The Hollywood Effect: Beliefs about Relationships

My dad gave me two pieces of relationship advice to me when I was in high school: “if it was meant to be, it will work out” and “relationships are hard work.” The advice he gave me reflects his own beliefs about relationships, but they don’t match. The first piece of advice is a destiny belief and the second is a growth belief. These kinds of relationship beliefs are important because they can impact the decisions we make in our relationships. Keep reading to discover more about each belief and how they can affect behaviors in dating and relationships.

Destiny beliefs assume that two people are either meant to be together or they are not. If the relationship doesn’t work, then it just wasn’t meant to be. This is a common thought among those who believe in destiny with relationships. People who have more destiny beliefs say that they know early on in their relationship if they are meant to be and if the relationship will work out. We see a lot of destiny beliefs in Hollywood movies. Did you know that watching more movies like this can actually make people more likely to have destiny beliefs themselves?

On the other hand, people with more growth beliefs about relationships believe that satisfying relationships develop slowly. Couples put in effort to overcome challenges, and if you put in enough work, any relationship can work out. Like my dad would say, “Relationships are hard work!”

So, why does it matter what we believe about relationships?

Dating

Those who hold growth beliefs about relationships are less likely to have one-night stands because they rarely lead to a long-term relationship. People with this view are more likely to date a specific person for a longer period of time and to be more hopeful about the future of the relationship than those with destiny beliefs.

People with more destiny beliefs are more likely to be the one end a relationship. After all, they feel that challenges in the relationship are a “sign” that it just wasn’t meant to be. They may also feel more comfortable and accepting of using “ghosting” to end a relationship. Ghosting is when a person ends a relationship by “disappearing,” or stopping all communication with the other person and hoping that the other person will understand that the relationship has ended. We would certainly add ghosting to our list of unhealthy relationship behaviors.

Relationship Maintenance and Conflict

Destiny beliefs can lead to other beliefs that may hurt a relationships. These beliefs include: 1) couples who really love each other don’t fight, and all conflict is bad for the relationship, 2) my partner should be able to “read” my mind and know what I want and need, 3) people cannot change so once they do something that hurts me or annoys me they will definitely do it again, 4) sex should be perfect every time, 5) great relationships just happen, and shouldn’t take much effort. These beliefs can be harmful to relationships because they get in the way of good communication and problem-solving. They are also unrealistic!

When couples have conflict, those who hold destiny beliefs may react differently than those who hold growth beliefs about relationships. Someone with more destiny beliefs may withdraw because they see conflict as proof that the relationship is not destined to work out. Someone with more growth beliefs is more likely to work with their partner to understand and fix the problem because they believe that damage can be repaired after an argument. They are also more likely to behave in ways that help to maintain the relationship. However, those with destiny beliefs are only more likely to put in the work when their partner matches their idea of a perfect mate.

Change is Possible

Hollywood movies are not doing anyone a favor when they show couples who are “destined” to be together and live happily ever after once they find each other. Satisfying relationships take work, and couples are rarely (if ever) going to be perfectly compatible. Personally, I had more destiny beliefs before I went to college, most likely because I watched too many of these movies. Over time, my beliefs have shifted to more growth beliefs about relationships. It is possible to change our beliefs about relationships with awareness of our current beliefs, education, and practice.

What are your relationship beliefs?  Take this quiz, adapted from Knee, Partick, & Lonsbury (2003), to find out.

For each of the statements below, mark True or False.

  1. Potential relationship partners are either compatible or they are not.
  2. Problems in a relationship can bring partners closer together.
  3. A successful relationship is mostly a matter of finding a compatible partner right from the start.
  4. The ideal relationship develops gradually over time.
  5. If a potential relationship is not meant to be, it will become apparent very soon.
  6. A successful relationship is mostly a matter of learning to resolve conflicts with a partner.
  7. Struggles at the beginning of a relationship are a sure sign that the relationship will fail.
  8. It takes a lot of time and effort to cultivate a good relationship.
  9. Relationships that end were never meant to be.
  10. Arguments often enable a relationship to improve.
  11. Early troubles in a relationship signify a poor match between partners.
  12. Successful relationships require regular maintenance.

If you answered true most for the even numbers, you likely have more growth beliefs about relationships. If you answered true for most of the odd numbers, you likely have destiny beliefs.

References

Freedman, G., Powell, D.N., Le, B., & Kipling, D.W. (2018). Ghosting and destiny: Implicit theories of relationships predict beliefs about ghosting. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Knee, C.R. (1998). Implicit theories of relationships: Assessment and prediction of romantic relationship initiation, coping, and longevity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74 (2), 360-370.

Knee, C.R., Patrick, H., & Lonsbury, C. (2003). Implicit theories of relationships: Orientations toward evaluation and cultivation. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7 (1), 41-55.

Miller, R.S. (2012).  Social cognition. In A. Editorlastname (Ed.), Intimate relationships (6th ed.) (pp. 105-140). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Weigel, D.J., Lalasz, C.B., & Weiser, D.A. (2016). Maintaining relationships: The role of implicit relationship theories and partner fit. Communication Reports, 29 (1), 23-34.

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