems futile or adverse, thereby protecting the relationship from further harm.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Regarding the number of participants recruited for both studies reported in the present paper, we want to mention that both of our studies were time-intensive and longitudinal; we recruited both individual students and romantic couples and invited them to our lab. Further, we had all participants come to the lab for a follow-up session and we let them fill in retrospective diaries. Thus, we simply recruited as many participants possible within the financial and experimental constraints of our study designs (see also Funder et al. 2014).

  2. 2.

    In this study, additional measures were collected that are not discussed here. A complete list of measures is available in the supporting information.

  3. 3.

    We repeated the analyses with both the main effect of incentive value and the interaction between incentive value and condition. Whereas the main effect of incentive value on commitment was significant, the interaction between incentive value and condition was not significant for commitment, F(1, 99) = 1.13, p = .148.

    Similarly, for immediacy of action, the main effect of incentive value was significant, and here, the interaction between incentive value and condition was also significant, F(1, 97) = 3.99, p = .049. For both analyses, adding the interaction term of incentive value and condition did not change the significance of the hypothesized expectations * condition interaction.

  4. 4.

    We repeated the analyses with both the main effect of incentive value and the interaction between incentive value and condition. Whereas the main effect of incentive value on conciliatory behavior was significant, the interaction between incentive value and condition was not significant for conciliatory behavior, F(1, 44) = 0.65, p = .423.

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Correspondence to Jana Schrage or Bettina Schwörer.

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Schrage, J., Schwörer, B., Krott, N.R. et al. Mental contrasting and conciliatory behavior in romantic relationships. Motiv Emot 44, 356–372 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-019-09791-9

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Keywords

  • Reconciliation
  • Conciliatory behavior
  • Self-regulation
  • Mental contrasting