New research provides evidence that nostalgia plays an important role in the functioning of romantic relationships. The new findings, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, indicate that romantic nostalgia is positively associated with greater relationship commitment, satisfaction, and closeness.
“Nostalgia has received a lot of interest over the last few years, not just within pop culture, but among the personality and social psychology research community as well,” said study author Nicholas D. Evans (@NicholasEvans), an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Manitoba.
“Much of the prior work has pointed to the numerous psychological benefits of experiencing nostalgia. This is especially the case when it comes to its benefit to foster a sense of closeness or connectedness to other people, particularly close loved ones. Coming from a background investigating romantic relationships early in my academic career, I was really interested in understanding how this connectedness benefit could extend to romantic relationships.”
“Since romantic relationships are oftentimes a very important aspect in people’s lives, I wanted to understand how people’s nostalgic recollections of significant events from their romantic relationships could serve relationship-specific benefits,” Evans said. “Surprisingly, the work investigating nostalgia within a romantic context was fairly limited, so I was thrilled at the prospect of extending the nostalgia research to investigating its relevance to romantic relationships.”
Evans and his colleagues conducted a series of four studies to investigate the link between nostalgia and relationship functioning.
In their first study, 245 adults currently in a romantic relationship (who were recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform) indicated how important romantic nostalgia was to them and the frequency with which they experienced romantic nostalgia. The researchers found that participants who were more romantically nostalgic tended to also report greater relationship closeness, satisfaction, and commitment.
The findings provided initial evidence of a link between romantic nostalgia and relationship benefits. To better understand whether romantic nostalgia had causal effects, the researchers conducted two additional studies that sought to experimentally induced feelings of nostalgia for one’s partner.
In the second study, 134 university students currently in romantic relationships were randomly assigned to reflect on and write about either a nostalgic experience with their current romantic partner or an ordinary experience with their partner. Participants who wrote about a nostalgic experience reported greater relationship satisfaction and felt more committed to their partners compared to those in the control condition.
In the third study, 151 university students currently in romantic relationships were randomly assigned to either think of a song they enjoyed or to think of a song that reminded them of their romantic relationship. The researchers then found the song on Spotify and had the participant listen to the entire song.
Once again, the researchers found evidence that nostalgia had causal effects. Participants in the romantic nostalgia condition reported higher levels of romantic connectedness, relationship optimism, closeness, satisfaction, compassionate love, and passionate love compared to those in the control condition.
“Experiencing romantic nostalgia through recalling a significant event involving one’s current romantic partner can, at least briefly, enhance their perceptions of closeness, commitment, and satisfaction with their partner,” Evans told PsyPost.
For their fourth and final study, Evans and his research team conducted a diary study to examine relationship functioning in daily life. They asked 108 students currently in romantic relationships to complete a daily survey for two weeks.
The results were in line with the previous findings. Participants tended to feel more connected to their romantic partner, more optimistic about their relationship, and less inclined to leave their partner on days in which they felt more romantically nostalgic. This was true even after controlling for the amount of time they spent with their romantic partners.
But the study, like all research, includes some limitations.
“There are several caveats and questions I am addressing or planning to address in my work,” Evans said. “Below are a few of the ones that really interest me.”
“Prior work has shown that experiencing nostalgia can motivate people to engage in relationship building or pursuit behaviors. Along similar lines, could experiencing romantic nostalgia facilitate intentions to maintain or improve one’s relationship, such as an enhanced willingness to be understanding and forgiving of one’s partner and accommodating for their needs? This is an important question to address in order to better understand romantic nostalgia’s potential benefits for relationship quality and functioning.”
“Additionally, I mentioned that romantic nostalgia can, at least briefly, enhance people’s perceptions of positive relationship quality,” Evans explained. “I purposefully included the caveat, ‘at least briefly’, because we did not test how long the benefits of romantic nostalgia last after recalling a romantically nostalgic memory. Therefore, do the positive benefits of romantic nostalgia last long enough for someone to actually engage in these behaviors? This is another question I am hoping to address in my future work.”
“Finally, we investigated the extent to which people in relationships generally reap the benefits of experiencing romantic nostalgia. The extent to which people experience the feelings of closeness, commitment, and satisfaction may differ with respect to different relationship-specific individual characteristics (e.g., attachment styles) or even the quality of the relationship prior to experiencing nostalgia. In order to better understand the conditions under which nostalgia can serve its relationship-specific benefits, I plan to investigate both directions in my work.”
“I am excited to further this line of research as well as lines of research investigating other potential cognitive and interpersonal processes that may influence how people feel about or perceive the quality of their romantic relationships,” Evans added. “With how much work that has already been done in the field of close relationships, there are still so many additional avenues of research to investigate, and that’s one of the many reasons why I truly enjoy my work as a social and personality psychologist.”
The study, “Romantic Nostalgia as a Resource for Healthy Relationships“, was authored by Nicholas D. Evans, Jacob Juhl, Erica G. Hepper, Tim Wildschut, Constantine Sedikides, and Adam K. Fetterman.