A meta-analysis of 32 studies sheds light on the relationship between couples’ interdependence and their relationship satisfaction. The new findings, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, indicate that couples with unified goals report the most satisfaction, while those with conflicting goals demonstrate the least satisfaction.
The authors of the new research noted that approximately “40% of marriages end in divorce.” This statistic motivates research into what factors may lead to more satisfying marriages. As relationships have become egalitarian, with money-making and domestic tasks distributed among both partners, old constructs of marriage satisfaction no longer fit.
Today’s marriages are often composed of two people not with different roles but individual careers, parenting, and domestic goals. The researchers were curious if the interweaving of these goals would be a key to marriage satisfaction.
The researchers identified three types of goal interdependence for married couples: goal congruence, goal support, and goal conflict.
Goal congruence refers to couples with “similar goals or share goals.” Goal support refers to couples who support one another’s goal with emotional cheerleading or action steps. Finally, goal conflict implies the marriage partners have incompatible or deliberate interference with each other’s goals.
Researcher Ana Toma and her colleagues hypothesize that “meta-analytical results regarding the association between these types of goal interdependence and relationship satisfaction could provide insights in conceptualizing goal interdependence and providing a more coherent picture on how goal interdependence relates to romantic relationships.”
The research team identified 32 studies consisting of 40 samples and 9153 participants. Studies included had to have examined goal-related interdependence, a measure of relationship satisfaction, considered romantic relationships, and were quantitative.
Meta-analyses are considered to be a strong tool for synthesizing existing research because they combine the results from multiple studies, which can result in a more precise estimate of effect sizes and a reduction in the potential for random error.
Complex statistical analysis of results from these studies found a moderately strong relationship between relationship satisfaction and goal congruence in romantic relationships. The relationship between satisfaction and goal support was mild. As couples experience more significant goal conflict, the less satisfaction they report.
The research team searched for moderating factors that may explain the connection between relationship satisfaction and goal interdependence. They investigated the potential for goal type, size of goal, and goal outcomes to be relevant to the relationship and found no good evidence to support this hypothesis. This may indicate that no goal is too small or misguided to enhance a relationship.
The research team acknowledged some limitations of the study. First, they limited their research to only three types of goal interdependence, a concept that may be more nuanced than this interpretation. Second, the number of studies included could be larger to ensure the results can be generalized to the general population. Third, the data used was all from published studies, which may be a biased sample; the research team attempted to utilize some unpublished data but could not procure it in time.
These considerations do not diminish the relevance of a meta-analysis of this size. Toma and colleagues conclude, “Our results provide evidence favoring the assumption that goal interdependence relates to romantic relationship functioning and support the importance of considering goal interdependence as an instrument for increasing relationship satisfaction in couples’ counseling.”
The study, “The role of goal interdependence in couples relationship satisfaction: A meta-analysis”, was authored by Ana Toma, Petruța Rusu, and Ioana Podina.