If you’ve noticed that you lash out at your partner when you’re feeling insecure about your relationship, you’re not alone. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people who feel hopeless about their relationships will sometimes lash out at their partners because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that the relationship will soon end.
It sucks, but this behavior actually makes a lot of sense.
According to the study’s author, Stanford professor of organizational behavior Nir Halevy, a lack of hope — which is different from the presence of fear, though the two emotions can exist simultaneously — can cause “preemptive strike” behavior because we feel uncertain, which makes sense in the context of a relationship.
Acting out towards your partner could manifest in a number of ways.
You could verbally lash out in conversation, since you see no hope for the future of your relationship, or more severely, where you’re so hopeless that you preemptively end the relationship to avoid getting dumped.
Halevy made this discovery after observing participants in a “defensive strike” game. Both players had the option to press a big, red “Attack” button, but if they didn’t, each would receive $3. If they did attack, the attacker would get $2.50, while the attacked party would get just $0.50 — so clearly everyone benefits if no one attacks.
But the participants’ emotions were manipulated during the game, and those who felt hopeful attacked the least often — just 31 percent of the time — while those who felt fear pressed the attack button 49 percent of the time.
“We sometimes forget to do those things, to say we’re a team, we’re committed, we have a shared vision for the future. Instilling hope can go a long way toward reducing preemptive strikes.”
If there’s anything to be learned from this study, it’s that emotional security goes a long way. So don’t be afraid to open your heart and be real about your commitment to your S.O.