Relationship happiness based on desirability, study shows

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

A recent study shows happiness in a relationship is dependent on how one’s partner compares to others in the dating pool.

Psychology graduate student Daniel Conroy-Beam researched a group of almost 260 heterosexual people who had been in relationships for an average of 7.5 years and found those with partners less desirable than themselves were satisfied only if they perceived their significant other as the best option among potential partners. This was not a factor among people with partners more desirable than themselves, who were satisfied even when their partners didn’t match their ideal preferences.

Conroy-Beam said the study was not meant as a guide for happy relationships.

“I am not in the business of giving people advice,” Conroy-Beam said. “Part of the purpose of this study was a reminder that happiness is not as straightforward as we think.”

Conroy-Beam said he decided to initiate this study when he encountered alternate findings concluding preferred personality traits and desirability were not closely related to happiness in relationships.

The boundaries of the study are very broad — there was no limit on age, relationship status or length of relationship — and he hopes to further expand the study in the future to include same-sex relationships.  

Business graduate student David Valenzuela said his longest relationship lasted about four months, but he still feels the findings of the study ring true. He said he chooses his girlfriends based on whether they possess more of the traits he desires, compared to others in the dating pool.

“They definitely had a lot of the qualities [I wanted],” Valenzuela said. “They were more desirable or about even. I wouldn’t say I was dating out of my league.”

Kathy Thatcher, senior grants and contracts specialist in the College of Liberal Arts is approaching her 39th wedding anniversary is fast approaching, said her own relationship matched the conclusions of the study. She said when she and her husband were dating, he displayed the traits she was looking for.

Thatcher said her marriage's success might be on account of some elements the research was not able to study.

“Shared goals, shared values, and honesty,” Thatcher said.