What Women Know
By Jeanie Lerche Davis
Dec. 13, 2001 -- In the jumbled puzzle of romance and relationships, a girl's best friend may indeed have the best insights into her love affair -- knowing whether it will last or not.
A new study analyzes the typical heterosexual relationship, looking at who's the best judge of how things are going. Turns out that the view from the outside, from her friends especially, will tell if they are hits or splits.
"Romantic relationships do not exist in an interpersonal vacuum," writes lead author Christopher R. Agnew, PhD, a psychological sciences researcher with Purdue University in Indiana.
"There is important information to be gained about a given relationship from outside of it."
"Friends form their own perceptions about each other's romantic involvements, including perceptions of a romance's states," says Agnew. In fact, friends "are significantly more negative than those held by the couple members themselves."
It's likely that two people in a relationship have too much emotional investment to be fair judges of how they are doing together, he says.
His study is published in this month's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
In his study, Agnew asked 74 male-female couples and their network of friends -- both mutual friends and individual friends -- about the couple's relationship. They all were asked to rate the male's and female's commitment to each other and their closeness.
Researchers found that the women's friends were much better at predicting a relationship's fate than the men's buddies were -- or the couples themselves. In fact, her confidantes were able to accurately predict whether the couple would remain together or break up six months later.
Women tend to use their female friends as "sounding boards," sharing detailed information about the relationship, Agnew says. Also, her friends are "less biased" and have "less a personal stake in the romance," so their judgment is less clouded than the couple's joint friends.
His friends -- and their mutual ones -- had just minimal skills in being able to see the relationship accurately, Agnew writes.
However, couples whose social networks had a higher proportion of joint friends "were significantly more committed, satisfied, and invested," and were also "significantly less likely to have ended their relationship six months later," he adds.
Having mutual friends reduces our involvement with individual friends who might threaten the commitment -- largely because they may introduce us to "attractive alternatives," Agnew explains.
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