And this relationship is just right : normative romantic relationship development



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The current five studies address an unanswered question in the romantic relationships literature: what do couples’ friends and family members observe about couples’ romances that brings those network members to (dis)approve of those relationships? I hypothesized that the extent to which couples follow an average, or normative, relationship trajectory—a just right, ‘Goldilocks’ relationship progression—increases network member relationship approval and support and, ultimately, influences couples’ relationship quality and outcomes. In Study 1, newlyweds generated a timeline of significant courtship events by indicating when each event occurred in their histories together. Spouses whose courtship timelines progressed in a more normative sequence reported greater marital satisfaction, and this association was mediated by more positive perceived relationships with friends and family members. In Studies 2a-c, and 3a, participants exhibited greater approval for a friend’s relationship to the degree that that relationship was perceived to have developed normatively. In Studies 3a and 3b, the associations between perceived normative relationship development, perceived network relationship approval, and relationship quality were replicated in engaged, recently-married, and long-married couples. Further, additional analyses suggest that social network relationship approval and support mediate the link between normative relationship development and subsequent relationship quality. In Studies 4a-b, the effect of normative relationship development on concurrent relationship quality was not replicated in dating couples, indicating that it may be too early in couples’ relationships to experience the benefits of normativity. Finally, Studies 5b and 5c (based on a qualitative pilot study) tested whether experiencing a more normative relationship development in fledgling relationships was associated with relationship quality, romantic interest, and relationship dissolution. Relationship normativity predicted higher peak romantic interest in both long-term and short-term relationships in Studies 5b, and higher average romantic interest and peak romantic interest, but only in long-term relationships, in Study 5c. There were no differences in deviations from a normative relationship progression, for short-term or long-term relationships, in whether or not those relationships had ended or were ongoing. Across studies, more normative relationship progressions were generally associated with greater relationship approval and support from couples’ social networks, and more average, ‘Goldilocks’ relationships thrived.