Mutual Cooperation in Romantic Relationship: Men and Women Do it Differently

By Amy Taylor on July 02, 2013

Every couple would agree that cooperation is an essential ingredient to the success of a romantic relationship. But how do men and women cooperate? New research suggests that whilst men tend to match their partner’s emotion during mutual cooperation, women do the opposite.

Researchers at the University of Arizona, led by Ashley Randall, a post-doctoral research associate at John & Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences at the school’s department of psychiatry, studied how the act of cooperating affect emotional coordination between partners.

The study involved 44 heterosexual couples who were videotaped whilst having a conversation about shared lifestyle related to health and diet. The couples were then asked to watch the video and assess how they were feeling emotionally.

They found that men generally show an ‘inphase’ response to their partners’ emotions. For instance, when the woman is feeling positive, the man is likely to feel positive as well. Women on the other hand, experience an ‘antiphase’ response to the emotions of their significant others. This means they feel less positive when their partners are feeling more positive, and vice versa.

These surprising findings were published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationship.

Women as emotional regulators

According to Randall, social psychology on cooperation suggests that women are generally more cooperative whilst men often try to avoid conflict. Thus, the gentlemen might be subconsciously syncing their emotions with their partners’ to avoid conflicts or reach a speedy resolution. Take for example a woman who comes out from a boutique fitting store and asks her husband what he thinks about a dress. The man would most likely say ‘it’s fine’ hoping that his partner would immediately proceed to the cash register and make a purchase. But most likely, the woman will go back to the fitting room to try more clothes.

Although they didn’t test for it, Randall suggests that it is also possible that women are able to pick up on the fact that their partner’s agreeability is not genuine. So if she suspects that he is not really positive as he may seem, she would feel less positive to get at his real feelings and achieve a mutually satisfying resolution.

Whilst the new research opens up another venue towards understanding how men and women mutually cooperate, Randall emphasised the need for more research to determine how these patterns can contribute to the longevity or demise of a romantic relationship.

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