Relationship satisfaction and the energy devoted to keeping a partner are dependent on how the partner compares his current partner with other potential mates, a finding that relates to evolution's stronghold on modern relationship psychology, according to a study.

When it comes to mating, people choose partners whose collective qualities most closely reflect what they would prefer in an ideal mate. They prioritize from an array of traits such as intelligence, health, kindness, attractiveness, dependability and financial prospects.

Psychology researcher Daniel Conroy-Beam and his collaborators developed a method to test how mate preferences influence behavior and emotions in relationships in the study “What predicts romantic relationship satisfaction and mate retention intensity: mate preference fulfillment or mate value discrepancies?

For the study, researchers simulated a mating pool from 119 men and 140 women who had been in relationships for an average of 7½ years. Each participant rated the importance of 27 traits in an ideal mate and the extent to which they felt each trait described both their actual partner and themselves. Researchers then used their new method to calculate each of the participants’ and their partners’ mate value, or desirability within the mating pool as determined by the group’s average ideal preferences.

Participants also reported their relationship satisfaction and happiness. The study discovered that satisfaction was not reliably dependent on how a partner is compared with a person’s idea of the perfect mate, but rather whether others in the mating pool better match a person’s ideal preferences.

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