Psychologists explore the realities behind the romance

Psychologists explore the realities behind the romance

31 Jan 2008

Feeling good about yourself today? Does your Significant Other reinforce your positive self-image or undermine it?

Despite considerable research into the factors influencing women’s feelings about their appearance and achievements, and their general self-esteem, little is known about the role their interactions with their male partners may have in “building up”, maintaining, or inadvertently undermining these.
Psychologists at La Trobe University’s School of Psychological Science aim to fill this gap in the research literature by investigating the role interactions between romantic partners play in shaping women’s views of themselves – both positively and negatively.

They are particularly interested in how such interactions influence women’s views of their appearance and achievements, and whether romantic partners create an environment in which they encourage constructive and positive self-views in their relationship, or whether they tend to promote negative self-views.

They believe women’s self–evaluation may be strongly influenced by the discussions that take place within romantic relationships, and that this dialogue results in the couple essentially creating their own reality in terms of appearance, achievements, and self-esteem.  (That is, the couple may come to have a mutual understanding of both partners’ appearance and abilities, based on the interactions within their relationship.)

In the third year of her Doctoral studies in clinical psychology, provisional psychologist Louise Barr and her supervisors Dr Lynette Evans and Dr Art Stukas are focusing their research on the way couples influence each other’s perceptions about appearance and other traits in their discussions within the relationship.

They believe it is possible that couples in romantic relationships mutually shape the woman’s self-image through their interactions as a couple – creating either a constructive environment in which the woman feels good about herself, or a negative environment in which each partner inadvertently undermines the other, and their relationship.

The psychologists are looking at the interactions of 40 to 60 heterosexual couples in Melbourne to establish whether romantic couples on the whole accept each other as they are – or tend to want to change each other.

“In a society much concerned with appearance and abilities, there has been considerable research into some factors influencing women’s preoccupation with these things, but little into the role men play in shaping their views,” Ms Barr says.

“We will look at how couples discuss women’s appearance and achievements, and whether the relationship encourages self-growth, or tends to become toxic. This has implications in the long-term for women’s confidence in themselves, and important implications for the way couples relate in an intimate relationship.”

Ms Barr says the study will add another dimension to the recent work of Drs Evans and Stukas, which focused on the role of eating and concerns about appearance in women’s relationships.

The researchers are seeking volunteer participants among heterosexual couples in committed relationships – including couples who believe they have a good relationship, and others who feel they have some difficulties communicating.  They are looking for men and women who feel good about themselves, but also those who do not.

They want women and their male partners aged 18 and over who have been in a relationship for at least two months but preferably six.

Participant couples would be asked to participate in one session of questionnaire and interactive discussion about themselves, their appearance and their relationship at the School of Psychological Science, La Trobe University.

What’s in it for couples? Two movie tickets, a draw for seven $200 Coles-Myer gift vouchers – and an opportunity to contribute to future therapeutic advances in treating couples with distressed relationships, or women with a negative self-image. (Couples wanting counselling will be referred for counselling or therapy.)

The study - which started in October 2007 - will run until June 2008.

Volunteers: Couples interested in participating should contact the researchers at La Trobe University E: labarr@students.

Media inquiries: Louise Barr E:




La Trobe Media Release RSS