Expected Utility in Romantic Relationships: Satisfaction as a Cue for Romantic Partnership Dissolution


The choice to enter and leave a romantic relationship can be framed as a decision-making problem based on expected utility of the partnership over time, akin to a forager deciding whether to stay in a particular patch based on the amount of resources it provides. We examined the temporal trajectory of three traits that may correspond to resources in romantic relationships—trust, love, and satisfaction—to determine whether they behave like depleting or replenishing patches from a foraging perspective. All three rise over time in intact relationships—suggesting replenishment—but plateau or fall in dissolved relationships—suggesting depletion. Survival analysis demonstrated that higher ratings of all three quality variables decreased the risk of romantic dissolution. The results suggest that these cues are lower in dissolved relationships, indicating individuals could potentially use them as cues for leaving an unsatisfactory relationship patch via aspiration-level cognitive mechanisms.

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