Who Does the Work? Partner Perceptions of the Initiation and Maintenance of Romantic Relationships

Susan Sprecher, Pamela Regan, Terri Orbuch


The contributions and effort that partners perceive each other to have made to the initiation and maintenance of their relationship may have significant individual and interpersonal consequences. Yet relatively little empirical research has explored such perceptions. The primary goal of the present investigation was to examine how both members of a sample of heterosexual romantic couples (N = 96 couples) perceived the balance of work in regard to both the initiation and the maintenance of their relationship. A second goal was to examine gender differences and similarities in perceptions of relationship work. A third goal was to explore relational outcomes (i.e., satisfaction and commitment) associated with these perceptions, and whether the link between perceptions and relationship outcomes differs as a function of partner gender. As expected, most participants (approximately 70%) perceived balance (equal sharing) in the work of maintaining the relationship. However, a majority (approximately 64%) perceived the work of relationship initiation as imbalanced (i.e., one partner contributing more than the other). Perceptions of balance versus imbalance in the work of relationship maintenance (but not initiation) were associated with satisfaction and commitment to the relationship. Interestingly, the pattern of association was different for men and women. The findings are discussed in terms of equity theory, as well as other theoretical frameworks.


relationship initiation; relationship maintenance; balance of work; equity; gender differences

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5964/ijpr.v10i1.191