How Do Daily Highs and Lows Affect Relationships?

There is a large amount of research that focuses on what factors contribute to quality and commitment in intimate relationships. Much of the existing research explores negative factors such as stress, health, work demands, family obligations, income, and mental health issues. Less is known, however, about the effect of positive events. To examine how positive and negative experiences influence several relationship domains, Casey J. Totenhagen of the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Arizona recently led a study involving intimate partners of various ages from a local university.

Totenhagen collected seven days of data that detailed each participant’s daily events and how they affected their interactions with their intimate partner on the same day and on days immediately following. She looked specifically at how hassles, uplifts, and positive events affected commitment, satisfaction, conflict, closeness, and ambivalence in the couples. She also identified which uplifts were social, involving someone other than the partner, or nonsocial, involving the participant alone. The results revealed that daily hassles did not affect relationship quality significantly, regardless of whether they were social or nonsocial.

However, Totenhagen found that uplifts had unique impacts on relationship quality. “Here, we find that nonsocial events—particularly uplifting events—play a more prominent role in relationship quality, especially when relationship quality is positive,” she said. In particular, uplifts improved the tone of the relationship on the day of the event, but decreased relationship quality, except with respect to commitment, on the following days. One explanation for this is that participants’ moods may have been so elevated when the uplift occurred that when moods returned to baseline in the days after, this shift may have been perceived as a negative result of the uplifting event. Totenhagen believes that this new evidence highlighting the benefit of nonsocial uplifts on relationships suggests that interpersonal positive occurrences may bolster self-esteem and self-confidence, creating a spillover effect on relationship satisfaction. The findings here are limited because “following-day” effects were not always consecutive, prompting the need for more qualitative research in this area. Regardless, these results do provide new insight into the multidimensional consequences of uplifting events on relationship quality.

Totenhagen, Casey J., Joyce Serido, Melissa A. Curran, and Emily A. Butler. Daily hassles and uplifts: A diary study on understanding relationship quality. Journal of Family Psychology 26.5 (2012): 719-28. Print.

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  • Portia


    November 13th, 2012 at 4:03 AM

    When you are fully committed to someone and in a relation ship with them that is steady and stable you realize that we all have our highs and lows and you kind of learn to take that as the normal ebb and flow of the relationship. It’s not like it’s only one partner who goes through this, we all do. That’s life. So whether or not your partner is up one day or kind of down on another really shouldn’t matter or affect the overall quality of the relationship that you have. Just go on and know that in all likelihood tomorrow will be better.

  • Betty W

    Betty W

    November 13th, 2012 at 7:06 AM

    This reminds me of the thought that even positive events are considered stressors. So, if this line of thinking is still relevant today, a stressor, even positive, will take its toll. After the person experiencing the positive even comes off his or her high, he or she is still left with a stressor.

  • Richard


    November 13th, 2012 at 7:07 AM

    Got to show this one to the wife it explains why I’m always in a bad mood after we go out to dinner and a movie the next day.

  • marilyn


    November 13th, 2012 at 12:05 PM

    while daily highs and lows are just that – a daily occurrence – once they are above a certain level of importance they can and will affect your relationship. What level I do not know but I personally prefer to try and avoid the ill effects of lows while relishing the highs of positive ones.

  • JOEY


    November 14th, 2012 at 11:27 PM

    for me the stage the relationship is in would matter a gret extent. new relationship with daily lows-no problem.a settles and stable relationship with daily lows no problem. but somewhere in between the two with daily lows then that could affect me.

    the strength of the relationship comes into play here.if it can easily overcome the negativity of the low then we can say it doesn’t really affect us.but it can surely otherwise.

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