Exploring the mutual influence of self and relationship : a theory of couple identity negotiation



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Relationships can shape the self-concept, draw out unique aspects of an individual’s personality, and influence individual perspectives and goals. Yet the self is not a passive player in relationships as self-related goals and motives can also influence how relationships form and develop. While the field is replete with research on the unidirectional influence between self and relationships, surprisingly little has been done on synergistic effect of combined self and relationship influences. I present a new theory of couple identity negotiation that captures how two individuals in a relationship negotiate their independent identities to form a unified couple identity. I hypothesize that the process through which an individual and his/her partner merge to create a new couple identity is crucial in determining relationship longevity and satisfaction. I draw from social identity theory (Turner et al., 1987) and identity fusion theory (Swann et al., 2009) to propose three models of couple identity negotiation: Model A involves the self being subsumed by the partner; Model B involves a negotiation wherein the self and partner both contribute to the couple identity; Model C the self subsuming the partner’s self. Study 1 tests the links between the different models to relationship outcomes, namely relationship satisfaction and commitment. Study 2 explores personality correlates of the models. Results demonstrate that couple identity negotiation models predict different levels of relationship quality. Furthermore, the models are not significantly correlated with personality variables, suggesting that the models are specific to the relationship, and are not driven solely by individual differences.