Treat your partner mean to keep them keen: Scientists reveal how a small amount of fear may improve a relationship - but too much can destroy it

  • Scientists asked people about the state and dynamics of their relationships
  • They then manipulated the participants' view that the relationship could end
  • Results showed both romance and commitment diminished when participants heard that there was either a high or low risk of a break-up
  • But a moderate amount of fear led to an improvement in the relationship?

It is relationship advice which goes back decades, 'to treat 'em mean and keep them keen.'

Now psychologists have found a little fear of getting dumped really can be good for a relationship..

People who are afraid their relationship may end are more committed and feel more strongly about their partner, their study reports.

Rather like disapproving parents or difficult situations, it appears the fear of losing someone is an 'obstacle' which brings people closer together.

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Pictured are actors Chris Pratt and Anna Faris, who split in August 2017
Singer Katy Perry and actor Orlando Bloom split in March 2017

From Chris Pratt and Anna Faris (pictured left) to Orlando Bloom and Katy Perry (pictured right), several celebrity break-ups have shocked Hollywood in 2017. And a new study suggests that some of these separations may have been fueled by a fear of getting dumped

THE STUDY?

Participants provided information about themselves and the state and dynamics of their relationship.

The researchers then manipulated the participants' perception that their relationship could end, by providing statistics about the failure of relationships, and giving false feedback about the chances of their romance ending.

Participants were then asked how committed they were to their relationship, and how they felt towards their partner.

Results showed that participants' feelings and levels of commitment were more intense where there was no mention made about the possibility that the relationship could end.

But both romance and commitment diminished when participants heard that there was either a high or low risk of a break-up.?

However the Italian researchers found people in relationships may not want to treat 'em too mean. Too much, they say, could destroy it.?

If the fear of a relationship ending is too much, people will become less committed and distance themselves.

The study, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, questioned more than 100 people on their commitment and feelings after manipulating their expectations that the relationship would end.

Co-author Dr Giuseppe Pantaleo, from San Raffaele University in Italy, said: 'As soon as people become aware of a potential risk their relationship might end, there is a paradoxical effect. The higher the risk, the stronger their commitment to their romantic partner – up to a point.

'This result is predicated on the basis of emotional intensity theory, by the late social psychologist Jack W. Brehm. According to this theory, obstacles to romantic affect make our feelings toward the romantic partner grow stronger, to overcome the perceived threat posed by the perspective of a relationship ending.

'However if the threat of the relationship ending is too strong, people distance themselves because they are no longer willing to expend the energy on something that might end.'

The study involved 104 people in relationships, almost one in five of whom had a long-distance partner, with almost eight per cent co-habiting.

Participants were asked how they felt about their partner and how satisfied they were in their relationship, plus how committed they felt.

But their responses changed based on their fear of the relationship ending, which was manipulated by the social psychologists. Three-quarters of the group, whose relationships had each lasted for an average of almost two years, were given a passage to read about the chances of a couple staying together.

The study found that?both romance and commitment diminish when people hear that there is either a high or low risk of a break-up (stock image)

The study found that?both romance and commitment diminish when people hear that there is either a high or low risk of a break-up (stock image)

HOW TO BREAK UP WITH SOMEONE?

People value directness over an extended and overly polite lead in, a recent study found.

Professor Alan Manning, who led the study, said: 'An immediate 'I'm breaking up with you' might be too direct.'

When it comes to receiving negative information about physical facts, such as 'that water is toxic', most people want it straight up, without a lead-in.

Though the buffer in giving bad news is almost always a bad idea, there are cases when it can be valuable.?

When trying to make a persuasive case for someone to change a firmly held opinion, strategic build-up can be important.?

They were told either 86 per cent, 52 per cent or 14 per cent of couples split up after two years to manipulate their fear of a break-up. Then researchers loudly commented about their own risk of ending a relationship after reading participants' answers to a questionnaire on how often they fell out with their partner.

The researchers found those left a little fearful of their relationship ending were most committed and loving.

Gurpreet Singh, a relationship counsellor for Relate, said: 'This is a very interesting study and we know that people who feel very safe in their relationship do run the risk of taking it for granted.'

'People who feel their partner will always be there for them can decide they don't have to spend as much time with them or check their feelings less often, so it makes sense for them to remain aware of the risk.

'However even small doubts about a relationship can become magnified and they can end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy, if not countered with positive thoughts.'

The study found a moderate risk of a relationship ending made people feel more strongly, but a higher risk saw them back off. It suggests people should be careful not to scare their partner too much if they want to hold on to them.

Lead author Dr Simona Sciara said: 'This shows that, when faced with a 'too high' risk of ending the relationship, participants clearly reduced the intensity of their positive feelings towards the romantic partner,.'?

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