In Brief

Optimists feel they receive greater support from their partners than nonoptimists and, in turn, both optimists and their partners are more satisfied in their relationships, according to a study in the July issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 91, No. 1).

"When we think of optimists, we usually think of people who have an abiding inclination to expect positive outcomes, which may sometimes depart from reality," says lead researcher Sanjay Srivastava, PhD, of the University of Oregon. "But we found that optimists' partners were affected by their partners' positive outlook--even when they were not optimists."

In the study, 108 couples who had been dating at least six months filled out questionnaires that examined each member's general outlook on life, as well as surveys that gauged their perceived support in the dating relationship, relationship satisfaction, investment in the relationship and their big five personality characteristics.

A week later, the researchers brought the couples back into the lab to discuss the most stressful area of disagreement in their relationship. After the interaction, the researchers asked each partner to report how positively and constructively the other acted. A week after the discussion, the researchers asked the partners how well they resolved the conflict.

Srivastava and his colleagues found that couples with at least one optimist were more satisfied with their relationship overall, and, interestingly, optimists were not more likely to date optimists than nonoptimists. Optimists and their partners were also more likely to report that their partner was constructive in their conflict discussion and that the conflict was effectively resolved. The effect may be driven by optimists' tendency to perceive their partners as supportive, Srivastava suggests.

A year later, the researchers contacted the participants to ask whether they were still in an exclusive dating relationship with their partner. About 75 percent of couples with optimistic men were still together, while 54 percent of couples with nonoptimistic men were still dating. The researchers did not find an effect for optimistic women, although Srivastava suggests that the gender difference may be due to chance because all other effects were found for both men and women.

The study suggests that having at least one optimist in a relationship may lead to longer and more fulfilling relationships, says Srivastava.