Relationship Satisfaction and Goal Pursuit 1
Running head: RELATIONSHIP SATISFACTION AND GOAL PURSUIT
Close Relationships and Self-Regulation:
How Relationship Satisfaction Facilitates Momentary Goal Pursuit
University of Cologne
Eli J. Finkel
Gráinne M. Fitzsimons
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Please address correspondence concerning this article to:
Professor of Social and Economic Cognition
Department of Psychology
University of Cologne
50931 Cologne, Germany
Phone: ++49 221.470.5995
Fax: ++49 221.470.1216
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 2
In the new millennium, scholars have built a robust intersection between close
relationships research and self-regulation research. However, virtually no work has
investigated how the most basic and broad indicator of relationship quality, relationship
satisfaction, affects self-regulation and vice versa. In the present research, we show that higher
relationship satisfaction promotes a motivational mindset that is conducive for effective self-
regulation, and thus for goal progress and performance. In Study 1, a large-scale, intensive
experience sampling project of 115 couples (total N=230), we closely tracked fluctuations in
state relationship satisfaction (SRS) and four parameters of effective self-regulation according
to our conceptual model. Dyadic process analyses showed that individuals experiencing higher
SRS than they typically do exhibited higher levels of (a) perceived control, (b) goal focus, (c)
perceived partner support, and (d) positive affect during goal pursuit than they typically
exhibit. Together, these four self-regulation-relevant variables translated into higher rates of
daily progress on specific, idiographic goals. In Study 2 (N=195), we employed a novel
experimental manipulation of SRS, replicating the link between SRS and parameters of
effective self-regulation. Taken together, these findings suggest that momentary increases in
relationship satisfaction may benefit everyday goal pursuit through a combination of cognitive
and affective mechanisms, thus further integrating relationship research with social-cognitive
research on goal pursuit.
Keywords: Self-Regulation, Close Relationships, Relationship Satisfaction, Goal
Pursuit, Experience Sampling
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 3
Close Relationships and Self-Regulation: How Relationship Satisfaction Facilitates
Momentary Goal Pursuit
Perhaps Shakespeare was a bit too romantic when he paid homage to the constancy of
romantic sentiments: “Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks” (Sonnet 116). In
everyday life, close relationships have their inevitable ups and downs. As much as people
cherish the moments when they are especially happy in their romantic relationships, they must
also endure moments when that happiness ebbs. In the present paper, we investigate how these
momentary fluctuations in relationship satisfaction affect goal pursuit. Specifically, we seek to
answer two questions. First, are relationship partners more successful in their everyday goal
pursuits when their state relationship satisfaction is higher than typical for them? Second, if so,
why? To answer these questions, we report findings from an intensive experience-sampling
study (Study 1) and an experimental study (Study 2) that investigate the interplay of
relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit.
Close Relationships and Goal Pursuit
Until recently, research on close relationships overlapped negligibly with research on
self-regulation. Fortunately, the new millennium has witnessed a surge in research at the
intersection of these two disciplines, a surge that has strengthened both of them. This new area
of research reflects the fundamental notions that (a) relationship partners shape the way people
self-regulate and (b) the way people self-regulate shapes the quality of their relationships. For
instance, relationship partners affect the types of goals people pursue and the resources they
have to pursue those goals (e.g., Aarts, Gollwitzer, & Hassin, 2004; Baumeister, DeWall,
Ciarocco, & Twenge, 2005; Finkel et al., 2006; Fitzsimons & Bargh, 2003; Gable, 2006;
Lockwood, Jordan, & Kunda, 2002). Likewise, self-regulatory strategies and resources have
consequences for relationships, affecting how people feel about and act toward relationship
partners (e.g., Feeney, 2004; Finkel & Campbell, 2001; Karremans, Verwijmeren, Pronk, &
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 4
Reitsma, 2009). Despite these gains in understanding how a number of specific relationship
and self-regulatory processes affect each other (see Finkel & Fitzsimons, 2011; Fitzsimons &
Finkel, 2011, for reviews), this burgeoning literature has, in a very important sense, put the cart
before the horse. It has addressed a range of precise but relatively narrow topics, such as the
effects of significant-other priming (Fitzsimons & Bargh, 2003; Shah, 2003) and the effects of
inefficient social coordination (Dalton, Chartrand, & Finkel, 2010; Finkel et al., 2006) on goal
pursuit, while there is a surprising dearth of research examining a foundational question for
this growing field of study—namely, what is the link between relationship quality and goal
progress? That is, are happier partners more successful goal pursuers?
Although no research has directly examined this question, some prior findings hint at a
possible effect of successful goal pursuit on relationship satisfaction. In a study of romantic
partners, Vohs and colleagues (Vohs, Finkenauer, & Baumeister, 2011) found that the sum of
partners’ dispositional self-control predicted relationship satisfaction. That is, the more that
both partners, as individuals, reported good individual resources for goal pursuit, the happier
they were as romantic partners. Given the positive correlation between self-control and goal
outcomes (Mischel, Shoda, & Rodriguez, 1989), Vohs and colleagues’ finding suggests that
more successful goal pursuers may also be happier romantic partners. Nonetheless, no
empirical research has explicitly addressed the link between goal progress and relationship
satisfaction, in either causal direction.
The aim of the current research is to directly investigate this link, primarily focusing on
the unexplored idea that relationship satisfaction promotes goal progress, and investigating
how and why it does so. We will also examine the downstream effects of goal progress on
relationship satisfaction, as we posit that the two are linked in a dynamic and reciprocal
fashion, such that high relationship satisfaction facilitates everyday goal pursuit, and that this
good performance feeds back to promote relationship quality.
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 5
Why would relationship satisfaction promote goal pursuit? We suggest that when
people feel particularly satisfied with their romantic relationships, widely considered a central
and important part of everyday life and well-being (Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999), they
experience a shift in their motivational mindset. Specifically, we suggest that more (vs. less)
satisfied partners perceive greater control over their goals, are more focused on their goal
pursuits, feel more supported, and feel more positive affect. This more positive motivational
mindset, in turn, promotes goal progress. In the following section, we describe our conceptual
model in more detail.
A Conceptual Model Linking State Relationship Satisfaction, Self-Regulatory Processes,
and Goal Performance
The primary focus of the present article is on the potential links between state
relationship satisfaction (SRS) and four self-regulatory processes known to facilitate goal
progress (also referred to as facilitators of self-regulation here). Relationship satisfaction refers
to how happy one is in one’s relationship (Rusbult, Martz, & Agnew, 1998); it essentially
functions as a global “feeling thermometer” regarding the relationship. Relationship
satisfaction is the most common operationalization of relationship quality in the romantic
relationships literature (Bradbury, Fincham, & Beach, 2000; Hendrick, 1988; Levenson &
Gottman, 1985), and as such, it is the ideal construct for the present purpose of exploring the
link between relationship quality and goal progress. Furthermore, although no research has
directly tested the effects of relationship satisfaction on self-regulatory processes, it seems
quite likely that relationship quality has a profound effect on important goal outcomes. Indeed,
marital quality is associated with mental and physical health (Glenn & Weaver, 1981; Kiecolt-
Glaser & Newton, 2001) and with job performance (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985).
Like most constructs in psychology, relationship satisfaction has a stable, dispositional
component or “set point” (i.e., some people are, on average, more satisfied with their
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 6
relationship than others), as well as a state component that captures fluctuations in relationship
satisfaction depending on how a given relationship is going at the present moment in time (i.e.,
the ups and downs around the dispositional set point) (Bradbury et al., 2000; Finkel, Rusbult,
Kumashiro, & Hannon, 2002). To control for the myriad ways that satisfied couples may differ
from unsatisfied couples, we primarily focus on state relationship satisfaction rather than
individual differences in relationship satisfaction, examining the processes through which
everyday ups and downs in relationship satisfaction predict goal pursuit and progress. In our
model, the term self-regulatory processes refers to psychological and behavioral processes that
are oriented toward goal pursuit, and the term goal performance refers to the extent to which
the individual makes progress toward achieving the relevant goal.
Our guiding idea in developing this conceptual model was that high versus low SRS
may be associated with a change in the motivational mindset a person occupies when pursuing
daily goals and projects. We suggest that high SRS leads people to experience fewer intrusive
thoughts and worries about the relationship throughout the day, which frees them to engage in
a motivational mindset more promotive of goal pursuit. Without relationship worries or stress,
they can focus on their goals, feel more positive affect, make more positive attributions about
their partner, and feel a greater sense of control over their goals. This change in motivational
mindset would translate into changes in actual self-regulatory success at the end of the day.
Specifically, the model encompasses four key parameters of effective self-regulation—four
self-regulatory processes—that have each been identified as facilitators of goal pursuit in the
self-regulation and relationships literatures: perceived control, goal focus, perceived partner
support, and positive affect (see Figure 1). Although the proposed four-component model is
unlikely to be exhaustive, it presents a broad yet parsimonious attempt to investigate the
cognitive, social, and emotional implications of high versus low SRS for goal pursuit and
performance. Our primary prediction is that experiencing higher-than-typical relationship
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 7
satisfaction promotes this goal-facilitating mindset, leading to a temporary increase in
perceived control, goal focus, perceived partner support, and positive affect. Our secondary
prediction is that this mindset, in turn, will predict ultimate goal progress. Finally, our tertiary
prediction is that goal progress will feed back to promote relationship satisfaction over time. In
the following section, we outline this framework in more detail. We introduce each component
by first highlighting why we hypothesize that it is conducive for goal performance (i.e., the
second part of each mediation pathway), before proposing why the component may be linked
to fluctuations in SRS (i.e., the first part of each mediation pathway).
Perceived control. The first self-regulatory process in our model, perceived control,
refers to the extent to which the goal-pursuer feels in control of his or her goal performance
(Rotter, 1966). According to recent psychological theories of control (for reviews, see Kay,
Landau, & Sullivan, 2014; Landau, Kay, & Whitson, in press) for people to engage in goal-
directed action, they need to perceive (a) a sense of control over their own actions, and (b) a
structured world in which actions produce predictable outcomes. Together, these two
perceptions allow people to feel in control of their own ability to attain desired outcomes
(Landau et al., 2014). For example, in order to feel motivated to work hard at their jobs, people
need to believe they personally have the capacity to work hard, and that they work for a
company in which hard work reliably produces the predicted outcomes. Indeed, perceived
control is a robust predictor of self-regulatory success. For instance, people who experience
strong (vs. weak) perceived control tend to achieve greater academic success (Findley &
Cooper, 1983) and lower rates of obesity (Gale, Batty, & Deary, 2008).
Why would relationship satisfaction affect perceived control? We suggest that high
SRS signals stability and predictability. Research has shown that the stability of one’s social
world is essential for feelings of perceived control (Rothschild, Landau, Sullivan, & Keefer,
2012; Sullivan, Landau, & Rothschild, 2010), and furthermore, that relationships are a major
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 8
source of psychological stability (Day, Kay, Holmes, & Napier, 2011). For example, in one
study, people responded to threats to societal stability by drawing closer to their relationship
partners (Day et al., 2011), turning to them to increase their feelings of stability.
Thus, we suggest that relationship dissatisfaction challenges people’s sense of stability
and predictability, which undermines goal pursuit. When people feel unsure of what this
important life domain will look like tomorrow, because of relationship conflicts or anxieties,
they will feel a reduced sense of control over their own plans. At the extreme end, how can
someone plan his specific everyday goal pursuits when his relationship is up in the air? In
contrast, when relationships are going smoothly, everyday life is much more stable and
predictable, allowing people to feel a greater sense of control over their goals, and increasing
their willingness to invest effort into goals. As a result of these dynamics, we predicted that
higher-than-typical SRS would be associated with an increase in perceived control in goal
Goal focus. The second self-regulatory process, goal focus, refers to the extent to which
the goal-pursuer’s current thinking and behavior are oriented toward the target goal, versus
other distracting or competing goals (Shah, Friedman, & Kruglanski, 2002). This component is
closely related to goal-shielding, the ability to keep a goal in working memory and shield it
from interference from other goals (Hofmann, Schmeichel, & Baddeley, 2012; Kane, Bleckley,
Conway, & Engle, 2001). When individuals can shield a current goal well, focusing on
advancing the target goal through their thought and action, rather than allowing their action to
be distracted and diluted by the pursuit of competing goals and temptations, they are able to
invest more self-regulatory resources in the pursuit of the current goal and/or to use these
resources more efficiently. In everyday goal pursuit, goal focus means that the pursuer is
engaged in thought or action related to the target goal. For example, a professor who is high in
goal focus at a given moment is thinking intently about her manuscript, not checking e-mail or
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 9
reading the New York Times online. As a result of the tighter link between goals, thought, and
action, goal focus facilitates progress on the target goal. Indeed, the ability to shield goals well
from interference predicts better goal performance and progress across a large number of
settings, including everyday academic and health goal pursuits (Barrett, Tugade, & Engle,
2004; Hofmann, Gschwendner, Friese, Wiers, & Schmitt, 2008; Hofmann et al., 2012).
Thus, in our model, goal focus predicts good goal outcomes. Why would relationship
satisfaction affect goal focus? We suggest that when people feel satisfied with their
relationships, they will experience fewer worries and less anxiety about the relationship,
leaving their mind relatively more able to concentrate on the goal at hand. Indeed, poor
relationship quality and relationship problems predict rumination and intrusive thoughts
(Burnette, Davis, Green, Worthington, & Bradfield, 2009; Kuehner & Buerger, 2005; Saffrey
& Ehrenberg, 2007). Furthermore, a wide body of research has demonstrated that distressing
thoughts occupy working memory, thus reducing the capacity available for goal pursuit
(Kemps, Tiggemann, & Grigg, 2008; Klein & Boals, 2001; Schmader & Johns, 2003; Schoofs,
Preuss, & Wolf, 2008). Although working memory capacity is not synonymous with goal
focus, it is clearly a requirement for goal focus. If an employee’s mind is occupied by worries
and thoughts of his romantic relationship partner, he cannot easily focus his thought and action
on the target goal of working. Instead, he is likelier to become distracted or to struggle to
concentrate. In contrast, a relationship that is going well is less likely to generate intrusive
thoughts or pull the mind away from goal-directed action. Thus, because relationship worries
can produce rumination and intrusive thoughts, we predict that low SRS will decrease goal
focus, relative to high SRS.
Perceived Partner Support. The third self-regulatory process, perceived partner
support, refers to the extent to which individuals perceive that their relationship partners
facilitate their goal pursuit (Brunstein et al., 1996). Although perceived control—that is, an
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 10
internal locus of control—is a key ingredient for successful self-regulation, this does not mean
that the external social environment plays no role, nor that perceptions of internal and external
predictors of goal progress should be negatively related. For instance, research on the
dependency paradox in close relationships has shown that relying on others in the pursuit of
one’s goals does not interfere with one’s sense of autonomy and control (Feeney, 2007).
Indeed, internal and external sources of control can both contribute to the functional belief that
things are under control (Kay, Gaucher, Napier, Callan, & Laurin, 2008) and can thus facilitate
goal pursuit (Kay, Whitson, Gaucher, & Galinsky, 2009). A major source of external control
over goal pursuit comes from close relationship partners, who can help and support just as they
can also stand in the way of each other’s goals. Across many domains of life, support from
helpful partners has consistently been linked with more successful goal pursuit (DiMatteo,
2004; Reblin & Uchino, 2008). Importantly, however, the effects of the social environment
need not correspond to literalin the sense of “physical” or objectivehelping or hindering.
Rather, research in the social support tradition has highlighted the importance of the perceived
sense of social support in motivating people to reach their goals (Haber, Cohen, Lucas, &
Baltes, 2007). Although actual and perceived support are clearly related, objective provision of
support only accounts for a relatively small share of the variance in perceptions of received
social support, attesting to the highly subjective nature of social support (Cutrona, 1986; Haber
et al., 2007). In the context of close relationships, the perceived support of a romantic partner
arguably constitutes the most central source of social support or control (with the exception,
perhaps, of nagging mothers). Accordingly, people who perceive that their partner strongly (vs.
weakly) supports their goal pursuits tend to experience superior goal performance (Brunstein,
Dangelmayer, & Schultheiss, 1996; Feeney, 2004).
Why would relationship satisfaction affect perceptions of partner support? Because of
the subjective nature of perceptions of social support, they are vulnerable to the influence of
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 11
other interpersonal beliefs, perceptions, and motivations. It is well known that satisfaction
predicts positive illusions in romantic relationships: Members of happy relationships are likely
to overestimate the positive qualities of their partners and the extent to which they and their
partners have a good relationship, relative to others (Murray, Holmes, & Griffin, 1996).
Satisfied partners also make more positive and generous attributions about their relationships
and partners (Fincham & Bradbury, 1987, 1993). Based on this work, we thus predicted that
high as compared to low SRS would be associated with more optimistic perceptions about the
degree to which one’s partner supports the pursuit of a given goal.
Positive Affect. The fourth and final self-regulatory process in our conceptual model,
positive affect, refers to the extent to which the goal-pursuer experiences positive affect while
pursuing the goal. Although the link between positive affect and goal performance is complex
(Fishbach & Labroo, 2007; Louro, Pieters, & Zeelenberg, 2007), several researchers have
argued that positive affect may, by and large, be conducive for success in everyday life (e.g.,
Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). Specifically, positive affect may lead people to think,
feel, and act in ways that promote approaching desired end states (Elliot & Thrash, 2002;
Lyubomirsky, 2001). Incidental positive affect signals that life is going well, and that resources
are adequate (Clore, Wyer, Dienes, Gasper, & Isbell, 2001), thus preparing people to pursue
current or future challenges (Fredrickson, 2001). Similarly, positive affect can (implicitly)
motivate people to act upon their goal intentions (Custers & Aarts, 2005; Kuhl, 2000), thus
helping to reduce the intention-behavior gap. Furthermore, sources of positive affect can
compensate against frustration and resource depletion as the going gets tough (Tice,
Baumeister, Shmueli, & Muraven, 2007). In sum, we hypothesized that positive affect would
promote goal pursuit.
Why would relationship satisfaction promote positive affect? We made the
straightforward assumption that SRS would be a major source of positive affect. Happy,
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 12
satisfied times in a relationship are likely to produce more positive feelings than unhappy,
dissatisfied times, for two simple reasons: Without intrusive thoughts and worries about the
relationship, people can more strongly enjoy their day-to-day activities; presumably SRS also
brings along with it happy emotions directly caused by being with the partner. Indeed, marital
dissatisfaction is thought to predict depressive symptoms and lower life satisfaction (Fincham,
Beach, Harold, & Osborne, 1997; Glenn & Weaver, 1981). We assessed positive affect
(operationalized as momentary levels of happiness) to capture and isolate the purely affective
dimension of higher-than-typical SRS. Thus, any mediating effects of the above three
components would indicate mechanisms that go beyond the purely emotional implications of
The Present Research
In summary, the present research sought to investigate the idea that experiencing
higher-than-typical relationship satisfaction is associated with a motivational mindset that
facilitates goal pursuit through a combination of four separable mechanisms: an increased
sense of control over the pursuit of one’s goals, an increased ability to focus without
distraction on that pursuit, an increased perception that the partner supports the pursuit, and
increased positive affect. In combination, we predicted that these four mechanisms would at
least partially mediate the effect of SRS on goal progress.
Rather than assessing all relevant constructs once in a cross-sectional fashion, we chose
a more sophisticated, process-oriented approach to test our conceptual model in Study 1. We
repeatedly captured fluctuations in SRS in romantic partners as they went about their daily
lives, pursuing their everyday goals. We employed an intensive experience-sampling
procedure in which we texted both members of 115 couples (total N = 230) at six random
moments through each day for one week (42 text signals per partner in total). Each text signal
contained a link to a brief survey that assessed relationship satisfaction and the relevant self-
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 13
regulatory processes regarding the goal the participant was actively pursuing at that moment.
This procedure allowed us to investigate whether within-person fluctuations in relationship
satisfaction were associated with within-person variation in our four central self-regulatory
processes. In addition, every night, participants reported, on a goal-by-goal basis, their
progress and performance on each of the goals they had reported pursuing throughout that day
(up to six reports on each nightly diary). This aspect of our design allowed us to test whether
fluctuations in SRS translated into higher self-regulatory success throughout the day. Further,
we assessed the generality of our findings by testing whether the links between SRS and the
four self-regulatory processes were moderated by goal type (personal goals versus relationship
goals) or relationship duration.
In addition to the main analyses looking at the short-term effects of relationship
satisfaction on self-regulatory processes and goal progress, we also assessed relationship
satisfaction at the global (i.e., person-) level both at study intake and at the conclusion of the
week-long experience-sampling phase. These assessments allowed us to test whether overall
goal progress during the sampling week predicted increases in relationship satisfaction over
time, providing the first test of the downstream effect of self-regulatory success and failure on
relationship satisfaction. Furthermore, to discern whether results are driven primarily by the
relevant goal pursuer A’s own, subjective interpretation of the affective tenor of the
relationship rather than his or her partner B’s interpretation, we also complemented our
primary data analyses in Study 1 with actor-partner interdependence modelling (APIM). We
predicted that the actor effects would be robust but the partner effects would not. Such a
finding would indicate that partner B influences partner A’s self-regulatory success only
indirectly inasmuch he or she influenced A’s level of SRS.
Study 1’s approach utilizes a powerful within-person process framework to explore the
proposed links between SRS and parameters of effective self-regulation in an ecologically
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 14
valid setting. However, such evidence is still only correlational in nature, thus precluding any
causal claims as to the direction of these effects. To establish causal evidence for the proposed
mechanisms, we therefore employed an experimental manipulation of SRS in Study 2,
assessing the relevant self-regulatory processes immediately thereafter. By combining a
measurement-intensive, externally valid approach in Study 1 with an experimental, internally
valid design in Study 2, these studies allow for a multimethod test of the idea that high
relationship satisfaction is associated with processes that facilitate goal pursuit and progress.
Study 1: Experience Sampling
The present study recruited 115 heterosexual couples from the greater Chicago area to
participate in what we called the “RELGOES” project, a week-long study on RELationships
and GOal pursuits using Experience Sampling. Experience sampling is an expensive and labor-
intensive method that allows researchers to learn about what people are doing, thinking, and
feeling at moments in their lives (e.g., Barrett & Barrett, 2001; Csikszentmihalyi & Larsen,
1987; Hektner, Schmidt, & Csikszentmihalyi, 2006). Signals were distributed randomly
throughout the day on participants’ own smartphones, but the two partners within a
relationship received simultaneous signals (providing us with the analytical leverage to model
covariation in residuals as well as to conduct APIM analyses). Each time a signal was received,
participants were asked to pause their current activity and report on the primary goal they were
currently trying to accomplish, as well as on the four key self-regulatory parameters related to
the goal (locus of control, goal focus, perceived partner support) and their own current state
(relationship satisfaction, positive affect). This experience sampling procedure was combined
with a daily diary procedure in which participants were asked to complete one nightly
assessment regarding their perceived progress and performance regarding each of the goals
mentioned during the day (as well as measures such as sleep quality, and whether they had had
an argument or were sexually intimate with their partner on that day).
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 15
The experience sampling phase was preceded by an orientation meeting during which
demographic and relationship-related variables such as relationship-duration and dispositional
relationship satisfaction were assessed (pretest). Two days after the experience sampling phase
was finished, these measures were assessed again (posttest). To our knowledge, this is the first
study that has used experience sampling methods to collect a high-resolution dataset of
everyday goal pursuit as well as fluctuations in state relationship satisfaction in dyads. In
addition, the study produced novel information on the types of goals people pursued as well as
on the degree to which a construct such as relationship satisfaction fluctuates within partners.
Because these data may be of interest to self-regulation and relationships researchers, we will
briefly feature these descriptive data at the beginning of the results section.
Two hundred and thirty participants forming 115 heterosexual couples were recruited
for this study through advertising in local newspapers in the greater Chicago area. Recruitment
advertisements pointed to an online screening survey for the study. Couples were only
recruited if both partners indicated they were in an exclusive romantic relationship and if they
had been together for at least three months; in addition they both needed to be older than 18
years of age, proficient in English, and in possession of a smartphone including a touchscreen,
texting capability, and a data plan.
On average, male partners were 24.68 years old (SD = 5.06; range 18 to 40), and
female partners were 23.37 years old (SD = 4.46; range 18 to 40). Participants had been
involved with each other for an average of 2.61 years (SD = 2.83). Forty-seven percent of
couples were cohabiting at the time of the study. The sample reflected the ethnic diversity of
the area—53.9% of participants were Caucasian, 16.1% were African American, 16.1%
Hispanic/Latino, 12.2% Asian, 0.9% American Indian, and 0.9% were of other backgrounds.
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 16
Regarding the highest level of education, 0.9% indicated “some high school,” 4.4%
“completed high school,” 49.8% “some college,” 26.6% “completed college,” and 18.3%
“advanced/post-graduate studies.” In terms of social class, 2.6% identified themselves with the
lower class, 35.7% with the working class, 42.2% with the middle class, 17.8% with the upper-
middle class, and 1.7% with the upper class.
Regarding smartphone operating systems, 56.5% of participants used smartphones
running Apple’s iOS (i.e., iPhone), 39.1% Android, 3.0% Blackberry RIM, and 1.3% Windows
Mobile. All 230 participants completed the pretest assessment. Six participants had to drop out
of the mobile phase due to technical problems with their smartphone that could not be solved
quickly. Hence, the experience sampling data for daily signals are limited to a maximum base
sample of 224 participants (49.1% male) from 115 dyads. Ten additional participants did not
provide any nightly diary responses; hence analyses involving summary measures are limited
to a maximum of 214 participants (from 111 dyads). That is, 97.4% of participants provided
data relevant to the experience sampling procedures, and 93.0% provided data relevant to the
nightly diary procedures. As number of dyads and participants varied from analysis to analysis
depending on data availability, this information will be provided in table notes.
Intake Session. Both partners of a given couple attended the laboratory-based intake
session together. At this session, the experimenter informed them about the general purpose of
the study and provided both oral and written instructions regarding the mobile phase of the
study, including a survey demonstration on each participant’s own smartphone. Specifically,
participants were informed that they were to respond to the surveys only when it was safe to do
so (e.g., not while driving), to maximize the time during the day when they were available to
respond to surveys, to respond as soon as possible, to report the experience at the moment the
signal was received, to answer as truthfully as possible, and to not discuss any aspect of the
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 17
study (except coordinating logistics) with their partner until the entire study had concluded.
They were also informed about data confidentiality and compensation, and offered informed
consent. Participants then enrolled their phone in the mobile phase of the survey via a web-
application.1 After SMS (text-messaging) reception and mobile survey display had been tested
on each participant’s smartphone, participants completed a short survey assessing demographic
and relationship-related variables. Of interest for our tertiary hypothesis is the relationship
satisfaction scale by Rusbult, Martz, and Agnew (1998), a 5-item global measure of
relationship satisfaction (e.g., “I feel satisfied with our relationship”; α = .91).
Mobile Phase. The Web application controlled all aspects of the smartphone
experience-sampling phase including signup, the scheduling of signals as text messages to
participants’ smartphones, link timeout, and the registration of responses. Specifically, on each
day of a participant’s experience sampling schedule, six daily signals were distributed
throughout the 11-hour time window from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Following recommendations of
Hektner, Schmidt, and Csikszentmihalyi (2009), this time window was divided into six blocks
of 110 minutes each; within each block, an exact signal time was randomly selected with the
proviso that any two consecutive signals be at least 30 minutes apart. Daily signals within each
dyad were yoked such that both partners received signals simultaneously. Embedded in each
text message was an individualized link directing participants to an online survey created and
optimized for mobile display within Qualtrics survey software. Specifically, the link contained
embedded information on the schedule day, signal number, send time, as well as a recipient
identifier that allowed us to connect a given participant’s reports on each experience sampling
survey with its relevant nightly diary questionnaire. The nightly diary links were dispatched at
9 p.m. each day.
Each survey link was valid for a maximum duration of three hours. However,
participants were encouraged during the orientation session to respond as soon as possible to
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 18
signals and to try their best to minimize the number of times they needed to delay responding.
The median delay in responding was 11.7 minutes. Given that many signals surely arrived
when participants were in a meeting, in class, at a movie, or otherwise indisposed—which
would cause them to have a delayed response, such a short median lag time is remarkable. On
average, the base sample (N = 224) responded to 30.2 out of 42 daily signals (SD = 9.46),
indicating a satisfactory response rate of 71.8%, and they responded to 5.6 out of 7 nightly
signals (SD = 1.97), indicating a satisfactory response rate of 79.4%. Of surveys that
participants started, they completed 97.9%. To make full use of the available data, we also
included partial responses in analyses.
Participants were reimbursed with $30 as a base compensation. As additional
incentives, they received an additional $30 if they completed both (a) at least 35 out of the total
of 49 daily and nightly questionnaires and (b) the posttest survey.
Experience sampling protocol
Daily Signals. The experience sampling protocol for the daily signals consisted of three
sections. The first section on goal pursuit began with the starter question: “Please tell us about
your current situation: Are you trying to accomplish something right now?” We emphasized
that “this could be something you are trying to get started, complete, attain, achieve, or master,
but it could also be something you are trying not to do, trying to avoid, or trying to resist from
doing.” If participants indicated “No”, the survey was branched to the second section. If they
indicated “Yes”, we asked them to describe, in as few words as possible, what they were trying
to accomplish. In this section, participants also categorized the goal content along the
taxonomy of goal domains we developed, checking one or more of these 13 options:
relationship with partner, social (other than partner), academic/professional, health/fitness,
financial, pleasure/enjoyment, leisure, hobby, spiritual/religious, charity/activism, emotion
management, maintenance (e.g., grocery shopping, grooming), and other. They then provided
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 19
information on perceived control (“How much do you feel in control over this ([goal])?”) on a
scale from 0 (not at all) to 6 (very much), and also completed a measure of the perceived
likelihood of goal attainment (“How likely do you think you are to accomplish this ([goal])?”).
We assessed goal focus by first asking people to jot down what exactly they were doing when
they received the signal and to then asking them to indicate on a seven-point scale the extent to
which that activity was harmful (–3) or helpful (+3) for the goal they wanted to accomplish.
Thus, higher values indicate more goal focus. Perceived partner support was assessed by first
asking participants to what extent the partner knew about the present goal on a scale from 0
(not at all) to 6 (very much). If they indicated at least minimal partner knowledge (i.e., a value
of 1 or higher), participants indicated on a scale from -3 (a lot more difficult) to +3 (a lot
easier) how much their partner makes it easier or more difficult to accomplish the goal
(perceived partner support). In the absence of partner knowledge (i.e., a value of 0), we asked
a hypothetical question instead (“If your partner knew about this, how much do you think your
partner would make it easier or more difficult for you to accomplish this ([goal])?”).
Participants also indicated whether their partner was present/close nearby at the moment or
not. SRS was assessed by asking participants how satisfied they were with their relationship
partner at the moment on a scale from –3 (very dissatisfied) to +3 (very satisfied). Finally, we
assessed positive affect (“How happy do you feel at the moment?”; –3 to +3) and assessed
further situational boundary conditions that were not relevant to the present article (e.g.,
alcohol intoxication, stress).
Nightly Diary. On each nightly diary, participants completed measures assessing the
progress and performance of each goal they had reported pursuing that day—up to six distinct
goals (the maximum possible, given they received six signals). The order of assessment was
the chronological order with which goals had been listed throughout the day. For each cycle of
assessment, participants were provided with their own verbatim description of the goal before
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 20
indicating whether they successfully completed it. If “no” was selected, they indicated how
much progress they made with what they were trying to accomplish on a scale from 0 to 6. If
“yes” was selected the progress item was logically skipped and the progress value was
automatically set to the maximum value (6).
Posttest Survey. Two days after the experience-sampling phase was finished,
participants were invited to complete a brief online survey assessing several relationship-
related variables. Of interest for the present work, they again completed the global relationship
satisfaction scale (Rusbult et al., 1998; α = .90). Pre- and posttest scale scores were correlated
at r = .63.
Analytic Procedures and Strategy
Data Aggregation. Prior to analyses, we inspected the pattern of correlations among
related constructs to detect whether aggregate measures could be combined into broad
constructs. We had anticipated that control and attainment likelihood might be positively
related. However, the correlation was lower than we had expected, r = .36, p < .001, and
because attainment likelihood is not a face valid measure of perceived control, we did not
combine the two measures into an aggregate measure. Instead, we used the perceived control
item as the sole item measuring control (sensitivity analyses showed that conclusions regarding
perceived control remain largely identical when the two measures are combined). Goal
progress and performance satisfaction from the nightly diary were substantially related, r = .49,
p = <.001; hence, we decided to form a composite goal performance index for each goal
reported earlier that day.
Dyadic Process Analyses. Because experience sampling data are nested, all
analysesexcept descriptive raw data calculationswere conducted as (multilevel) dyadic
process analyses (Bolger & Laurenceau, 2013) using the SAS PROC MIXED procedure. The
analysis of repeated dyadic data is more complex than the standard multilevel case. First,
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 21
although there are three conceptual levels of analysis (occasions nested within partners nested
within dyads), such a model is “saturated” at the middle level of analysis in the case of
distinguishable dyad members: Once the role within the dyad (e.g., male vs. female) is
included as a dummy variable in the statistical model, there can be no estimate of additional
variability at the middle level (Diggle, Heagarty, Liang, & Zeger, 2002; Kenny, Kashy, &
Cook, 2006). Second, repeated dyadic data can be characterized by two distinct sources of
nonindependence of the level-1 residuals (Bolger & Laurenceau, 2013; Bolger & Shrout,
2007). One source of dependency of residuals is given by autoregressive dependencies within
dyad members over time (e.g., partner A’s relationship satisfaction measured at time t1 is likely
to be correlated with partner A’s relationship satisfaction measured at time t2). Given the
parallel nature of our experience sampling assessment, the second source of dependency of
residuals is the likely assumption that there will be (within-couple) covariation between partner
A’s and B’s responses at a given measurement occasion (e.g., partner A’s relationship
satisfaction measured at time t1 is likely to be correlated with partner B’s relationship
satisfaction measured at time t1).
We therefore analyzed these data using a multilevel model for repeated dyadic data that
treats the three-level nested structure (measurement occasions nested within persons nested
within dyads) as if it has a two level nested structure, accounting for the third level by
including a dummy-variable to estimate male and female effects separately (Bolger &
Laurenceau, 2013; Raudenbush, Brennan, & Barnett, 1995). Level 1 represents variability due
to within-person repeated measures for male and female partners separately, and Level 2
represents between-couple variability across male partners and across female partners (for
more details, see Laurenceau & Bolger, 2005; Raudenbush et al., 1995). Level 1 variables such
as SRS vary both within-persons (i.e., it can fluctuate from measurement occasion to
measurement occasion) and between-persons (i.e., people differ from each other in their
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 22
average, aggregated relationship satisfaction). Because we wished to focus on contextual
within-person processes (e.g., how do fluctuations in relationship satisfaction affect variation
in a given self-regulatory process?), we isolated the within-subjects variability of interest
through person-mean centering (Enders & Tofighi, 2007). As recommended by Bolger and
Laurenceau (2013), the statistically independent grand-mean centered average effects of
experience sampling predictor variables were routinely entered into the model (as a Level 2
predictor). These are provided in tables for the interested reader, but they will not be discussed
in detail due to our focus on within-participant processes. Also, because the focus of the
present research was on general effects rather than gender differences, we estimated the
average effects across the two genders with the ESTIMATE command, and we tested whether
multilevel regression parameters differed reliably between genders using the CONTRAST
command (denoted as “Gender Moderation” in the results section). Except in the rare case of
statistical significant gender differences, we discuss results based on the overall effects. For the
sake of completeness, we report all gender-specific estimates in our main tables.
To account for the two types of dependencies in residuals outlined above, we specified
the complex Level-1 error covariance structure using the TYPE=un@ar(1) option on the
REPEATED statement of the PROC MIXED procedure. The ar(1) part estimates a first-order
autoregressive structure within dyad members over measurement occasions (denoted as
“Autocorrelation” in tables), whereas the UN part allows for the simultaneous estimation of
between-dyad-members dependencies at a given measurement occasion (denoted as “M-F
Residual covariance” in tables).
Except for the random intercepts, all other model effects were estimated as fixed effects
due to reasons of model complexity. We acknowledge that this is a limitation of our analytic
approach, because it is quite likely that there is random variation in these slopes across
participants in everyday life. Unfortunately, a considerable portion of the models did not
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 23
converge when estimating random slope effects, particularly when multiple predictors were
used. Further, to account for possible variation across days and deal with the non-independence
of signals from the same day, we routinely included day of the week as a fixed effect through a
set of (six) effects-coded variables in all dyadic-process models.2 Including day had very little
effect on parameter estimates and model fit and did not affect any of our statistical
conclusions. We also investigated the impact of controlling for possible goal domain
differences in outcomes by including goal domain as a set of dummy-coded variables. The
effects of controlling for goal domain were negligible, and controlling for goal domain did not
affect any of our statistical conclusions. For the sake of model parsimony, we report analyses
collapsing across goal domains.
Goals. Overall, participants indicated a current goal on 4,587 (68%) out of the 6,756
total number of signals responded to, confirming that goal pursuit is a frequent feature of daily
life. In terms of goal domains, Figure 2 shows how frequently men and women assigned the
goals they pursued to the 13 broad domains (percentages add up to more than 100% because
participants could indicate multiple goal domains as being served by each current goal). The
single most frequently mentioned goal domain was academic/work-related, followed by
pleasure-related goals. Relationship goals were the third most frequently mentioned goal, with
about 25% of current goals serving relationship interests, followed by financial goals, leisure
goals, social goals, maintenance goals, and health/fitness-related goals. As is clear in Figure 2,
men and women were quite similar in domains toward which their goal-pursuits were targeted;
indeed, the correlation between male and female domain proportions was r = .97. Goal
progress information, as collected through the nightly diary, was available for a total of 3,883
reported goals (85% of all reported goals).
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 24
State Relationship Satisfaction. To explore the means and distribution of SRS, we
conducted a dyadic random intercept model on the 6,653 available observations on which data
on SRS were provided (see Table 1; an analysis of SRS from occasions only on which a goal
was reported yielded identical results). The overall intercept estimated was M = 2.05 (SE = .07)
on the scale from –3 to +3. The estimated male (M = 2.04, SE = .08) and female (M = 2.05, SE
= .09) partner intercepts did not differ, as confirmed by a contrast test (Gender Moderation F =
.001, p = .971).3 Hence, males and females enjoyed relatively high SRS over the course of the
experience sampling week. Both random intercept variances were highly significant, indicating
significant intraindividual differences in average SRS (see Table 1). More important, random
intercepts co-varied significantly (see Table 1; equivalent to a correlation of r = .36), which
suggests that average levels of relationship satisfaction are moderately shared between
partners. Furthermore, both sources of dependency of residuals (autocorrelation over time;
between-partner dependency) accounted for covariance in residuals. This confirms the notion
that SRS should best be modeled as a state combining temporary carryover effects from
observation to observation and shared experiences with the partner at a given point in time
(Bolger & Laurenceau, 2013). Finally, person-level aggregated SRS was robustly correlated
with the global measure of relationship satisfaction (Rusbult et al., 1998) from the intake
session, r = .48, p < .001, indicating convergent validity of aggregated momentary relationship
satisfaction and traditional self-reports.
The residual (level-1) variances reported in Table 1 also provide an assessment of the
temporal variation of SRS over time (i.e., assessed as within-person variation around the
person mean). The male and female variances correspond to standard deviations of SDMale =
.95 and SDFemale = .99, respectively. Thus, even though average SRS was high, there was
substantial individual-level variation over time. In addition, there was significant temporal co-
variation between partners, as indicated by a significant average profile correlation of r = .28, p
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 25
< .01, between the male and female partner SRS values (for an illustration, see Supplementary
Figure 1). Further supplementary analyses showed that fluctuation in SRS was significantly
related to the two significant relationship events assessed (see Supplementary Table 1).
Specifically, SRS (as assessed repeatedly throughout the day) was lower on days on which a
partner reported a disagreement with his or her partner, M = 2.19, SE = 0.07, as compared on
days without disagreement, M = 1.71, SE = .08, p < .001 (Gender Moderation p = .891).
Conversely, SRS was slightly elevated on days on which a partner reported having sexual
intercourse with his or her partner, M = 2.22, SE = 0.07, as compared on days without sex, M =
2.04, SE = 0.07, p < .001. The latter effect was significantly moderated by gender, p < .001,
indicating that the positive effect of sexual intercourse was larger for men (M = 2.26) than for
women (M = 2.17).
SRS and Self-Regulatory Processes
The main purpose of this article was to investigate whether and how SRS relates to
effective self-regulation. To this end, we first ran a preliminary series of random intercept
models on the four facilitators of self-regulation (perceived control, goal focus, perceived
partner support, positive affect), summarized in Supplementary Table 2. In the next step, we
regressed each of the four variables on SRS. As can be seen from Table 2, when participants’
SRS was higher than typical for them, they indicated higher levels of perceived control over
the goal in question, B = .16, p < .001 (SE = .02; Gender Moderation p = .871) than when their
SRS was lower than typical for them. (The regression coefficient of .16 indicates that a one-
unit increase on the SRS scale was associated with a .16 unit increase in perceived control.)
Higher-than-typical SRS also related to significantly higher goal focus, B = .13, p <
.001 (SE = .03; Gender Moderation p = .781), perceived partner support, B = .34, p < .001 (SE
= .02; Gender Moderation p = .703), and positive affect, B = .53, p < .001 (SE = .02; Gender
Moderation p = .315). In short, this first set of analyses supports the motivational-mindset
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 26
prediction that a relationship that is going well at a given point in time facilitates cognitive and
affective self-regulatory processes that can promote the pursuit of a wide variety of everyday
Testing for Mediation: Relationship Satisfaction, Self-Regulatory Processes, and Goal
Thus far, the results have shown that fluctuations in relationship satisfaction were
positively linked to fluctuations in the four facilitators of self-regulatory success—perceived
control, goal focus, perceived partner support, and positive affect. Next we examined whether
relationship satisfaction predicted goal performance at the end of the day and whether the four
facilitators of self-regulatory success mediate such a link. A first analysis demonstrated that
higher-than-typical relationship satisfaction predicted higher-than-typical goal performance, B
= .06, p = .011 (Gender Moderation p = .174).4 Next, as summarized in Table 3, we found that
each of the four facilitators of self-regulatory success explained unique variance in goal
performance. Finally, we tested whether the total effect between SRS and goal performance
was significantly reduced after including the four potential mediators in the model. As
summarized in Figure 3, the total effect was reduced to non-significance (and even turned
negative in sign) when the four mediators were entered into the regression equation, B = -.03, p
= .145 (Gender Moderation p = .185). Moreover, to test the significance of each separate
indirect pathway in the mediation model, we also applied the Monte Carlo bootstrapping
method for estimating the confidence intervals for each indirect pathway (Selig & Preacher,
2008). The analysis revealed that all four proposed mediators indeed yielded significant and
positive mediation effects, all ps < .05). Thus, perceived control, goal focus, perceived partner
support, and positive affect all appear to contribute to self-regulatory success through
separable, independent mechanisms.
Moderator Analyses: Goal Type, Partner Presence, and Relationship Duration
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 27
The above analyses establish a general connection between state fluctuations in
relationship satisfaction and concurrent parameters related to effective goal pursuit that
translate into better goal performance. In the next phase of analyses, we examined when these
links would be particularly prominent by exploring the moderating effect of goal type and
relationship duration.5 In particular, we examined whether the association of relationship
satisfaction with self-regulatory processes and goal performance was stronger or weaker for
relationship-related goals than relationship-unrelated goals, for situations during which the
partner was present rather than absent, and for longer- rather than shorter-term relationships. In
each model, we added to the models presented in Table 2 the moderator main effect as well as
the interaction between SRS and the moderator (estimated separately for males and females).
As above, we also estimated the average main and interaction effects across gender with the
ESTIMATE and CONTRAST functions, respectively. As none of the moderator effects was
qualified by a significant gender contrast, we summarize these analyses by presenting the
average main and interaction effects from these analyses (see Table 4).
To investigate whether the above general effects were more pronounced for
relationship-related rather than relationship-unrelated goals (goal type), we created a dummy
variable by assigning all goals for which participants tagged the relationship multiple-choice
option to the relationship category (n = 1,122; coded 1) and all remaining goals to the non-
relationship category (n = 3,378; coded 0).6 Results showed that goal type interacted with
perceived control, goal focus, perceived partner support, and positive affect such that the link
between SRS and all four mediators of goal performance was stronger for relationship goals
than for non-relationship goals (see Table 4 and Supplementary Figure 2, Panels A to D).
However, simple-slope analyses indicated that SRS was still reliably related to perceived
control, B = .09, p < .001, goal focus, B = .09, p = .013, perceived partner support, B = .27, p
< .001, and positive affect, B = .49, p < .001, for non-relationship-related goals. Of further
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 28
note, the link between SRS and goal performance at the end of the day was not reliably
moderated by goal type, interaction B = -.02, p = .71. Hence, the above associations of SRS
and with self-regulation appear to hold in general, although they are somewhat more
pronounced for relationship-related goals.
We also investigated how the physical presence of the partner affects self-regulation
parameters. On the level of main effects, partner presence (1 = partner physically present, 35%
of measurement occasions; 0 = partner physically absent, 65% of measurement occasions) was
associated with lower levels of perceived control, no difference in goal focus, higher levels of
perceived support and higher affective positivity (see Table 4). More important, partner
presence moderated the effect of SRS on perceived support as well as affective positivity such
that fluctuations in SRS had a stronger effect on perceived support as well as affective
positivity when the partner was present rather than absent (Table 4 and Supplementary Figure
2, Panels E and F). Again, simple-slope analyses showed that SRS was still reliably related to
perceived support, B = .24, p < .001, and affective positivity, B = .45, p < .001, when the
partner was absent. Of further note, the link between SRS and goal performance at the end of
the day was not reliably moderated by partner presence, interaction B = -.006, p = .898.
The moderator analysis involving relationship duration (in years) revealed an
interaction with regard to perceived control (see Table 4), suggesting that the relationship
between SRS and perceived control is more pronounced for less-established couples than for
more-established couples. In a related vein, SRS and affective positivity were more strongly
intertwined for couples below-average in their relationship duration, whereas relationship
satisfaction and positive affect were relatively more dissociated among partners in longer-term
relationships (see Table 4 and Supplementary Figure 2, Panels G and H). The link between
SRS and goal performance at the end of the day was not reliably moderated by relationship
duration, interaction B = -.007, p = .526.
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 29
APIM Analysis: The Importance of the Subjective Experience of Relationship
We conducted an actor-partner interdependence model (APIM) analysis (Campbell &
Kashy, 2002; Kenny et al., 2006) to explore whether goal performance is not only influenced
by the SRS of the person pursuing a given goal (actor effect) as shown above, but also by the
partner’s SRS at that moment in time (partner effect). To this end, we added partner SRS
scores to the dyadic process model above, again using dummy coding to estimate male and
female partner effects. This analysis revealed that there was no SRS partner effect on goal
performance, B = -.01, p = .636 (Gender Moderation p = .436), whereas the actor effect
remained robust, B = .05, p = .030 (Gender Moderation p = .643). This pattern of results
suggests that it is primarily the subjective, individual experience of relationship satisfaction of
the person pursuing a given goal that predicts goal performance, rather than the (correlated but
distinguishable) relationship satisfaction of one’s partner.
Does Goal Performance throughout the Week Predict Changes in Global Relationship
Thus far, we have focused on the associations of within-person fluctuations in
relationship satisfaction with within-person fluctuations in goal pursuit. To complement these
analyses in light of our tertiary prediction on the positive downstream effect of goal pursuit on
relationship satisfaction, we investigated whether aggregated (i.e., overall) goal performance
throughout the week predicted change in global relationship satisfaction from before to after
the experience-sampling phase. To this end, we used the Rusbult et al. (1998) relationship
satisfaction scale, assessed at baseline (1 day before the experience sampling phase) as well as
2 days after the experience-sampling phase as a global indicator of relationship satisfaction.
213 participants had provided information on both measurement occasions. Initial analyses
indicated that there was a non-significant overall trend towards somewhat higher relationship
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 30
satisfaction after the experience-sampling phase, M = 5.92, SD = 1.02, as compared to before,
M = 5.81, SD = 1.09, t(212) = 1.83, p = .07. On a descriptive level, there was non-negligible
within-person change from pre- to post-test relationship satisfaction, as indicated by an average
absolute change from pretest to posttest of .60 (on a scale from 1 to 7). To account for
systematic portions of relative change, we ran a multilevel residual change analysis with
distinguishable dyads, accounting for the nested data structure. Global relationship satisfaction
at Time 2 was the dependent variable. As the first predictor, we entered global relationship
satisfaction at Time 1, B = .60, p < .001 (Gender Moderation p = .322). This allowed us to
model residual change in relationship satisfaction, that is, above- or below-average changes in
participants’ relationship satisfaction than what would be expected based on initial levels. As
the main predictor of interest, we entered the aggregated goal performance index for each
person (i.e., averaged goal performance across all goals reported throughout the entire week).
Aggregated goal performance explained significant portions of variance in relationship
satisfaction residual change scores, B = .21, p = .010 (Gender Moderation p = .614), indicating
that those partners who had made relatively more progress during the observed week of goal
strivings showed a relative increase in relationship satisfaction from pretest to posttest whereas
those who made relatively little progress showed a relative decrease.7
Study 1 employed a measurement-intensive experience-sampling design to closely
capture state fluctuations in relationship satisfaction in couples’ natural environments and
investigate how they affect the pursuit of everyday goals. Despite relatively high average
levels of SRS, participants exhibited considerable fluctuation around their own mean level of
satisfaction over time, reflecting the ups and downs of close relationships. Testing our primary
prediction, we found that SRS is linked to a positive motivational mindset during goal pursuit,
predicting four important parameters of effective self-regulation: perceived control, goal focus,
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 31
perceived partner support, and positive affect. Multiple mediation analyses testing our
secondary prediction showed that each of these parameters of effective self-regulation makes
an independent, traceable contribution in transmitting the predictive power of SRS on goal
performance as assessed later at the end of the day. These findings not only show an effect of
SRS on goal performance but also to highlight underlying key mechanisms.
Are these beneficial effects of SRS restricted to the narrower sphere of relationship
goals, or do they generalize to the broader body of goals people pursue? Supplementary
moderator analyses showed that the associations of SRS with the four facilitators and with goal
performance held also with regard to non-relationship-related goals (albeit with somewhat
smaller magnitude), attesting to the generality of the link between SRS and effective self-
regulation. Furthermore, an actor-partner interdependence analysis demonstrated that it is the
actor’s own perception of how the relationship is going at a given point in time—rather than
the partner’s or some general dyad-level of SRS—that is producing these results. This finding
is consistent with our hypothesis that SRS creates a specific motivational mindset in the actor
that may then translate into more goal-directed activities.
Even though the focus of our research design was on investigating the more short-term
processes through which relationship satisfaction may affect daily goal pursuit, Study 1 also
yielded some evidence for a reciprocal, more long-term effect of goal pursuit on relationship
quality (our tertiary prediction). Specifically, a residual change analysis suggested that those
partners who had made above-average progress during the week-long snapshot of goal pursuits
experienced a relative increase in overall relationship satisfaction from pretest to posttest,
whereas those who made below-average progress experienced a relative decline, compared to
people with average progress. Viewed in concert, these findings suggest that relationship
satisfaction and goal pursuit may be linked in reciprocal ways. We will revisit these issues
more broadly in the general discussion.
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 32
Study 2: Experimental Manipulation of State Relationship Satisfaction
Study 1 employed an ecologically valid research design that capitalizes on naturally
occurring variations in SRS and markers of effective self-regulation. However, such a design
comes at the potential cost of internal validity because the causal direction of effects remains
uncertain. To complement Study 1 with more solid causal evidence for the proposed
mechanisms, we therefore created a novel experimental manipulation of SRS in Study 2. After
having reported on an important goal they intended to accomplish, participants engaged in an
experimental procedure intended to create group differences in SRS, before completing a series
of self-report questionnaires assessing our four key self-regulatory processes as well as
motivation to achieve the goal. Based on our motivational mindset framework, our key
prediction was that participants in the high SRS condition would report higher levels of
perceived control, predicted goal focus, perceived partner support, and positive affect than
those in the low SRS condition, and that those changes would in turn predict higher motivation
for the goal at hand.
Participants. Two hundred Amazon.com Mechanical Turk volunteers in the United
States participated in the study (58.5% males, mean age = 33.7, SD = 10.1). To be eligible for
participation, participants had to be involved in an exclusive romantic relationship. One
participant was excluded for not meeting this criterion. The average relationship length was 6.9
years (SD = 8.6). Because instructions required that participants list nontrivial goals, we
excluded one participant from analyses because he indicated that the reported goal was only of
very low value to him (score of 1 on the 0-to-6 goal value scale described below). Four further
participants failed to correctly complete an item designed to measure whether participants were
paying attention (“To monitor data quality, please move this slider to the number 0 on this
slider.”). The final sample thus consisted of 195 participants.
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 33
Procedure. First, participants were asked to choose a goal they were trying to
accomplish tomorrow or later that day, using the same wording as in Study 1. We further
specified that “It could be any nontrivial goal from any sphere in your life. Please do not
mention the goal of completing this survey; instead, please think of a goal you hope to
accomplish tomorrow or later today.” We asked participants to choose a goal before the
manipulation of relationship satisfaction because we sought to exclude any possible effects of
our relationship satisfaction manipulation on the type of goal chosen (even though Study 1’s
supplementary analysis reported in Footnote 5 did not suggest a confound between SRS and
Next, drawing on novel work on how to experimentally manipulate life satisfaction
(Luhmann & Hennecke, 2014), we manipulated relationship satisfaction by assigning
participants randomly to two conditions in which they had to selectively think about either
positive or negative aspects of their current relationship. Participants in the high relationship
satisfaction condition read that “There are many things in our romantic relationships that work
out well. Using the space below, please think about and list three things that are good about
your relationship.” In the low relationship satisfaction condition they read that “There are
many things in our relationships that do not work out so well. Using the space below, please
think about and list three things that are not good about your relationship.”
Following this SRS manipulation, the software presented participants with their own
verbatim goal description and asked them to report, in random order, their perceived control
[(“How much do you feel in control over accomplishing this?”, 0 (not at all) to 6 (very much)],
predicted goal focus [(“How much do you think you will be able to focus on getting this
done?” and “How much do you think you will be mentally distracted by other things when
trying to get this done?” (R); 0 (not at all) to 6 (very much); α = .60)], perceived partner
support [(“How supportive or unsupportive do you feel your partner will be in your pursuit of
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 34
this?” and “How much do you think your partner will make it easier or more difficult for you
to accomplish this?” , -3 (very unsupportive/a lot more difficult) to +3 (very supportive/a lot
easier); α = .58)], and their current level of positive affect [(“How happy do you feel at the
moment?” -3 (very unhappy) to 3 (very happy)]. For ease of presentation, we recoded values
on the perceived goal support and positive affect items to the 0-to-6 metric. Note also that, in
Study 1, goal focus was assessed in an activity-related way by first prompting participants to
indicate what they were actually doing at the moment, and then asking participants to indicate
the instrumentality of that activity for their current goal. Because Study 2 was about future
accomplishments that had not yet been initiated, such an activity-related procedure was not
sensible. We therefore assessed predicted goal focus.
As a manipulation check, participants reported on a –3-to-+3 scale, their level of
satisfaction in their relationship (“How satisfied are you with your relationship with your
partner at the moment?”). They also indicated how valuable the goal they reported was to them
on a scale from 0 to 6. Finally, they indicated to which of the 13 life domains assessed in Study
1 the target goal was oriented (e.g., academic/professional, health/fitness) and provided
Given that this study employed a one-shot experimental design (one without
longitudinal procedures), we assessed goal motivation as a proxy for actual goal progress. To
this end, we asked “How motivated are you to accomplish this?” and “How much effort are
you willing to invest in realizing this goal?” (α = .75).
Manipulation check. An independent samples t-test predicting self-reported
relationship satisfaction from the experimental manipulation revealed that participants in the
high relationship satisfaction condition (M = 2.40, SE = 0.11) reported higher levels of state
relationship satisfaction than participants in the low relationship satisfaction condition (M =
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 35
1.84, SE = 0.13), t(193) = 3.17, p = .002. Thus, the experimental manipulation of SRS was
successful. Participants across the conditions did not differ by age, gender composition, or
relationship duration, all ps > .33. Participants in both conditions reported relationship-related
goals with similar frequency (average: 19.4%), χ² = 0.58, p = .447.
Hypothesis testing. We conducted a series of independent-samples t-tests to examine
how the manipulation of relationship satisfaction influenced self-regulatory processes (see
Figure 4). As hypothesized, participants in the high satisfaction condition, compared to those
in the low satisfaction condition, reported higher perceived control regarding their selected
goal, M = 5.06, SE = 0.12 vs. M = 4.64, SE = 0.15, t(193) = 2.10, p = .037, and marginally
higher self-reported goal focus, M = 3.88, SE = 0.10 vs. M = 3.65, SE = 0.09, t(193) = 1.74, p
= .084. Participants in the high satisfaction condition, compared to those in the low satisfaction
condition, also reported significantly greater perceived partner support, M = 5.17, SE = 0.09 vs.
M = 4.50, SE = 0.11, t(193) = 4.67, p < .001, and positive affect, M = 4.73, SE = 0.13 vs. M =
4.27, SE = 0.14, t(193) = 2.45, p < .015.
To test whether our continuous measure of SRS mediates the effect of our manipulation
on the four hypothesized facilitators of goal pursuit, we conducted a series of four mediation
analyses on the four dependent variables using the PROCESS macro by Hayes (2012; 2013).
The manipulation indirectly influenced all four facilitators through its effect on SRS (a = .56, p
= .002). The four indirect effects were estimated at abcontrol = .17, abgoal focus = .07, absupport
= .15, and abaffect = .22. Bias-corrected bootstrap 95% confidence intervals for each indirect
effect were entirely above zero.
Lastly, we found that our measure of goal motivation was affected by the SRS
manipulation such that participants in the high satisfaction condition reported significantly
higher motivation towards their goals than those in the low satisfaction condition, M = 5.21, SE
= 0.10 vs. M = 4.88, SE = 0.10), t(193) = 2.37, p = .019. Moreover, a multiple mediation
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 36
analysis with SRS as predictor, the four facilitators as mediating variables, and goal motivation
as the outcome (summarized in Supplementary Figure 3) revealed a significant overall
mediation effect, abtotal = .15 (95%CI from .08 to .26). A closer look at the four indirect effects
constituting the overall effect revealed that the confidence intervals for the indirect effects via
perceived control, ab = .06, perceived partner support, ab = .05, and affective positivity, ab
= .05, each did not include zero. Self-reported goal focus did not reliably contribute to the
overall mediation effect, ab = .004 (95% CI from -.01 to .03).
Study 2 demonstrated that experiencing relationship satisfaction causes people to
experience higher perceived control, somewhat higher self-reported goal focus, higher
perceived partner support regarding a current goal pursuit, as well as higher levels of positive
affect. These results replicate the findings obtained in Study 1, with the exception of the
weaker (albeit directionally identical) effect for goal focus, which had been assessed more
objectively (i.e., activity-related) in Study 1. A proxy of goal progress tapping into goal
motivation was also affected by the SRS manipulation, and mediation analyses indicated
reliable indirect effects from SRS to goal motivation through perceived control, perceived
partner support, and positive affect. We believe that the absence of a more robust indirect
effect via goal focus may be due to the fact that people had to make predictions about their
goal focus during future goal pursuit. Because goal focus is truly an “in the moment” construct,
in that the interest is on whether a given goal is being shielded from irrelevant, non-
instrumental activity, it is possible that the activity-based assessment of goal focus in Study 1
may have been superior to the prospective assessment strategy in Study 2.
Taken together, the results from Study 2 lend additional support to the conclusions
based on the experience-sampling data gathered in Study 1. Most important, the experimental
methodology provide some evidence in support of the causal mechanisms of our model. The
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 37
results from Study 2 thus complement the picture obtained in Study 1, and increase our
confidence that the associations and mediation effects obtained in Study 1 may be cautiously
interpreted as representing motivational mindset effects resulting from state fluctuations in
How do the ups and downs of close relationships affect everyday goal pursuits? In the
present research, we examined the relationship between state relationship satisfaction (SRS)
and self-regulatory success. Specifically, we investigated the hypothesis that SRS positively
affects a motivational mindset consisting of four identified facilitators of goal pursuit:
perceived control, goal focus, perceived partner support, and positive affect. In Study 1, an
extensive smartphone experience-sampling study, we tracked fluctuations in SRS over the
course of the day in more than one hundred couples for the duration of a week. We found that
SRS was reliably associated with all four facilitators during goal pursuit, and predicted better
goal performance by the end of the day. All four facilitators independently mediated the effects
of SRS on goal performance, suggesting unique processes. In short, people are more successful
in their daily strivings when their romantic relationship is going better than usual, and less
successful when their relationship is going worse than usual. These findings at the within-
participant process level were obtained across a large variety of different everyday goals,
speaking to the breadth and generality of these effects. A limitation of our approach in Study 1,
of course, is that causality is unclear, and there is good reason to wonder about bi-directional
and reverse directional links among some of these constructs. In particular, positive affect and
perceived partner support may also lead to temporary increases in SRS. We do not doubt that
the associations among these variables are complex, bi-directional, and dynamic.
In Study 2, we therefore complemented the data from everyday life with a controlled
experiment. In this experiment, we were able to successfully manipulate SRS through a novel
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 38
paradigm, and to provide some stronger evidence of the causal influence of SRS on our key
measures. We replicated the effects of SRS on perceived control, perceived partner support,
and positive affect, and showed that these facilitators mediated the effect of SRS on motivation
(a proxy for performance). Goal focus effects were not fully replicated, perhaps because they
were assessed in a less sophisticated way than in Study 1. Study 2 thus largely supports our
model’s assertion that SRS may play a causal role in eliciting a motivational mindset
conducive for goal pursuit.
Linking Relationship States with Motivational Processes
The present research is part of an emerging theme in relationships research attempting
to more closely link the study of relationships with the study of intra-psychological processes
of motivation, self-regulation, and goal pursuit (Finkel & Fitzsimons, 2011; Fitzsimons &
Finkel, 2010). Perhaps reflecting the broader field of social psychology’s emphasis on counter-
intuitive phenomena in recent decades, this program of research has amassed a disconnected
set of specific processes. As such, we have largely neglected some of the most basic,
fundamental questions about how relationships and self-regulation interact. In the current
research, we sought to investigate links between foundational relationship characteristics and
self-regulation, asking how relationship satisfaction relates to goal processes and progress.
In addition to providing the first tests of such links, the present research, to our
knowledge, is also the first to capture and quantify state fluctuations in relationship satisfaction
over time in an ecologically valid setting (Study 1) as well as to suggest a way through which
it can be experimentally manipulated (Study 2). As we hope to have shown, these two
approaches can complement each other in useful ways. Such a multimethod approach may be a
good foundation for addressing research questions that deal with general, broad effects of
relationships on other domains in life, as well as for more rigidly testing hypotheses about
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 39
what types of relationship or external events may cause state fluctuations in central relationship
In this work, we have introduced a conceptual model of how SRS may affect self-
regulation, via effects on what we termed a motivational mindset—a set of four basic goal-
facilitating processes. The model is intra-individual in that it examines how subjective
relationship satisfaction may instigate internal self-regulatory processes. In doing so, it
integrates cognitive (perceived control, goal focus), social (perceived partner support), and
affective (positive affect) dimensions that have been shown to be conducive for goal pursuit in
The conclusion that emerges is that SRS has an array of distinctive motivating effects.
First, higher-than-typical SRS is associated with higher feelings of control regarding one’s
current goal pursuit. We suggest that this association emerges because relationship satisfaction
promotes a sense of stability and predictability, by minimizing the potential variance in day-to-
day experience caused by relationship conflict and anxiety. When people’s everyday lives feel
more stable and predictable, they feel more in control over their ability to pursue their goals.
It is important to note that scholars have theorized that the positive effect of personal
control on motivation may be driven by positive expectations about goal attainment (Carver et
al., 2000). That is, control over a goal implies moving that goal in the desired direction; thus,
measures of control over goals may reflect positive expectations. In a study of breast cancer
patients, researchers showed that good disease outcomes, but not personal control over the
disease, predicted distress (Carver et al., 2000). Although recent research has suggested that
control can be manipulated and measured independently of expected outcomes (Gaucher,
Hafer, Kay, & Davidenko, 2010; Kay, Gaucher, Napier, Callan, & Laurin, 2008; Whitson &
Galinsky, 2008), and our Study 1 data suggested that the two were only moderately correlated,
it is nonetheless clear that control in the goal domain is tightly related to positive expectations
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 40
about goal outcomes. Thus, it is possible that optimism about goal outcomes may be playing an
important role in our control findings; we hope to further clarify this in future research.
Second, higher-than-typical SRS also appears to be conducive for goal focus. This
finding emerged in Study 1, where an indirect procedure was used to tap into goal focus, but
did not replicate when asking people to predict future goal focus in Study 2. As we believe
Study 2 was the first study to attempt to measure goal focus with a predictive self-report
measure, we speculate that such a measure may have been unreliable. Given the in-the-moment
nature of goal focus, people may have had a harder time predicting their future goal focus. It is
possible that indirect assessment procedures as the one used in Study 1 may be preferable for
isolating such mechanisms in everyday life settings.
In Study 1, people high in SRS reported that the activities they were pursuing at the
moment when they received the signal were more instrumental to the goals they wanted to
accomplish at that point in time. In other words, people low in SRS appeared more distracted
in their everyday goal pursuits, engaging in activities that were not as instrumental for goal
progress. We interpret this pattern of results as indicating that SRS may affect people’s ability
to successfully focus on their goal, shielding their goal from everyday distractions, competing
goals, and temptations. In line with earlier research from other domains (Kemps et al., 2008;
Klein & Boals, 2001; Schmader & Johns, 2003; Schoofs et al., 2008), we suggest that negative
as compared to positive SRS creates relationship worries and distress that intrude into working
memory, thus reducing people’s self-regulatory capacity at focusing and concentrating on
those activities that would be most conducive for achieving their current goal pursuits. The
present results thus seem to point to a novel connection between SRS and the executive
functions that have been argued to support goal shielding processes, thus linking relationship
processes to a basic cognitive level of analysis (for other examples, see Pronk, Karremans,
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 41
Overbeek, Vermulst, & Wigboldus, 2010). Given that we did not replicate these findings in the
experimental study, however, these conclusions about goal focus are necessarily tentative.
Third, higher-than-typical SRS appears to promote perceptions of partner support.
Study 2 is of particular note here, as it addresses the alternative explanation that perceived
partner support had driven relationship satisfaction in Study 1. To be sure, such an effect also
exists (see Brunstein et al., 1996) and may be part of what is tapped in Study 1’s association of
SRS and perceived partner support. However, the experimental results of Study 2 also lend
support for the complementary direction of the effect—namely, that heightened relationship
satisfaction generates a cognitive mindset in which one’s partner is perceived as being more
supportive with regard to the goals one pursues. Along with other studies of positive illusions
(e.g., Murray et al., 1996), these findings suggest that relationship satisfaction leads to a broad
array of motivated perceptions of the relationship partner. In this case, these motivated
perceptions promote goal pursuit. Whether goal pursuit is driven “just” by these motivated
perceptions, or whether these beliefs and expectations may also elicit and correspond to actual
helping behavior by the partner is an important issue for future research.
Fourth, our results show that SRS is a source of positive affect and confirm the
motivating power of positive affect (Fishbach & Labroo, 2007; Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). As
has been argued, positive affect may act as a signal that resources are adequate, leading people
to approach challenging goals more readily and invest substantial amounts of effort into their
pursuit (Elliot & Thrash, 2002; Lyubomirsky, 2001). Happy relationships promote positive
sentiment, and this appears to promote goal progress. Importantly, by isolating the indirect
effect of positive affect on goal pursuit in our analyses, we could demonstrate that the
relationship between SRS and goal performance is not exclusively accounted for by an
affective component; rather, cognitive factors (perceived control, goal shielding, perceived
partner support) also play an essential part in our motivational-mindset account.
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 42
The Reciprocal Relationship between Relationship Satisfaction and Goal Achievement
The current research was designed to explore the possibility that relationship
satisfaction may shape goal pursuit. As we noted in our introduction, however, that effect may
be part of a larger bi-directional connection between relationship quality and goal achievement.
Earlier work has indirectly suggested that people who have high self-controland thus are
likely to experience more goal successfeel more satisfied with their relationships (Vohs et
al., 2011). The present research directly investigated this link by testing whether changes in
relationship satisfaction over one week are predicted by goal progress made during that week.
Indeed, in the present study there was some evidence for the reciprocal nature of this link, such
that people who made more progress on their goals during the week tended to experience a
relative increase in relationship satisfaction over the week whereas those who made little
progress tended to experience a relative decrease in relation to what would have been expected
based on their pretest levels.
Viewed in concert, the connection between satisfaction and goal achievement may well
take on a central role in the development of close relationships: Those relationships that allow
people to be more successful on their important everyday goals may survive and mature,
whereas those that stifle people’s goal achievement too often may eventually fail. Even though
more speculative at this point, the nature of these dynamics may be further qualified by other
self-regulatory and relationship variables. For instance, the current findings suggest that at
least some of the mechanisms linking relationship satisfaction to facilitators of self-regulation
are particularly potent at earlier stages of a relationship. Although we did not advance
hypotheses regarding moderating effects of relationship duration a priori, these findings
suggest that temporary perturbations in relationship satisfaction may be especially influential
among less-established (vs. more-established) couples because a key feature of developing an
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 43
established relationship may be found in the reduced susceptibility to the effects of moment-to-
moment fluctuations in relationship quality.
In conclusion, the present work suggests that the quality of close relationships has
important implications for how well people accomplish their everyday goals. It also sheds light
on the processes through which relationship satisfaction may translate into better goal
achievement: by making individuals feel happier and more confident that they can control their
outcomes, by allowing them to focus their action on what is truly useful, and by leading them
to see the social world as supportive of their goal pursuit.
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We thank Julia Hur, Kellyanna Foster, Robert Beedle, Taylor Curran, Archith Murali,
Grace Duan, their help in data collection, and Paresh Patel for technical support. This
research was supported by xxxx.
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 56
1 The software was programmed for the purpose of this study with the help of a
professional programmer, using an asp.net framework in conjunction with a SMS to SMS
gateway. It has now been made available for other researchers to use under the name
“SurveySignal” (Hofmann & Patel, 2015).
2 Due to space limitations, parameter estimates for day are not shown in tables,
readers interested in those results are asked to contact the first author.
3 For the sake of brevity, henceforth we will only report the p value from the gender
4 Because the goal performance index was left-skewed, we conducted a robustness
analysis on reversed, log-transformed scores for all models involving this dependent
outcome. Results were very robust and none of the statistical conclusions were affected by
the log-transformed analyses.
5 We focused our analyses on the link between SRS and the four key mediator
variables (perceived control, goal focus, effort, perceived partner support) rather than on the
link between these mediators and goal progress, as those latter links are established in the
published literature and not of central interest to the present article.
6 A supplementary logistic multilevel analysis showed that SRS was not statistically
related to whether participants pursued a relationship or non-relationship goal, Blog = .05, p =
7 Effects of aggregated goal performance were in the same direction, but less reliable
when conducting a change score analysis, B = .10, p = .27. Because a discussion of the pros
and cons of the residual change and difference score approach are beyond the scope of this
article, we refer the reader to classic and recent discussions (Cronbach & Furby, 1970;
Gollwitzer, Christ, & Lemmer, 2014; Linn & Slinde, 1977; Van Breukelen, 2013).
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 57
Table 1. Study 1: Multilevel Dyadic Random Intercepts-
Only Model of SRS.
M-F RIntercept Covariance
M-F Residual Covariance
Number of Observations
Note. Estimates based on 224 participants from 115 dyads. M = Male;
F = Female; SRS = State Relationship Satisfaction; RIntercept =
Random Intercept; BIC = Bayesian Information Criterion.
Table 2. Study 1: Dyadic Process Analyses relating SRS to Facilitators of Self-Regulation.
Fixed Effects (within)
M SRS Slope
F SRS Slope
Fixed Effects (between)
SRS between effect
M SRS between effect
F SRS between effect
M-F RIntercept Cov.
M-F Residual Cov.
Number of Observations
Note. Estimates based on 227 participants from 115 dyads. M = Male; F = Female; SRS = SRS; RIntercept = Random Intercept; Cov. = Covariance; BIC =
Bayesian Information Criterion. Different subscripts (a/b) for Male and Female effects indicate significant moderation by gender. Perceived control was
measured on a scale from 1 to 6; Goal focus, perceived partner support, and positive affect were measured on a scale from -3 to +3.
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 60
Table 3. Study 1: Dyadic Process Analysis of the Effects of
Facilitators of Self-Regulation on Goal Performance
Assessed at the End of the Day.
Fixed Effects (within)
Perceived Partner Support
M Goal focus
F Goal focus
M Perceived Partner Support
F Perceived Partner Support
M Positive Affect
F Positive Affect
Fixed Effects (between)
Perceived Partner Support
M Goal focus
F Goal focus
M Perceived Partner Support
F Perceived Partner Support
M Positive Affect
F Positive Affect
M-F RIntercept Covariance
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 61
M-F Residual Covariance
Number of Observations
Note. Estimates based on 211 participants from 111 dyads. M = Male; F
= Female; SRS = SRS; RIntercept = Random Intercept; BIC = .Bayesian
Information Criterion. None of the gender-specific parameters was
significantly moderated by gender.
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 62
Table 4. Study 1: Moderator Analyses of the Effects of SRS on Facilitators of Self-Regulation.
Relationship goal (1) vs.
other goal (0)
Partner present (1) vs.
Note. IA effect = interaction effect (SRS × moderator variable). Main (i.e., average) effects for SRS from the moderated regression analyses are not shown (these are highly
similar to the ones reported in Table 2). * p < .05. ** p < .01 *** p < .001.
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 63
Figure 1. Conceptual framework linking state fluctuations in relationship satisfaction, four
key facilitators of effective self-regulation (motivational mindset), and goal performance.
Facilitators of Effective Self-
Regulation (Motivational Mindset)
Perceived Partner Support
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 64
Figure 2. Study 1: Male and female partner percentages with which current goals were
classified as serving one or multiple broader goal domains in life. Percentages add up to more
than 100% because multiple goal domains could be indicated as being served by each current
0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 40%
Male Partner Female Partner
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 65
Figure 3. Study 1: Summary of mediation analysis showing how the effect of SRS on goal
performance at the end of the day is mediated via perceived control, goal focus, perceived
partner support, and positive affect. Coefficients represent unstandardized effects. Values in
parentheses represent the total effect. All individual mediation pathways are reliable at p <
.05 as assessed via the Monte Carlo method.
Relationship satisfaction and goal pursuit 66
Figure 4. Study 2: The effects of the state relationship satisfaction manipulation on perceived
control, goal focus, perceived partner support, and positive affect. Error bars represent
standard errors. † p < .10. *p < .05. **p < .01.
Perceived Control Goal Focus Perceived Partner
Low SRS condition High SRS condition