Western researchers examine intimate relationships  

Valentine’s Day means the stores are filled with hearts and chocolate and florists are rushing to fill orders. But beyond cards and candy, what factors make for a strong relationship that lasts? 

Why do some relationships break down and others flourish? How does a relationship progress to a long-term partnership? How important is sexual compatibility in a successful relationship? 

These are among the questions researchers in Western’s psychology department are examining, through relationship studies involving feedback from couples in intimate relationships.

Here’s a look at some of the projects currently underway.

The Getting to Know You project

In the Relationship Decisions Lab , principal investigator Samantha Joel leads a team to examine the nature and complexities of relationships, and how the choices and decisions made within them might compare with other life decisions, like finance or career.

The Getting to Know You project is one of two research projects being led by Joel. 

"Romantic relationships are among the most intimate bonds people possess in life, with a profound impact on physical and mental health. But it’s unclear why certain individuals experience more fulfilling relationships than others," said Joel, a psychology professor who works with postdoctoral associate James Kim, and graduate students Devinder Khera and Helena Yuchen Qin. 

Their latest study is one of the first comprehensive examinations of how brand-new dating relationships gradually progress, or not, into long-term partnerships. The researchers aim to uncover key information about how people make decisions and how they can potentially choose more compatible partners in the first place.

The study consists of an online questionnaire, an in-lab session at Western, followed by a series of short weekly surveys and follow-up surveys.

The research team is looking for new dating couples to participate in the study and are seeking couples who have started dating within the past three months. 

Any couple interested in participating can email or visit the Relationship Decisions Lab at Western.

The Sexual Compatibility project

This second study from the Relationship Decisions Lab is part of a series investigating how people’s sexual preferences vary and how do those preferences differ across different groups of people. How might such preferences align (or not) within romantic couples? 

The team is looking to recruit couples to learn about their perceptions of both their own and their partner’s sexual preferences. To be eligible to participate, couples must currently be a couple (e.g., dating, in a relationship, or in a consensual non-monogamous relationship), must be at least 18 years of age and fluent in English. 

Interested couples can email or visit the Relationship Decisions Lab. 

The link between relationships and depression

At the Mood Research Lab, the team, led by psychology and psychiatry professor David Dozois, call themselves ’Breaking Sad’, a play on the name of the hit television series Breaking Bad . One of their focus areas is investigating the treatment and prevention of depression in its various forms and manifestations.

Nearly a year ago, they launched a Couples study, to investigate connections between romantic relationships, partner belief systems, and depression.

The study, which is nearing completion of data collection, examines how partners interpret one another’s behaviour to explore what might lead to relationship distress and depression.

"We all have a belief system about ourselves, but we also develop organized beliefs about our partners and, if these become negatively biased, then anything our partners do can get interpreted though a negative lens," said Dozois.

Couples involved in the study complete a daily diary for two weeks and are put through a conflict discussion task that is filmed and played back for analysis.

According to Dozois, about 250 couples have taken part in the study till date. 

You can read more about the lab and their research here.