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Is Your Partner Happy? It May Be Hard to Know

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February 19, 2008 | by Wendy Leopold

Michael Roloff, professor of communication studies, discusses high self-monitors and their relationships.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- High self-monitors -- people who are highly attuned to social situations and who most prone to moderate their behavior and the image they present to others accordingly -- are less satisfied in their romantic relationships than low self-monitors, a Northwestern University study finds.

Past research has tended to focus on the positives of self-monitoring -- the personality characteristic that accounts for the degree to which individuals can accurately read social situations and who then take them into account when dealing with others.

High self-monitors have been found to be more successful negotiators, more likely to receive job promotions, experience fewer conflicts with their colleagues and more likely to emerge as leaders than their lower self-monitoring counterparts.

"High self-monitors are social chameleons," said Michael E. Roloff, Northwestern professor of communication studies. "And because they are quick to pick up on social cues, are socially adept and unlikely to say upsetting things to others, they are generally well-liked and sought after."

But there's a downside for high self-monitors when it comes to their romantic relationships. "High self-monitors may appear to be the kind of people we want to have relationships with, but they themselves are less committed to and less happy in their relationships than low self-monitors," said Roloff.

In "The Dark Side of Self-Monitoring: How High Self-Monitors View Their Romantic Relationships" in Communication Reports, Roloff and co-authors Courtney N. Wright and Adrienne Holloway presented their findings from a study of 97 single young adults.

"The desire to alter one's personality to appropriately fit a given situation or social climate prevents high self-monitors from presenting their true selves during intimate interactions with their romantic partners," said Roloff.

They tend to avoid face-threatening interactions that honest self-disclosure potentially provides. The result: the partners of high self-monitors may be completely in the dark about the extent of their high self-monitoring partner's degree of commitment and regard.

"It's not that high self-monitors are intentionally deceptive or evil," Roloff said. "They appear to have an outlook and way of achieving their goals that makes them attractive to us socially but that prevents them from being particularly happy or loyal in their romantic relationships."

Conversely, the researchers found that low self-monitors -- people who are not particularly concerned with social appropriateness and are unlikely to mask their feelings or opinions to avoid confrontation or preserve their image -- are more committed to and more satisfied with their relationships.

Low self-monitors communicate in a more genuine, intimate way, but they also may say blunt and hurtful things to their partners. So their 'disclosive' communication can extract a price from their partners.

Fortunately, says Roloff, self-monitoring is normally distributed, so the likelihood is that we wind up with partners who are neither excessively low nor excessively high self-monitors.

The Northwestern researchers surveyed study participants about the levels of emotional commitment in their romantic relationships and used five measures to assess their degrees of self-monitoring, intimate communication, levels of emotional commitment, relational satisfaction and relational commitment. They did not survey the partners of study participants.
Topics: Research