Large study provides evidence that goal incongruity can undermine romantic relationship satisfaction

A meta-analysis of 32 studies sheds light on the relationship between couples’ interdependence and their relationship satisfaction. The new findings, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, indicate that couples with unified goals report more satisfaction, while those with conflicting goals report less satisfaction.

The authors of the new research noted that approximately “40% of marriages end in divorce.” This statistic motivates research into what factors can lead to more satisfying marriages. As relationships become egalitarian, with earning money and household chores distributed between both partners, the old constructs of satisfaction in marriage no longer fit.

Today’s marriages are often made up of two people with not different roles, but individual careers, parenting, and domestic goals. The researchers were curious to know whether intertwining these goals was the key to marital satisfaction.

Researchers have identified three types of goal interdependence for couples: goal congruence, goal support, and goal conflict.

Goal congruence refers to couples with “similar goals or shared goals”. Goal support refers to couples supporting each other’s goal with emotional encouragement or action steps. Finally, goal conflict implies that spouses have inconsistent or deliberate interference with each other’s goals.

Researcher Ana Toma and her colleagues hypothesize that “meta-analytic findings on the association between these types of goal interdependence and relationship satisfaction may provide insights to conceptualize goal interdependence and provide a more coherent picture of how goal interdependence of goals relates to romantic relationships.

The research team identified 32 studies comprising 40 samples and 9,153 participants. Included studies should have examined goal-related interdependence, a measure of relationship satisfaction, considered romantic relationships, and were quantitative.

Meta-analyses are considered a strong tool for synthesizing existing research because they combine the results of multiple studies, which can result in a more accurate estimate of effect sizes and a reduction in the potential for random error.

Complex statistical analysis of the results of these studies found a moderately strong relationship between relationship satisfaction and goal congruence in romantic relationships. The relationship between satisfaction and goal support was slight. As couples experience more significant goal conflicts, the less satisfaction they report.

The research team looked for moderating factors that might explain the connection between relationship satisfaction and goal interdependence. They investigated the potential for goal type, goal size, and goal outcomes to be relevant to the relationship and did not find good evidence to support this hypothesis. This could indicate that no goals are too small or misplaced to improve a relationship.

The research team acknowledged some limitations of the study. First, they limited their research to just three types of goal interdependence, a concept that may be more nuanced than this interpretation. Second, the number of included studies could be larger to ensure that the results can be generalized to the general population. Third, the data used were all from published studies, which may be a biased sample; the research team tried to utilize some unpublished data but was unable to obtain it in time.

These considerations do not diminish the relevance of a meta-analysis of this size. Toma and his colleagues conclude: “Our results provide evidence that favors the assumption that goal interdependence is related to romantic relationship functioning and support the importance of considering goal interdependence as an instrument to increase relationship satisfaction in counseling for couples”.

The study, “The role of goal interdependence in couples’ relationship satisfaction: a meta-analysis,” was written by Ana Toma, Petruța Rusu, and Ioana Podina.

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