An important resource for healthy romantic relationships
A recent survey by Evans et al. suggests that romantic nostalgia can be “a resource for healthy relationships,” which couples can turn to when experiencing disconnection or reduced relationship satisfaction.
The article was published in the June issue of Journal of social and personal relationships. But first, what is nostalgia?
Do you ever reminisce about your childhood or how society used to be? In other words, do you ever feel nostalgic?
Nostalgia refers to a nostalgia for the good old days – for a time (e.g. college years) or place (e.g. grandma’s house) from the past that is associated with mostly positive experiences.
Nostalgia can be triggered by a variety of external (scents, tastes, movies, music, video games, toys) and internal (stress, loneliness, boredom, insignificance) stimuli.
In the past, nostalgia was often perceived negatively, as homesickness, and even as a mental health problem or neurological disease. Namely, in the past, it was called a “brain disease”, an “immigrant psychosis” and a “repressive compulsive mental disorder”.
These days, however, nostalgia is seen in a more positive light. Why? Perhaps because a lot of research suggests that nostalgia is associated with positive outcomes such as meaning in life, an increased sense of belonging and connection, and improved self-esteem and well-being.
A type of nostalgia is romantic nostalgiathat focuses on the person past experiences shared with their current partnerwhether the two are in a relationship, married or in another intimate relationship.
These experiences could include the first time the lovers held hands or kissed, the times they stayed up all night talking and laughing together, their memorable sexual experiences, and more.
Let us now review the conclusions of Evans et al., on the benefits of romantic reminiscences.
The association between romantic nostalgia and healthy relationship functioning
To taste: 245 Turkish workers (127 men); 76% white; average age of 32; all currently in a romantic relationship (average duration of seven years).
Romantic nostalgia: an adapted version of the Southampton 7-item nostalgia scale
Closeness of relationships: the unidimensional scale of closeness of relationships in 11 items
Relationship Satisfaction: The Satisfaction Subscale of the Investment Model Scale
Relational Commitment: The Commitment Facet of the Investment Model Scale
Couples who “were more romantically nostalgic reported greater closeness, satisfaction, and commitment.”
To taste: 134 students (36 men) from an American university; 92% Hispanic/Latinx; average age of 20 years.
Induction of romantic nostalgia: To induce nostalgia, the researchers used a modified version of the event reflection task. Participants were asked to reflect on an ordinary or nostalgic experience they had with their romantic partner and then write about it.
After a manipulation test, the participants completed the same proximity, satisfaction and commitment scales as in the previous survey.
People in the “romantic longing condition felt somewhat closer (although this difference was not statistically significant), reported greater relationship satisfaction, and felt more committed to their partner than those in the control condition.”
To taste: 151 students (27 men) from an American university; 93% Hispanic/Latinx; average age of 21; all in a romantic relationship (average duration of two and a half years).
Depending on the assigned condition, participants were asked to think of a song they generally enjoyed or a song that evoked romantic nostalgia. They then listened to the song in the lab.
After a manipulation check, the researchers assessed closeness, satisfaction, and engagement, as previously described.
Additionally, compassionate love was assessed using the Compassionate Love Scale, while passionate love was assessed with an abbreviated version of the Passionate Love Scale.
Finally, relationship optimism and love connectedness were assessed using measures adapted from previous studies.
Individuals in the romantic nostalgia group, compared to the control group, “reported higher levels of romantic connection, relationship optimism, closeness, satisfaction, compassionate love, and passionate love.” They “also reported higher engagement,” but “this difference was not statistically significant.”
To taste: 108 students (22 men) from an American university; 91% Hispanic/Latinx; average age of 20 years; all in a romantic relationship (average duration of two and a half years).
Participants had to complete 14 daily surveys. Each construct was measured with a single element, as described below.
Romantic Nostalgia: “Today I thought back to a special time with my romantic partner.”
Romantic connection: “Today I felt connected to my romantic partner.”
Relationship Optimism: “Today I felt optimistic about my romantic relationship.”
Desire to leave romantic partner: “Today I considered leaving my romantic partner.”
Time spent together: “Today I spent time with my romantic partner.”
On days when “participants felt more romantically nostalgic, they also felt more connected to their romantic partner, more optimistic about their relationship, and less inclined to leave their romantic partner.”
In summary, the results showed:
- Romantic nostalgia has a positive association with perceived closeness, commitment, and satisfaction.
- Experimentally-induced romantic nostalgia increases relationship satisfaction, intimacy, commitment, relationship optimism, perceptions of romantic connection, passionate love, and compassionate love.
- Daily romantic longing can predict daily relationship benefits, including lower intention to break up, stronger relationship optimism, and increased romantic connection.
The results suggest that it may be beneficial to reflect on nostalgic experiences you’ve had with your romantic partner.
Recalling romantic or sexual experiences can be beneficial in a number of ways:
- Strengthen empathy and thus increase supportive behaviors.
- Mitigate threats to the relationship and thus help you feel connected even when you are physically separated.
- Increase relationship satisfaction when the relationship has lost its spark or is facing challenges.
In short, romantic nostalgia can be an important resource for healthy relationship functioning.