A new report co-written by a Utah State University Extension researcher challenges the notion that loving and lasting relationships are founded on the idea of “soulmate love.”
David Schramm, a USU Extension family life specialist, helped analyze the research that shows that enduring connection in romantic relationships comes from the personal virtues and intentional efforts of the partners rather than from spontaneous love and emotional spark.
“The concept of a soulmate, while romantic and appealing, can be potentially harmful, particularly in how it influences expectations and behaviors in relationships,” Schramm said.
The report, “The Soulmate Trap: Why Embracing Agency-Based Love is the Surest Path to Creating a Flourishing Marriage,” comes from the Wheatley Institute at Brigham Young University. It analyzes a recent study involving 615 couples from across the United States and Canada.
The study finds that flourishing couples are up to three times more likely than other couples to engage in proactive behaviors such as showing compassion to each other, spending meaningful time together, regularly engaging in acts of kindness, and participating in regular maintenance behaviors to improve their relationship.
Schramm emphasizes that it is far better to focus on building a strong, healthy marriage with intentional effort and understanding rather than waiting for the perfect match.
“The findings from our report suggest that this ‘soulmate’ way of thinking diverts attention from the truth that loving relationships are made, not found,” he said. “The happiest and most strongly connected couples in our study were those who developed compassion and humility and were intentional in strengthening their relationship.”
The report includes five suggestions for people currently in the dating world: 1) Avoid a consumer approach to relationships, 2) Foster realistic expectations about relationships, 3) Develop a mature understanding of love, 4) Follow healthy dating trajectories, and 5) Maintain optimism while resolving break-ups.
“We need to foster a new ideal of marriage that recognizes single adults’ desire to have a special love relationship but sets aside the myth of a soulmate marriage in favor of creating a marriage based on agency, commitment, and intentional actions,” Schramm said.
The study also has useful insights for those already in relationships. Schramm urges couples to focus on gratitude, kindness, forgiveness, honoring commitments, expressions of love, and turning away from threats to marriage.
“All of us grow and change in our relationship over time,” Schramm said. “The key is to forget the person you thought you married and get to work on the relationship with the person you did marry.”
Co-authors for the report are Jason Carroll, family initiative director at the BYU Wheatley Institute, and Adam Galovan, associate professor in the department of human ecology at the University of Alberta.
For further information, including background research, findings, and suggestions, visit the Wheatley Institute’s website at https://wheatley.byu.edu/The-Soulmate-Trap.