2012. Vol.3, No.2, 150-160
Published Online February 2012 in SciRes (http://www.SciRP.org/journal/psych) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/psych.2012.32023
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Romantic Relationships in Emerging Adulthood:
Perception-Partner Ideal Discrepancies, Attributions,
Department of Early Childhood Education, University of Western Macedonia, Florina, Greece
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Received October 17th, 2011; revised November 19th, 2011; accepted December 16th, 2011
This study aimed to examine 1) emerging adults’ attributions for their subjectively perceived current ro-
mantic relationship as good or bad; 2) the role of their perception-partner ideal discrepancies in estimat-
ing their current romantic relationship as good or bad, and in the formation of attributions; and 3) the ef-
fects of all the three concepts on the generation of the expectations for the quality of the romantic rela-
tionship in the future. Undergraduate and postgraduate university students, from various faculties, ages of
18 to 25, both genders, participated in this study. The participants filled in, first, the scale of the romantic
partner ideals, and, after one week, the scales of perceived of the quality of the current romantic relation-
ship, attributions and expectations. The results regarding attributions revealed that 1) the perceived good
romantic relationships were mainly attributed to internal and self-partner internal and controllable factors
(love, passion, effective communication, honesty-loyalty, understanding each-other), whereas the per-
ceived bad romantic relationships were mainly attributed to personal uncontrollable, external, unstable
and partner’s internal factors (untrustworthiness, lack of passion, non honesty-loyalty, lack of love, and
ineffective communication); and 2) locus of causality, followed by personal controllability and stability,
was the most powerful attributional dimension in discriminating the two groups of the emerging adults.
The findings regarding the perception-partner ideal discrepancy showed that 1) the students who had
smaller perception-partner ideal discrepancy, compared to students who had larger perception-partner
ideal discrepancy, estimated their current romantic relationships more favourable but only trustworthiness
accounted for unique variance in it; and 2) perception-partner ideal discrepancy in trustworthiness, fol-
lowed by warmth/intimacy, and attractiveness/vitality, was the most powerful factor in discriminating the
two groups of the participants. The results with respect to effects of partner ideal discrepancy on attribu-
tions indicated that 1) the students’ perception-partner ideal discrepancies proved to be a significant and
positive factor in the formulation of the attributional dimensions (expect for external controllability),
mainly both stability and locus of causality, for the perceived current quality of their romantic relationship;
and 2) only trustworthiness and warmth/intimacy had unique effects on locus of causality, and only
trustworthiness uniquely contributed into stability, partner’s locus of causality, and self-partner interactive
locus of causality. Finally, the three concepts, as a group, positively influenced the generation of expecta-
tions of the quality of the romantic relationship in the future but no one of the components of the percep-
tion-partner ideal discrepancy was unique contributor, while stability, self-partner interactive controllabil-
ity, and, particularly, the perceived quality of the relationship accounted for unique variance in relation-
Keywords: Attributions; Emerging Adulthood; Expectations; Perception-Partner Ideal Discrepancy;
Attaining love and romance ensures happiness and longevity
and contributes to satisfy the need for positive long-term social
bonds (Berscheid & Ammazzalorso, 2003; Carr, 2005; Fehr,
2003; Forgas & Smith, 2005; Hendrick & Hendrick, 2005;
Rusbult, Arriaga, & Agnew, 2003). On the other hand, forming
and maintaining a successful romantic relationship is a chal-
lenge as well as finding a desirable partner or any partner at all
may be confronted with difficulties (Clark & Beck, 2010; Rus-
bult et al., 2003). Also, even finding a desirable partner, the
things can go wrong, and happiness may disappear (Maner &
Miler, 2010). These topics are particularly troublesome among
emerging adults due to the fact that, among others, they have
little experience with forming and maintaining a successful
long-term relationship (Arnett, 2000; Fincham & Cui, 2010;
Clark & Beck, 2010; Maner & Miler, 2010; Stanley, Rhoades,
& Fincham, 2010).
Emerging adulthood has been defined as a specific stage of
life between the ages of 18 and 25, during which individuals are
neither adolescents nor adults with full responsibility for them-
selves and for others, and during which they evaluate possible
romantic relationships, estimate world views, and seek and are
preparing for future careers (Arnett, 2000, 2004; Collins &
Sroufe, 1999). Indeed, this is a distinct stage of life, character-
izing “by the process of initiating goal pursuits and deliberating
about goals regarding partners, world views, and work” (Clark
& Beck, 2010: p. 190). However, as Clark and Beck (2010)
emphasize, little literature has been devoted to “the intra- and
interpersonal psychological processes involved in the tasks of
this period” (p. 190), while it has been mainly related to age,
tasks, and a lack of commitments.
While romantic love is a complex phenomenon, there is a
remarkable increasing research shift in defining and explaining
it (Fletcher, 2002; Fitness, Fletcher, & Overall, 2005). Roman-
tic love has been conceptualized as attachment, caregiving and
sexual attraction, and it is crucial in the development of inti-
mate relationships (see Adams, 1986; Fitness et al., 2005;
Shaver, Morgan, & Wu, 1996).
Cognition and cognitive process are significant contributors
in the development and quality of a romantic relationship
(Harvey, Pauwels, & Zickmund, 2005; Karney, McNulty, &
Bradbury, 2003). Intuitive and atributional appraisals are two
such constructs, which are main concepts in Weiner’s (1992,
2001, 2005) attribution theory, and, which have been central
concepts in the research in close relationships (Collins, Ford,
Guichard, & Allard, 2006; Connelly & McIsaac, 2009; Fin-
cham, 2003; Greitemeyer & Weiner, 2003; Harvey, 1987; Har-
vey & Omarzu, 1999; Prager, 1995; Reis & Patrick, 1996;
Stephanou, 2005, in press; Weiner, 2000). Whether partners
perceive their relationship as good or bad, and which explana-
tions or interpretations they make about the relationship influ-
ence their emotions, motivation and behaviour (Blascovich &
Mandess, 2000; Flecher, Fitness, & Blampied, 1990; Flecher &
Thomas, 2000; Fincham, 2003; Fincham, Beach, Arias, &
Brody, 1998; Fitness et al., 2005). Specifically, the belief that a
person has about the causes of his/her romantic relationship
influences his/her feelings for the partner, and his/her expecta-
tions for the quality of the romantic relationship in the future
(Clark, Fitness, & Brissette, 2003; Fletcher, 2002; Siemer,
Mauss, & Gross, 2007; Weiner, 2001). Then, emotions and
expectations influence the individual’s actual behavior toward
the partner, and the romantic relationship itself (see Fincham,
2003; Fletcher & Thomas, 2000; Weiner, 2001). For example,
as Fletcher and Thomas (2000) found in their longitudinal study,
spouses’ conflict-promoting attributions for marital problems
were related to more negative interaction behavior during a 12-
month period. Contrarily, by attributing successful relation-
ship/partners’ success to internal factors the individuals sustain
their positive view about the relationship/partner, experience
positive emotions, have higher motivation and persistence, and
exhibit positive interaction behavior in the future (Murray,
Holmes, & Griffin, 1996b; Steele, 1988; Stephanou & Kyridis,
2011; Taylor, 1989).
One the other hand, people has beliefs and ideal standards
about romantic partners and relationships through which
they cognitively evaluate their partners and relationships
(Higgins, 1987, 1989; Regan, 1998; Rusbult, Onizuka, &
Lipkus, 1993; Rusbult et al., 2003). More precisely, indi-
viduals have certain beliefs about the content and meaning
of love, and the factors that cause relationship to fail or
succeed (Fehr, 1999, 2003; Fletcher & Kininmonth, 1992).
For example, partners know whether they are in a good rela-
tionship by comparing their perceptions of their current
relationship with their pre-existing ideals about a good rela-
tionship, and the more congruent the fit, the happier they are
(for a review see Simpson, Fletcher, & Campbell, 2003).
Furthermore, according to Simpson et al.’s (2003) ideals
standard model in close relationships, which was originally
developed by Fletcher, Simpson, Thomas, and Giles (1999),
the relationship-based knowledge involve the components of
the self, the partner, and the relationship that are likely to
overlap, and have the functions of evaluation, explanation,
and regulation. The partner and relationship ideals, in par-
ticular, “operate as chronically accessible knowledge struc-
tures that probably predate—and may casually influence—
important judgments” (Simpson et al., 2003: p. 89), such as
the perceived causes of relationship success (Fletcher &
Kininmonth, 1992) and what is a “good” relationship
(Hassebrauck, 1997), and decisions in relationships (see
Fletcher et al., 1999).
People also have expectations about the partner, the rela-
tionship and the self in general that are based on previous ex-
perience, and influence their judgments, emotions and behavior
in the current romantic relationship (Simpson et al., 2003;
Simpson & Rhodes, 1998; Stephanou & Kyridis, 2011). These
expectations are partly constructed through the cognitive ap-
praisals the partners make in the relationship (Forgas & Smith,
2005; Trope & Gaunt, 2005). Furthermore, the dispositional
attributions an individual makes to the partner reflect expecta-
tions of how he/she will behave in various situations (see Ber-
scheid & Ammazzalorso, 2003; Karney et al., 2003; Trope &
However, relatively little research has focused on the inter-
personal psychological processes involved in romantic rela-
tionships in emerging adulthood (Clark & Beck, 2010; Field,
Diego, Pelaez, Deeds, & Delgado, 2010; Fincham & Cui, 2010;
Stanley et al., 2010). Specifically, little research has examined
the association of emerging adults’ perception-partner ideal
discrepancies with their perceptions and attributions for their
current romantic relationship, and relationship expectations (see
Fincham & Cui, 2010; Rusbul et al., 2003; Stephanou &
This study, aiming to fill a research gap, focused on percep-
tion partner-ideal discrepancy, attributions and expectations in
romantic relationships in emerging adult university students.
This study was mainly based on Weiner’s attribution theory,
and on Simpson et al.’s (2003) ideals standard model in close
Romantic Relationship Appraisals and Expectation
People appraise a relationship by evaluating and by attribute-
ing causes (Leary, 2000; Smith & Lazarus, 1990; Trope &
Gaunt, 2005). The appraisals reflect what the stimulus-rela-
tionship means to them and whether it is good or bad (Fincham,
2003; Fitness et al., 2005).
People spontaneously attribute causes by the way they talk
and think about their relationships (Fletcher & Fincham, 1991).
Although, an intimate interpersonal relationship could be at-
tributed to infinite number of attributions, self, other person,
situation, environment, self-other person interaction, and rela-
tionship itself are the most prominent causes in describing posi-
tive and negative relationships (Argyle, 2001; Erber & Gilmour,
1995; Planalp & Rivers, 1996). However, the content of causes
is not the crucial, as the location of the causes on attributional
dimensions. Specifically, attributions are categorized into causal
dimensions of locus of causality (internal/external to the per-
son), stability (stable/unstable over time) and controllability
(personal and external controllable/uncontrollable), which have
psychological and behavioral consequences (Argyle, 2001;
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 151
Berscheid & Ammazzalorso, 2003; Fletcher & Thomas, 2000;
McAuley, Duncan, & Russell, 1992; Stephanou, 2007, in press;
Weiner, 2002, 2005).
Previous researches indicate that the perceived quality of the
relationship differentiates the attributional pattern (Fiedler,
Semin, Finkenauer, & Berkel, 1995; Fincham, 2003). For ex-
ample, there is strong correlation between the positivity of
causal attributions and relationship satisfaction (Fletcher &
Thomas, 2000). Furthermore, attributions maintain the pre-
existing relationship satisfaction regardless of the partner’s
behavior (see Fitness et al., 2005). Satisfied people with their
relationships, tend to make charitable attributions for their
partners negative behaviour as well as they make optimistic
attributions for communication difficulties. Also, happy cou-
ples attribute their partners’ positive behaviour to dispositional
rather than situational factors, and they focus their disagree-
ment on a specific issue, rather than globally criticise their
partners (Carr, 2000; Gottman, 1993; Harvey et al., 2005). Yet,
the longitudinal association appears to be mediated by the ef-
fects of attributions on efficacy expectations which, in turn,
influence satisfaction (Fincham, Harold, & Gano-Phillips,
2000). In contrast, the more negative the interpersonal rela-
tionship the more the attributions to the other person’s constant
negative properties (Argyle, 2001; Gilbert & Malone, 1995;
Hewstone & Antaki, 2001).
Generally, individuals tend to attribute their good intimate
relationships to themselves (internal, stable, personal controlla-
ble, and external uncontrollable), and their bad interpersonal
relationships to the other person and situational factors (Fitness
et al., 2005; Stephanou, 2005, 2007; Weiner, 1995, 2001, 2002;
Ybarra & Stephan, 1999).
Concerning the effects of attributions on relationship ex-
pectations, the literature documents that the nature of attri-
butions significantly influences how the relationship satis-
faction changes or remain constant over time (Bradbury &
Fincham, 1990; Harvey, 1987). For example, attributing
successful romantic relationship to internal and stable fac-
tors enhances relationship expectations, and facilitates rela-
tionship engagement, while attributing negative romantic
relationship to unstable is likely to improve the relationship
and minimizes the feeling of hopelessness (see Fincham,
2003; Karney et al., 2003; Stephanou & Kyridis, 2011). In
contrast, attributing negative relationship to internal, and
particularly, stable factors reduces positive expectations,
produces the feeling of hopelessness and can lead to learned
helplessness, a sense that none effort can lead to good ro-
mantic relationship (see Fitness et al., 2005; Peterson &
Steen, 2005; Seligman, 2002; Weiner, 2001). Also, partners
who are satisfied with their relationships predict relationship
longevity (see Fitness et al., 2005).
Association of Perceived Partner-Ideal Discrepancy
with Romantic Relationship Appraisals and
According to Simpson et al.’s (2003) model of ideal stan-
dards model, the relationship and partner ideals have three
functions: evaluation, explanation, and regulation. More pre-
cisely, a series of studies performed by Fletcher, Simpson and
their colleague indicate that people compare their current part-
ner or romantic relationship with their pre-existing standards
and ideals about what is a good or a bad relationship or partner
in order to estimate their partner or relationship as good or bad
(see Flecher et al., 1999; Simpson et al., 2003). The finding is
that the higher the matching, the happier they are with their
relationships, and the higher the predictions of staying with
their partners. In contrast, the larger actual-ideal discrepancies
the more intense the dejection-related emotions, such as dissat-
isfaction, disappointment and shame, they experience, and the
higher the changes of breaking up the relationship.
Individuals also use this comparison to explain and under-
stand their relationship. For example, the partners by making
attributions and giving causal accounts explain relationship
satisfaction or problems (Fletcher & Kininmonth, 1992; Hasse-
brauck, 1997). Furthermore, the perceived causes of a relation-
ship success, compared to global relationship concepts like love,
is more similar to ideal standards (Simpson et al., 2003).
The flexibility of ideal standards affects the three functions
in the romantic relationship. For example, men and women
exhibit more flexibility in evaluating short-term relationship
than long-term relationship (Kenrick, Groth, Trost, & Sadalla,
1993; Regan, 1998). It is reasonable to hypothesize that percep-
tion partner ideal discrepancy will account strongly in atribu-
tions about their long-term romantic relationships.
As above mentioned, the findings also document the ideal
standards in close relationships comprise three interrelating
components, the self, the partner, and the relationship (see
Baldwin, 1992; Fletcher & Thomas, 1996). Ideal partner and
ideal relationship overlap, since individuals prefer ideal part-
ners who could contribute in forming their ideal relationships
(see Fletcher et al., 1999).
Previous researches (e.g., Campbell, Simpson, & Orina,
1999; Gangestad & Simpson, 2000) suggest that people
judge ideal partner on three basic dimensions: Warmth/
trustworthiness (intimacy, warmth, trust, and loyalty), vital-
ity/attractiveness (attractive, energetic, and healthy), and
status/resources (social status and resources). Researches on
mate selection and mating strategies support that the three
dimensions are related to successful mating (Buss & Schmit,
1993; Gangestad & Simpson, 2000; Simpson & Gangestad,
1992). For example, by focusing on intimacy and commit-
ment, an individual may be more likely to acquire a coop-
erative and committed partner. The relationships ideals con-
sist of two dimensions: intimacy/loyalty (intimacy, loyalty,
stability—corresponding to partner intimacy dimension),
and relationship passion (not clearly paralleling the partner
other dimensions) (see Simpson et al., 2003). Little research
has examined the content of ideal standards across various
ages, while the list of the components does not end.
It could be hypothesized that holding high partner ideal
standards for intimacy and trust may reflect a preference for
relationship intimacy and commitment. In the case of confirma-
tion of the preference, the relationship should be considered
successful, and an optimistic attributional pattern will explain it,
whereas, in the case of non confirmation of the preference, the
relationship will probably be estimated as unsuccessful, and the
attributional pattern may reflect self-serving (see Steele, 1988;
Aim and Hypotheses of the Study
This study aimed to examine 1) university students’ attribu-
tions for their subjectively perceived current romantic relation-
ship as good or bad; 2) the role of the perception-partner ideal
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
discrepancy in the estimation of the current romantic relation-
ship as good or bad, and in the formulation of the attributions;
and 3) the effects of the perception-partner ideal discrepancies,
the perceived current quality of the romantic relationship, and
the attributions for the romantic relationship on the formulation
of the romantic relationship expectations.
The hypotheses of the study were the following:
The participants will attribute the perceived quality of their
romantic relationships to various factors but among them part-
ner, self, partner-self interaction and environment will be domi-
nant (Hypothesis 1a). The perceived good or bad romantic rela-
tionship will be attributed to self- and others-related factors,
respectively (Hypothesis 1b). Locus of causality will be the
most powerful dimension in discriminating the group of stu-
dents with the perceived good romantic relationships from the
group of students with the perceived bad romantic relationships
(Hypothesis 1c). The perception-partner ideal discrepancies
will positively influence the perception of the quality of the
current romantic relationship, and the subsequent attributions
(mainly, stability) (Hypothesis 2a). While the perception-part-
ner ideal discrepancy will be relevant to warmth, intimacy,
trustworthiness, loyalty, and attractiveness and passion, their
prevalence will differ in the formation of the perceived quality
of the current romantic relationship and of the attributions
(Hypothesis 2b). All the three sets of the concepts, the percep-
tion-partner ideal discrepancy, the perceived quality of the ro-
mantic relationship, and the attributions (mainly, stability), will
account for unique variance in relationship expectations (Hy-
The participants in this study were 176 male and 210 female
undergraduate and postgraduate students. Their age ranged
from 18 to 25 years (M = 21.30, SD = 2.93). They came from
six Greek Universities, representing various Faculties of studies.
The students had experienced 2 breakups on average, and the
duration of their current romantic relationship ranged from six
months to three and half years. Of the participants, 254 and 132
students perceived their current romantic relationship as posi-
tive and negative, respectively (see below).
Perceived of the current romantic relationship good/
bad. Students’ perceptions of the quality of their current
romantic relationships were examined by responding to a
sevenpoint four items scale (e.g., “How good is your roman-
tic relationship?”, “How much satisfied are you with your
romantic relationship?”). Responses ranged from 1 = not at
all to 7 = very much. The consistency of the scale was based
on previous relevant to the topic literature (see Fincham,
2003; Fletcher, 2002; Schumm, Paff-Bergen, Hatch, Obiorah,
Copeland, Meens, & Bagaighis, 1986; Stephanou, 2005,
2007, in press).
The participants themselves defined their current romantic
relationship as good or bad by filling in the romantic relation-
ship scale twice. Specifically, they, first, filled it for the current
quality of their romantic relationship, and, then, mentioned the
lowest value in each item over which their romantic relation-
ship would be good. The participants whom the mean score was
lower than the indicated as good relationship formed the group
of good romantic relationships, while those whom the mean
score of their romantic relationships was equal or higher than
the indicated one formed the group of bad romantic relation-
ships. Cronbach’s alphas were .88 and .79 for the positive and
negative romantic relationship, respectively.
Attributions for the perceived positive and negative cur-
rent romantic relationships. The students’ attributions for
their subjectively perceived good or bad current romantic rela-
tionships were examined via the modified Causal Dimension
Scale II (CDSII, McAuley et al., 1992), which is a reliable and
valid research instrument in examining attributions for intimate
interpersonal relationships in Greek population (see Stephanou,
2005, 2007, in press; Stephanou & Balkamou, submitted; see
also Weiner, 2001, 2006). The individuals, first, wrote down
the most important cause, which, according to their opinion,
influenced the current quality of their current romantic rela-
tionship, then, indicated how much this cause contributed to the
given romantic relationship, and, finally, classified that cause
along the attributional dimensions of locus of causality, stabil-
ity, personal controllability, external controllability, partner’s
locus of causality, partner’s controllability, self-partner interact-
tive locus of causality, and self-partner interactive controllabil-
ity. Each subscale consists of three items, ranging from 1 (e.g.,
not at all stable) to 9 (e.g., totally stable). Cronbach’s alphas
were .84 for locus of causality, .83 for stability, .80 for personal
controllability, .77 for external controllability, .78 for friend’s
locus of causality, .76 for friend’s controllability, .80 for self-
friend interactive locus of causality, and .76 for self-friend in-
The partner ideals. The perception-partner ideal discre-
pancy. The construction of the scale of the students’ beliefs
about the traits or characteristics of their ideal romantic partner
was based on previous similar research (see Field et al., 2010;
Fletcher et al., 1999; Higgins, 1989; Regan, 1998; Gangestad &
Simpson, 2000; Simpson et al., 2003), and on the findings from
a pilot research. In the pilot study, university students, both
genders, between the ages of 18 and 25, were asked to list the
traits or characteristics that, according to their opinion, describe
their ideal romantic partner, and to indicate the extent of the
importance of each of the traits/characteristics on a seven-point
item (from 1 = not at all important to 7 = very important). The
results showed that the students’ beliefs about the ideal partner
characteristics were mainly relevant to attractiveness/vitality,
warmth/intimacy and trustworthiness. Attractiveness/vitality
characteristics concerned the partner’s attractiveness, energy
and healthy. Trustworthiness referred to partner’s trust, loyalty
and long-term involvement. Warmth/intimacy consisted of
characteristics relevant to closeness, support and emotional
bonding. We created a list of attributes that describe ideal part-
ner, which was used in the main study. Each attribute-item
ranged from 1 = not at all to 7 = very much.
In the main study, the participants completed this list twice.
Specifically, the students indicated, first, the extent to which
their ideal partner matches each of the items of the attractive-
ness/vitality, warmth/intimacy and trustworthiness, and, then,
the extent to which their current romantic partner matched each
of them. In the case of the ideal partner, Cronbach’s alphas
were: .82, .83 and .85 for attractiveness/vitality, warmth/inti-
macy and trustworthiness, respectively. Cronbach’s alphas were
also found to be satisfactory with respect to current partner
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 153
scale, ranging from .70 for attractiveness/vitality thought .72
for warmth/intimacy to .79 for trustworthiness.
The perception-partner ideal discrepancy is the magnitude of
the differences between current partner and ideal partner in
attractiveness/vitality, warmth/intimacy, and trustworthiness.
Romantic relationship expectations. Partners’ romantic re-
lationship expectations were examined via the scale of the cur-
rent romantic relationship. The wording of the questions for the
two scales was the same except for verb tense (e.g., “How good
will be your romantic relationship in the future?”, “How much
satisfied will you be with your romantic relationship in the
future?”). Cronbach’s alphas were .84 and .78 for the positive
and romantic relationship, respectively.
Personal factors. Personal information scale comprised of a
set of questions relevant to personal factors, such as age, gender,
type of studies and relationship experience.
All of the participants, first, filled in the scale of the romantic
partner ideals, and, after one week, completed the rest of the
scales. The students completed the scales at their departments,
in quite places, in front of the researchers’ co-workers, who
were female and male postgraduate students and had trained for
this particular part of the research by the investigator.
To match the questionnaires that were responded by the same
student, students were asked to choose a code name and use it
on the response sheets. The students were assured of anonymity
Attributions for the Perceived Positive and Negative
Current Romantic Relationships
Examination of the university students’ open-ended re-
sponses to the attribution scale with respect to most dominant
cause of the given current romantic relationship revealed that
these could be categorized into the general categories presented
in Table 1. The reliability of this coding scheme was examined
by asking two familiar with attribution theory judges to place
each of the open-ended responses into one of the proposed cat-
egories. There was a total agreement of 87% of the re- sponses.
Furthermore, self, partner, and self-partner interaction were the
most prominent causes in describing the perceived as good and
bad romantic relationships. Thus, Hypothesis 1a was con-
Analysis of the frequencies of the attribution elements re-
vealed significant effects. More accurately, the perceived good
romantic relationships were mainly attributed to love (24.8%),
passion (12.60%), effective communication (11.00%), under-
standing each-other (10.20%), and honesty-loyalty (9.10%), x2
(12, Ν = 254) = 174.50, p < .01. Contrarily, the perceived bad
romantic relationships were mainly attributed by the students to
untrustworthiness (15.20%), lack of passion (13.60%), lack of
honesty-loyalty (12.10%), lack of love (10.60%) and ineffective
communication (9.10%), x2 (12, Ν = 132) = 40.20, p < .01. In
addition, the participants, who estimated their romantic rela-
tionships as good, compared to participants, who perceived
their romantic relationships as bad, more often mentioned
communication, x2 (1, Ν = 40) = 6.45, p < .05, love, x2 (1, Ν =
77) = 31.18, p < .01, passion, x2 (1, Ν = 50) = 4.00, p < .05,
understanding each-other, x2 (1, Ν = 36) = 7.12, p < .05, and
Frequency of students’ attributions for their perceived good/bad roman-
Attribution elements f % f %
Communication 28 11.00 12 9.10
Love 63 24.80 14 10.60
Passion 32 12.60 18 13.60
Interest for the partner 8 3.10 4 3.00
Enthusiasm 7 2.80 9 6.80
Partner’s character 11 4.30 8 6.10
Trustworthiness 20 7.90 20 15.20
Understanding each-other 26 10.20 10 7.60
Respect each-other 14 5.50 4 3.00
Honesty-loyalty 23 9.10 16 12.10
Anxiety 7 2.80 5 3.80
Geographical distance 13 5.10 11 8.30
Other 2 .80 1 .80
Note: The nature of attribution is positive and negative in good and bad romantic
respect each-other, x2 (1, Ν = 18) = 5.50, p < .05.
The findings with respect to attributional dimensions were
consistent with those of attribution elements. Specifically, the
results from the repeated measures MANOVA (using the
Wilks’s lambda estimate) with the eight attributional dimen-
sions as within-subjects factor and the perceived romantic rela-
tionship (positive/negative) as between-subjects factor re-
vealed significant effect of the attributional dimensions, F(7,
378) = 41.22, p < .01, η2 = .44, significant effect of the per-
ceived romantic relationship, F(1, 384) = 245.00, p < .01, η2
= .39, and significant multivariate effect, F(7, 378) = 23.15, p
< .01, η2 = .30. The results from subsequent two repeated meas-
ures Anovas, examining differences among attributional di-
mensions within each group of the students’ (perceived good/
bad) romantic relationships, showed significant effect in at-
tributional dimensions in the group with the perceived good
romantic relationships, F(7, 242) = 48.33, p < .01, η2 = .59, and
in the group with the perceived bad romantic relationships, F(7,
125) = 19.40, η2 = .52. Post hoc pairwise comparisons indicated
that the students predominately attributed their good romantic
relationships to locus of causality, and self-partner interactive
both locus of causality and controllability, while they mainly
ascribed their bad romantic relationships to partner’s locus of
causality and controllability, and self-partner locus of causality.
The examination of the mean score and the results from subse-
quent Anovas, and Discriminant Function analysis (Table 2)
showed that the participants made internal to themselves, per-
sonal controllable, external uncontrollable, stable, controllable
by their partners, internal to their partners, internal to self-
partner and controllable in common with their partners attribu-
tions for the perceived good romantic relationships. In contrast,
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Results from discriminant analysis for the attributional dimensions for the perceived (good/bad) romantic relationships.
Good romantic relationships Bad romantic relationships
Attributional dimensions Mean SD Mean SD Wilks’ LambdaDiscriminating power Cohen’s dF
Locus of causality 7.95 1.20 4.48 2.05 .54 .86 1.60 317.29
Personal controllability 7.30 1.53 4.49 1.96 .61 .73 1.30 232.50
Stability 7.32 1.52 4.47 2.12 .63 .71 1.21 219.34
External controllability 4.39 2.61 4.83 2.12 .99 -- -
Partner’s locus of causality 7.39 1.79 6.48 2.02 .95 -- .40 19.69
Partner’s personal controllability 7.02 1.95 5.80 2.13 .91 -- .53 36.26
Self-partner locus of causality 7.88 1.46 6.32 1.92 .82 -- .81 77.42
Self-partner controllability 7.50 1.91 5.60 2.29 .87 -- .87 55.83
Note: All F(1, 384) values are significant at the .01 level of significance; -: Non significant at the .05 level of significance; --: Attributional dimensions did not to further
differentiate the one group from the other group of students.
they mainly made external to themselves, unstable, external
uncontrollable, personal uncontrollable, partner’s internal, part-
ner’s controllable, self-partner’s internal and self-partner’s con-
trollable attributions for the perceived bad romantic relation-
ships. Additionally, locus of causality, discriminating power
= .86, Cohen’s d = 1.60, followed by personal controllability,
discriminating power = .41, Cohen’s d = 1.30, and stability,
discriminating power = .33, Cohen’s d = 1.21, was the most
powerful factor in discriminating the one from the other group
of the participants, while the rest of the attributional dimensions
had no significant contribution in separating the two groups.
The above findings partly confirmed Hypotheses 1b and 1c.
Εffects of the Perception-Partner Ideal Discrepancies
on Perceptions of the Quality of the Romantic
Relationship, and on Attributions
The results from ANOVAs revealed significant differences
between the two groups of students in perception-partner ideal
discrepancies. In addition, discriminant analysis, with stepwise
method, was conducted to determine the set of variables that
best discriminated the group of students with the perceived
good romantic relationships from the group of students with the
perceived bad romantic relationships. The perception-partner
ideal discrepancies in attractiveness/vitality, warmth/intimacy
and trustworthiness were the predictor variables, and the per-
ceived (good/bad) romantic relationship was the grouping
variable. Results confirmed the findings from ANOVAs, and,
additionally, showed that trustworthiness, F(1, 384) = 65.35, p
< .01, discriminating power = .96, Cohen’s d = .86, was the
most powerful factor in discriminating the two groups of stu-
dents, followed by warmth/intimacy, F(1, 384) = 61.35, p < .01,
discriminating power = .93, Cohen’s d = .80, and attractiveness/
vitality, F(1, 384) = 39.81, p < .01, discriminating power = .74,
Cohen’s d = .63. Furthermore, examination of the mean scores
showed that the students, who estimated their romantic rela-
tionships as good, compare to students, who estimated their
romantic relationships as bad, had smaller perception-partner
Also, the results from regression analysis, with the percep-
tion-partner ideal discrepancies as predictor variables and the
perceived quality of the romantic relationship as predicted
variable, showed that the perception-partner ideal discrepancies
was a significant factor in the generation of the perception of
the current quality of the romantic relationship. Specifically, the
students who had smaller perception-partner ideal discrepancy,
compared to students who had larger perception-partner ideal
discrepancy, rated their relationships more favourable, R2 = .40,
F(3, 382) = 75.60, p < .01. However, only trustworthiness had
unique effect on it, b = .44, t = 5.04, p < .01.
Similarly, the students’ perception-partner ideal discrepan-
cies proved to be a significant factor in the formulation of the
attributions (expect for external controllability) for the per-
ceived current quality of the romantic relationship, based on the
results from a series of regression analyses with percep-
tion-partner ideal discrepancies as predictors and each of the
attributional dimensions as predicted factor. More precisely, the
students who had smaller perception-ideal discrepancies made
more favourable attributions in personal controllability, R2
= .09, F(3, 382) = 11.78, p < .01 (none attributional dimension
had unique contribution), partner’s locus of causality, R2= .05,
F(3, 382) = 6.68, p < .01, trustworthiness, b = .33, t = 2.62, p
< .05, partner’s controllability, R2 = .05, F(3, 382) = 5.94 (none
attributional dimension had unique contribution), self-partner
interactive locus of causality, R2 = .07, F(3, 382) = 8.97, p < .01,
trustworthiness, b = .28, t = 2.45, p < .05, self-partner inter-
acttive controllability, R2 = .12, F(3, 382) = 15.20, p < .01
(none attributional dimension had unique contribution), and,
mainly, stability, R2 = .15, F(3, 382) = 20.12, p < .01, trustwor-
thiness, b = .30, t = 2.53, p < .05, and locus of causality, R2
= .13, F(3, 382) = 15.80, p < .01, warmth/intimacy, b = .26, t =
2.80, p < .05, trustworthiness, b = .24, t = 2.00, p < .05.
The above findings partly confirmed Hypothesis 2a, and to-
tally confirmed Hypothesis 2b.
Effects of the Perception-Partner Ideal Discrepancies,
Perceived Quality of Romantic Relationship and
Attributions on Romantic Relationship Expectations
The results from regression analysis indicated that the three
concepts, namely perception-partner ideal discrepancies, attri-
butions (external controllability was not entered into analysis
because of lack of correlation with the other variables) and the
perceived current quality of the romantic relationship, as a
group, positively influenced the generation of expectations of
the quality of the relationship in the future, explaining 44% of
the variance, F(11, 374) = 34.73, p < .01. Furthermore, stability,
b = .17, t = 2.73, p < .05, self-partner interactive controllability,
b = .25, t = 3.85, p < .01, and, mainly, the perceived quality of
the relationship, b = .54, t = 20.15, p < .01, accounted for
unique variance in the expectations for the quality of the rela-
tionship in the future, suggesting that the more stable and
self-partner controllable the attributions, and the more favour-
able the perceptions of the romantic relationship the higher the
expectations for good relationship in the future. However, per-
ception-partner ideal discrepancies in attractiveness/vitality or
warmth/intimacy or trustworthiness did not uniquely contrib-
ute into relationship expectations.
Hypothesis 3 was partly confirmed by the above findings.
This study mainly aimed at examining emerging adults’ at-
tributions for their subjectively perceived current romantic
relationship as good or bad, the role of their perception-partner
ideal discrepancies in evaluating and attributing causes for the
same relationship, and, in turn, the effects of the three concepts
on romantic relationship expectations.
The findings regarding attributions were in the main consis-
tent with our predictions. The primary finding that the per-
ceived good and bad romantic relationships were attributed to
various causes is not surprising given that romantic relationship
is important in people’s life, particularly in the stage of emerg-
ing adulthood (Arnett, 2004, 2007; Fincham & Cui, 2010;
Maner & Miler, 2010). Also, corresponding to previous re-
search evidence (e.g., Fincham, 2003; Planalp & Rivers, 1996;
Rusbult et al., 2003), the participants stressed self-, partner-,
self-partner- and situational-related factors in explaining their
romantic relationships. Furthermore, by stressing intimacy-,
trustworthiness-, honesty/loyalty-, and commitment-related
factors in their current romantic relationships, the emerging
adults confirmed previous researches about the high importance
of these specific components in close relationships, and they
expressed their willingness to maintain and enhance their rela-
tionships (see Barry & Lawrence, 2008; Fehr, 2003; Fitness et al.,
2005; Holmes & Rempel, 1989; Johnson, 1991; Jones, Couch,
& Scott, 1997). Also, as previous investigations documented,
particularly at the early stages of romantic love (see Dion &
Dion, 1996; Fletcher, 2002; Hatfield, 1988), the students con-
sidered love and passion as significant components of their
romantic relationships. The students mentioned geographical
distance as a cause for their perceived good or bad current ro-
mantic relationship. However, as Myers (1999) suggests, the
critical factor is not the geographical proximity as “functional
distance”. Individuals, by frequent interaction, become familiar
with one another and explore themselves and their potential
similarities that contribute to good relationship.
The attributional pattern for the perceived good or bad ro-
mantic relationship is consistent with the above mentioned
findings about happy/unhappy couples, and it is related to con-
firmation or non confirmation of a desirable good relationship
(see Harvey et al., 2005; Herbert & Popadiuk, 2008; Weiner,
2002, 2005). In addition, by attributing the perceived good
romantic relationships to personal positive properties along
with the self-partner interactive positive dispositions (love,
passion, effective communication, honesty-loyalty, understanding
each-other), the emerging adults boosted themselves, enhanced
the possibility of being good their relationship in the future, and
multiplied the longevity of their relationship (Fincham, 2003;
Gottman, 1994, 1995; Harvey et al., 2005; Rusbult et al., 2003;
Weiner, 2001). In contrast, by ascribing the perceived non good
romantic relationships to personal uncontrollable, external,
unstable, parter-self internal and partner’s internal and control-
lable factors (untrustworthiness, lack of passion, non hon-
esty-loyalty, lack of love, and ineffective communication), the
students protected themselves and their desire for being better
their relationship in the future (see Peterson & Steen, 2005;
Seligman, 2002; Stephanou, in press; Weiner, 2001). However,
considering the partner as responsible for the bad relationship
does not facilitate future positive relationship (Karney et al.,
2003; Weiner, 1995, 2001). Furthermore, attributing the non
satisfactory romantic relationship to partner’s dispositional
negative factors minimizes the chances of enhancing the rela-
tionship in the future (see Fletcher, 2002; Fincham et al., 1998;
Planalp & Rivers, 1996). Also, it seems that the Berscheid and
Walster’s (1978) concept of reciprocity of attraction involved in
attributions of the self-partner internal factors, according to
which people are attracted to individuals who like them and
who are responsive to them. Probably, the partners were less
attractive each other than they were in past.
Also, locus of causality, followed by personal controllability
and stability, was the most powerful factor in discriminating the
two groups of the emerging adults, while none attributional
dimensions further differentiated the two groups. This specific
finding probably reflects the emerging adults’ tendency of
self-focus in identifying themselves (see Clark & Beck, 2010).
However, research needs to clarify this speculation.
To summarize, the findings regarding the perceptions of
partner ideals discrepancy were in the main consistent with our
expectations, and previous researches (see Campbell & Bau-
meister, 2003; Rusbult et al., 2003; Simpson et al., 2003). Spe-
cifically, the perceptions of partner ideals discrepancy had a
significant effect on the evaluation of the current romantic rela-
tionship. More precisely, the emerging adults who had smaller
perception-partner ideal discrepancy, compared to the emerging
adults who had larger perception-partner ideal discrepancy,
estimated their current romantic relationship more favourable,
and used positive attributional pattern.
Apparently, the perceived good current romantic relationship
had stabilized and reached relatively high levels of commitment,
and, therefore, the motive of relationship enhancement and
partner/relationship idealization process was powerful (see
Murray et al., 1996a, 1996b; Simpson et al., 2003). On the oth-
er hand, the larger perception partner-ideals discrepancy in the
perceived bad current romantic relationship seemed to motivate
the emerging adults to engage in more information processing
about the partner/relationship, and to use the motive of self-
serving to maintain positive self-views than views of the cur-
rent partner/relationship (see Simpson et al., 2003; Taylor, 1989;
Weiner, 2005). The specific stage of the participants’ life might
be also related to this specific finding, since emerging adult-
hood is an age of instability during which the individuals, aim-
ing to explore the word and clarify their identity, ask and won-
der about the person they should find as a partner through life
(Arnett, 2000, 2004; Fincham & Cui, 2010). Yet, the high im-
portance of the romantic relationship for the students may be an
influential factor in it, since self-evaluation is particularly en-
hanced under such conditions (Tesser, 1988).
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
It was also found that the perceptions of partner ideals dis-
crepancy explained a greater amount of the variability in the
perceptions of the quality of the current romantic relationship
than in the subsequent attributions. This is an indication of the
notion that ideals standards are more associated with self-con-
cepts than beliefs about the relationship, and perceptions of the
relationship are related to self-factors (Campbell & Baumeister,
2003; Simpson et al., 2003). However, research needs to exam-
ine in depth this.
Interesting, the components of the perception-partner ideal
discrepancy differed in the generation of the perceptions of the
quality of the current romantic relationship. Specifically, the
perception-partner ideal discrepancy in trustworthiness proved
the critical factor in the formulation of the perceptions of the
quality of the relationship, and in discriminating the group of
students with the perceived good current romantic relationships
from the group of students with the perceived bad good current
romantic relationships. This finding is in agreement with em-
pirical evidence showing the important role of relational trust
and betrayal in romantic relationships (Jones et al., 1997). Re-
lational trust means that the individuals have expectations that
the partner is predictable and dependable, believe that they will
be so in the future, and sustain relationship (Carr, 2005;
Holmes & Rempel, 1989).
Perception-partner ideal discrepancy in warmth/intimacy,
closely to trustworthiness, contributed into separation of the
two groups of the participants. This finding also confirmed
other studies, documenting the high importance of perceiving
and displaying positive types (e.g., acceptance, respect, listen-
ing, care being, interesting in partner) of social behavior in
attaining and maintaining a good romantic relationship (Gott-
man, 1994, 1995; Rusbult, Zembrodt, & Gunn, 1982). Fur-
thermore, as Harvey et al. (2005) suggested, acceptance implies
trustworthiness and discretion, and, probably, therefore, it had
not unique effect (beyond that afforded by trustworthiness) on
the generation of the estimation of the quality of the whole
The perception partner ideal discrepancy in attractiveness/
vitality, in comparison to other two factors, contributed to a
lower extent in separating the two groups of the students, sug-
gesting its significant role in the early stage of forming a ro-
mantic relationship (Fitness et al., 2005).
The findings with respect to the effects of the three compo-
nents of the perception partner ideal discrepancy on the attribu-
tional dimensions for the perceived quality of the current ro-
mantic relationship were similar to that of the evaluation of the
relationship, and the same speculations could be applied. More
precisely, trustworthiness uniquely contributed into the genera-
tion attributional dimensions of stability, and locus of causality
of self, partner and self-partner, warmth/intimacy had unique
and complimentarily effect on self locus of causality, while
attractiveness/vitality had no effect. It is interesting that the
perception-partner ideal discrepancy in trustworthiness influ-
enced personal/relationship dispositional attributes, suggesting
its crucial role in relationship development and stability, and in
partners’ happiness, self-esteem and identity (Campbell &
Baumeister, 2003; Simpson et al., 2003). Further, idealization
of the relationship/partner is associated to a more satisfying
relationship and to robust self-view (Murray et al., 1996a,
The results from the present study also, confirming in the
main our predictions and other findings (see Berscheid & Am-
mazzalorso, 2003; Fincham, 2003; Karney et al., 2003; Stepha-
nou & Kyridis, 2011; Trope & Gaunt, 2005; Weiner, 2002),
showed that the expectations the participants hold about their
romantic relationships were partly constructed through the cog-
nitive appraisals they made. The more stable the attributions the
higher the relationship expectations, in agreement with Weiner’s
(2002, 2005) model. The positive effect of the self-friend inter-
active controllability on expectations is another indication of
the significant role of the sense of “being together” in relation-
ship development and enhancement.
Τhe fact that the intuitive appraisal of the romantic relation-
ship was the most powerful formulator of relationship expecta-
tions is not a surprise since the literature appears to be consis-
tent about the importance of the evaluation of the relationship
in its development (Fletcher, 2002; Harvey et al., 2005). Be-
sides as the romantic relationship develops, the partners are
forming expectations for the partner dispositional behaviour
and the content of the relationship (Berscheid & Ammazzalorso,
2003; Fincham, 2003). The participants in the present study had
already formed an impression about their current romantic rela-
tionship since the duration of it ranged from six months to three
and half years.
However, contrarily to our hypothesis, perception-partner
ideal discrepancies in attractiveness/vitality or warmth/inti-
macy or trustworthiness did not uniquely contribute into ro-
mantic relationship expectations. Probably, perception-partner
ideal discrepancies influenced the relationship expectations
indirectly through the cognitive appraisals of the relationship.
Research needs to clarify this finding, taking into consideration
self-factors and relational experience.
Implication of the Findings into Emerging Adulthood
and Future Research
Good romantic relationship proved important for the emerg-
ing adults. Emerging adults should be helped develop the ca-
pacity to make and maintain stable and satisfying romantic
relationships. This capacity is partly acquired through attribu-
tional retraining programs (Seligman, 1998, 2005).
The findings from the present study indicate that identifying
the content and the effects of partner ideals on attributing
causes and forming expectations help to understand romantic
relationships in emerging adulthood. However, examining self-,
partner- and relationship-ideals in association to perceived
causes and ‘success’ of relationship is more helpful in it. Re-
search also needs to investigate the role of self-factors, such as
relationship self-relevant self-esteem, self-efficacy and self-
perceived mate value, and relational experience in the ob-
served associations. Yet, research should be expanded to gen-
eral population, beyond the university students. Finally, the
dyad-level (both partners) process and effects on relationship
are needed to be investigated.
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