Why You May Have Been Happier With Your Ex Than You Think, Study Shows

You could be misremembering your past relationships, according to recent research.

When looking back at a relationship that has long since expired, you probably don't remember it all that fondly. The sound of your ex's name might induce an eye roll, and the thought of kissing them again probably makes you prickly. It can be hard to recall a time that you felt love for this person that you now have contempt—or at least ambivalence—for. However, at one point, you cared enough to commit to a relationship with them. Time and perspective can change your perception of memories, especially romantic ones. In fact, one recent study found evidence that you were probably happier with your ex than you remember.

A Feb. 2020 study published by the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships sought to examine how relationship satisfaction changes over time. The researchers told The Charlatan that they recruited over 180 people between the ages of 19 and 35 in romantic relationships to get their data. The couples shared how satisfied they were with their current relationships. A few months later, the researchers reached out to the couples to see who had broken up.

According to a statement from one of the lead authors of the study, Aidan Smyth, 26 percent of the couples had broken up after four months. Smyth says they then asked these respondents, "Four months ago, when you were still with your ex, how satisfied were you with your relationship?" Using the respondents' answers, the researchers compared the retrospective satisfaction with the level of satisfaction reported four months prior, when the couples were still intact.

Couple taking a picture

The responses clearly showed that people remembered their relationships in a much more negative light post-breakup. "After a breakup, people thought they weren't as happy in their past relationships as they had actually been. So, the former partner who was once viewed as romantic, adventurous, and spontaneous may now be remembered as too naive, reckless, and impulsive to have made things work in a long-term relationship," Smyth wrote.

The researchers hypothesized that this shift in perspective is a coping mechanism that helps subconsciously protect people from the multitude of feelings that come with a breakup. "When a romantic partner is no longer available, a bias towards seeing him or her more critically might provide relief and mitigate regrets," Smyth wrote. Another theory the researchers posed is the possibility that exes are now seeing each other plainly without the rose-colored glasses of love.

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The question that remains for the researchers is which relationship rating is more accurate. "In other words, do you assess the quality of a relationship more accurately while you are in the thick of it or after it has ended?" Smyth wrote.

Either way, the research proves that our personal perceptions of our relationships are often biased—and can easily be skewed by time. And if you're eager to strengthen your current partnership, learn The No. 1 Thing That Makes a Relationship Successful, New Study Shows.

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