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Abstract

Spending time with a romantic partner by going on dates is important for promoting closeness in established relationships; however, not all date nights are created equally, and some people might be more adept at planning dates that promote closeness. Drawing from the self-expansion model and relationship goals literature, we predicted that people higher (vs. lower) in approach relationship goals would be more likely to plan dates that are more exciting and, in turn, experience more self-expansion from the date and increased closeness with the partner. In Study 1, people in intimate relationships planned a date to initiate with their partners and forecasted the expected level of self-expansion and closeness from engaging in the date. In Study 2, a similar design was employed, but we also followed up with participants 1 week later to ask about the experience of engaging in their planned dates (e.g., self-expansion, closeness from the date). Taken together, the results suggest that people with higher (vs. lower) approach relationship goals derive more closeness from their dates, in part, because of their greater aptitude for planning dates that are more exciting and promote self-expansion.
Full Research Report
Planning date nights that
promote closeness: The
roles of relationship goals
and self-expansion
Cheryl Harasymchuk
1
, Deanna L. Walker
2
, Amy Muise
3
,
and Emily A. Impett
4
Abstract
Spending time with a romantic partner by going on dates is important for promoting
closeness in established relationships; however, not all date nights are created equally,
and some people might be more adept at planning dates that promote closeness.
Drawing from the self-expansion model and relationship goals literature, we predicted
that people higher (vs. lower) in approach relationship goals would be more likely to plan
dates that are more exciting and, in turn, experience more self-expansion from the date
and increased closeness with the partner. In Study 1, people in intimate relationships
planned a date to initiate with their partners and forecasted the expected level of self-
expansion and closeness from engaging in the date. In Study 2, a similar design was
employed, but we also followed up with participants 1 week later to ask about the
experience of engaging in their planned dates (e.g., self-expansion, closeness from the
date). Taken together, the results suggest that people with higher (vs. lower) approach
relationship goals derive more closeness from their dates, in part, because of their
greater aptitude for planning dates that are more exciting and promote self-expansion.
Keywords
Approach relationship goals, date nights, intimate relationships, self-expansion model,
shared leisure
1
Carleton University, Canada
2
Western University, Canada
3
York University, Canada
4
University of Toronto Mississauga, Canada
Corresponding author:
Cheryl Harasymchuk, Department of Psychology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6, Canada.
Email: cheryl.harasymchuk@carleton.ca
Journal of Social and
Personal Relationships
1–18
ªThe Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
sagepub.com/journals-permissions
DOI: 10.1177/02654075211000436
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J S P R
Popular advice given to romantic couples to maintain their connection is to “plan a date
night” (e.g., Gottman et al., 2019), yet not all planned dates are equally effective.
Although couples might experience temporary boosts in relationship quality from
engaging in familiar, comfortable activities such as going to dinner and a movie (Muise
et al., 2019), according to the self-expansion model, one way to enhance and sustain
closeness in established relationships is to engage in exciting, shared leisure activities
that promote a broadening of the mind and a new perspective of the self (i.e., self-
expansion; Aron & Aron, 1986, 1996; Aron et al., 2013; Branand et al., 2019).
Indeed, engaging in exciting activities with a partner can be self-expanding
(Harasymchuk et al., 2020; Muise et al., 2019), and associated with greater satisfac-
tion and closeness (Aron et al., 2000; Graham, 2008; Harasymchuk et al., 2020; Muise
et al., 2019).
Some people might be more adept than others, however, at creating and capitalizing
on opportunities for self-expansion in their relationships. For instance, people with
strong approach relationship goals—those who are motivated to pursue intimacy and
growth in relationships (Gable, 2006)—report a greater daily occurrence of exciting,
shared activities in their relationships (Harasymchuk et al., 2020). What remains to be
understood is whether people high (vs. low) in approach relationship goals are better at
creating such opportunities when planning dates as opposed to simply letting them
spontaneously occur. Although planning might seem like the antithesis of excitement,
pre-arranging these activities might actually ensure they happen and facilitate feelings of
excitement. For instance, planning and initiating a day trip to visit a new town with a
partner might create an environment for non-routine, spontaneous, and exciting moments
to naturally emerge. The goal of this research was to examine whether people higher,
relative to lower, in approach relationship goals have a greater aptitude for planning
dates that are exciting and, in turn, promote greater self-expansion (i.e., broadening one’s
perspective of themselves and the world) and, ultimately, greater closeness with their
partner.
Shared leisure activities in relationships
Maintaining a satisfying relationship extends beyond managing conflict and reducing
negative affect (i.e., threat mitigation); it also involves increasing positivity and
promoting leisure (i.e., relationship enhancement; Ogolsky et al., 2017). Shared
recreation and joint leisure activities are examples of interactive maintenance beha-
viors that have been identified as important markers of relationship quality (e.g.,
Busbyetal.,1995;Fowers&Olson,1993).Despite the seemingly inconsequential
nature of shared leisure activities and viewing them as a “bonus activity” (Claxton &
Perry-Jenkins, 2008, p. 28), growing evidence suggests that shared recreation is
important for promoting closeness in established relationships (e.g., Aron et al., 2000;
Coulter & Malouff, 2013; Rogge et al., 2013). One important model that explains why
certain forms of shared recreation is beneficial to relationships is the self-expansion
model.
2Journal of Social and Personal Relationships XX(X)
Self-expansion in relationships
According to the self-expansion model, people actively seek to expand their sense of
self, perspective, and identity (Aron & Aron, 1996, see Aron et al., 2013 for a review).
New relationships often provide opportunities for self-expansion because people are
gaining new information about their partner and may be incorporating their partner’s
attributes into their sense of self (Aron & Aron, 1986; Xu et al., 2016). As partners
become increasingly interdependent, they begin to feel that their lives (and self-
concepts) are intertwined and closer (Aron & Aron, 1986; Aron et al., 1992). As a
result, it is common for relationship satisfaction and love to be high in the early stages
of a relationship (Aron et al., 2004). However, over time, as the partner becomes more
familiar, there are fewer opportunities to gain new perspectives and have novel
experiences (Aron & Aron, 1986, 1996).
Couples can sustain self-expansion over time in ongoing relationships by engaging in
exciting shared leisure activities. Excitement in relationships can be defined in a variety
of ways (e.g., novelty, arousal, challenge, see Aron et al., 2013) as well as by features
such as interest, spontaneity, playfulness, and adventure (Malouff et al., 2012). There is
mounting evidence that, despite the potentially risky nature of exciting activities (e.g.,
fear of embarrassment, departure from security; Bacev-Giles, 2019, see also Aron et al.,
2001 for a discussion), engaging in these activities with a partner can promote higher
relationship quality (Aron & Aron, 1986, 1996; Aron et al., 2000; Graham, 2008;
Harasymchuk et al., 2020; Muise et al., 2019). Researchers have examined the beneficial
effects of exciting shared activities in the context of the lab (Aron et al., 2000), by giving
homework instructions (Coulter & Malouff, 2013), and by measuring exciting activities
as they naturally occur in people’s daily lives (Harasymchuk et al., 2020). Thus, the
focus of much of this past work has been on the outcomes of exciting shared activities.
However, less is known about the antecedents, such as what occurs when shared
activities are planned and initiated, and whether some people are more successful at
doing so (i.e., planning exciting dates) than others.
Approach relationship goals
People differ in terms of their motivational orientation in the context of relationships:
some people are motivated by goals aimed at achieving positive outcomes such as
intimacy and growth (approach relationships goals) and others are motivated by goals
aimed at avoiding negative outcomes such as rejection and conflict (avoidance rela-
tionship goals; Elliot et al., 2006; Gable, 2006; Impett et al., 2010). There is an
increasing amount of evidence suggesting that people with higher approach-related
motivation have greater relationship quality. For instance, people who score higher on
approach-related motivation measures have reported more constructive and creative
conflict resolution, more support from the partner (e.g., Winterheld & Simpson, 2011),
and have greater responses to positive social events like gratitude and capitalization
(Don et al., 2020). As well, people with higher approach relationship goals experience
more positive relationship outcomes such as increased relationship satisfaction and
closeness (assessed over a 2-week period and as rated by observers; Impett et al., 2010),
Harasymchuk et al. 3
greater responsiveness toward their romantic partner (Impett et al., 2010), greater sexual
desire over a 6-month period (Impett et al., 2008), and more effective (i.e., more
satisfying, less reported conflict) forms of sacrifice in relationships (Impett et al., 2014).
In contrast, avoidance relationship goals have been associated with decreased relation-
ship satisfaction over time (Impett et al., 2010, 2014), as well as lower observed
responsiveness to a partner in a lab interaction (Impett et al., 2010).
Approach relationship goals (Harasymchuk et al., 2020) and other approach
motivation-related variables (Mattingly et al., 2012, 2014) have also been linked to self-
expansion. For instance, in a daily diary study involving couples, on days when people
(or their partners) had higher daily approach relationship goals than typical, they were
more likely to engage in an exciting couple activity, which was associated with increased
relational self-expansion and, in turn, greater relationship satisfaction (Harasymchuk
et al., 2020). As well, Mattingly et al. (2012) found that, across three studies, participants
who scored higher on approach motivation-related variables (i.e., motives related to
sacrifice, promotion-oriented regulatory focus, behavioral activation system) reported
more relational self-expansion (i.e., expansion derived from or in the presence of their
partner). In terms of why people with high approach relationship goals might experience
more exciting activities (and self-expansion more broadly), one potential reason is that
they want to engage in these activities more—at least in the context of relationship
initiation (Mattingly et al., 2012). That is, they might be more attuned to opportunities
for excitement and might also be more likely to capitalize and engage in them at the first
chance. Further, although this idea has not been examined, it is possible that people high
in approach relationship goals might be better at creating self-expanding opportunities,
that is they might have a greater aptitude (perhaps due to a combination of greater
practice and affinity toward such activities). Thus, we know that people with high
approach relationship goals experience more exciting, self-expanding shared activities
with their partner, but we do not yet fully understand how they arrive at that point (i.e.,
why they report more exciting shared activities). Our goal is to understand whether
approach relationship goals are associated with planning dates and whether people
higher in approach relationship goals have a greater ability to plan more exciting dates
that in turn, promote self-expansion and increased closeness.
Overview and hypotheses
The focus of the current research is on planning dates with a romantic partner. We
proposed that people with higher (vs. lower) approach relationship goals will plan dates
with their partner that are more exciting, and in turn, will report higher self-expansion
from engaging in their dates and report greater closeness with their partner from the date
(see Figure 1). With regard to avoidance relationship goals, past research has found that
individual differences in avoidance relationship goals were not associated with self-
expansion experiences (Mattingly et al., 2012). Thus, consistent with past work in this
area, we treated avoidance relationship goals as a control variable in our analyses to
provide evidence that it is approach goals in particular—rather than relationship moti-
vation more generally—that drives self-expansion and associated outcomes.
4Journal of Social and Personal Relationships XX(X)
There are several potential novel contributions of our research. First, we are inves-
tigating an understudied context in the area of self-expansion—that is, the planning or
what transpires before the occurrence of an exciting shared activity (vs. the outcomes).
Second, we are examining the aptitude of certain people (i.e., high approach relationship
goals) to generate, in advance, the types of dates (i.e., more exciting), that have the
potential to enhance self-expansion and closeness. Finally, we are focusing on specific
date experiences and examining what people forecast to gain from the planned date
(Studies 1 and 2) and the outcomes of the planned date experience (Study 2).
To test these hypotheses, we conducted two studies with samples of individuals in
intimate relationships. In Study 1, we examined whether people who scored higher (vs.
lower) in approach relationship goals planned dates that are more exciting (as rated by
themselves and by independent coders) when given the opportunity to plan any type of
date to initiate with their partner. In addition, as an initial test of the model, we had
participants forecast the expected level of self-expansion and closeness from engaging in
the date. In Study 2, we aimed to replicate the findings of Study 1 as well as build on
them by following up with participants (within 1 week) to ask about the outcome of their
dates (e.g., self-expansion, closeness from the date).
Study 1: Date planning
In Study 1, we examined whether people with higher (vs lower) approach relationship
goals generate dates that are more exciting when planning a date to initiate with their
partner. In this study, participants could design any type of date, without any instructions
about its qualities (e.g., about it being exciting).
1
This design differs from past studies
that have provided guidelines about the types of exciting activities that couples engaged
in outside of the lab (e.g., Coulter & Malouff, 2013; Reissman et al., 1993). Additionally,
rather than an “exciting: yes or no” format that has been used in more naturalistic
assessments (e.g., Harasymchuk et al., 2020), participants rated the extent of exciting
elements in the date. To provide an initial test of the full model, the forecasted levels of
self-expansion from the date (i.e., how they expect to grow from the date) and the
closeness participants expected to feel with their partner from the date were also
assessed. To consider several alternative explanations, we asked about the level of
feasibility of the date and participants’ level of relationship satisfaction.
Approach
relationship
goals
Plan dates that are
more exciting
Self-expansion
from date
Closeness
from date
Figure 1. Conceptual model.
Harasymchuk et al. 5
Method
Participants. Participants in romantic relationships for at least 2 months were recruited via
Amazon’s Mechanical Turk in exchange for a small monetary compensation (.50 US).
Participants had to first pass a CAPTCHA test (to assess for fraudulent responses) before
they had a chance to participate. A sample of 193 would allow us to detect small to
medium correlations with 80%power. We overrecruited to account for possible
exclusions. Seven people were excluded for failing our attention check leaving a sample
of (N¼251; 66%women). The majority of the participants were either married/common
law (48%) or exclusively involved (45%). The remaining 7%were casually dating. The
mean relationship length for all participants was approximately 8 years (M
length
¼92.26
months, SD ¼108.70 months, ranging from 2 months to 54 years). Participants’ ages
ranged from 19 to 87 years old (M¼36.58, SD ¼11.34). The majority of the participants
were White (77%), followed by Black (8%), Asian (7%), and other (8%).
Procedure and materials. Participants were first asked to complete demographic questions
(i.e., gender, age, relationship status, relationship length) and a measure of relationship
goals. Next, participants were asked to plan a date to engage in with their partner (“We
are asking you to plan a date to engage in with your partner. This date may be anything of
your choosing. As well, please indicate when and where the date will take place.”). The
“open approach” with minimal instruction was employed because we felt it would be the
best way to observe the full range of dates that people high (vs low) in approach rela-
tionship goals would generate. Participants were also instructed to make a copy of the
date to serve as a reminder. Then, participants assessed the qualities of their planned date
they would initiate (e.g., excitement) and completed measures of forecasted self-
expansion and closeness from the date.
Participants completed an 8-item relationship goal measure to assess their levels of
approach and avoidance relationship goals within their romantic relationship (Elliot
et al., 2006; Impett et al., 2010). They rated statements relating to how they behave
within their current romantic relationship on a scale of (1) “strongly disagree”to(7)
“strongly agree” (e.g., “I try to move forward toward growth and development” for
approach relationship goals,a¼.90, and “I try to avoid getting embarrassed, betrayed,
or hurt by my romantic partner” for avoidance relationship goals,a¼.72).
To measure the exciting qualities of the date they planned, we used the Four-
Factor Romantic Relationship (FFRR) scale, which measures characteristics of
romantic relationships on four subscales: excitement, security, care, and stress
(Malouff et al., 2012). In the present study, we focused solely on the excitement
subscale (9-item measure) and participants rated the extent to which a series of
adjectives (e.g., “adventurous,” “playful,” “exciting”) was characteristic of their date
on a 5-point scale (1 ¼very slightly or not at all to 5 ¼extremely)whichwere
combined into a composite, a¼.85. We also had three trained coders independently
rate each of the dates in terms of how exciting they are from the perspective of an
outsider on a 5-point scale (1 ¼low excitement,3¼moderately exciting,5¼very
exciting). The coders were provided with the excitement scale for the definition of
excitement and there was adequate inter-rater reliability (ICC ¼.66).
6Journal of Social and Personal Relationships XX(X)
We asked participants to rate the extent of forecasted self-expansion from the date
with three items (“I feel as though I will grow as a person through engaging in this date”;
“Engaging in this date will allow me to gain new perspectives”; “I feel that engaging in
this activity will give me many opportunities to grow as a person”) on a 6-point scale
(1 ¼strongly disagree to 6 ¼highly agree;a¼.94. Additionally, forecasted closeness
from the date was measured using Girme et al.’s (2014) scale of closeness-inducing
properties of a date with 4 items: To what extent will engaging in this activity bring you
closer together to your partner?”; “To what extent will engaging in this activity provide
satisfaction to your relationship?”; “To what extent will the activity make you feel
accepted and valued by your partner?”; “To what extent will the activity make you feel
close and intimate with your partner?,” rated on a 7-point scale (1 ¼will not bring us
closer/provide us satisfaction/feel accepted or valued/feel close or intimate at all to
7¼will bring us a lot closer/provide us satisfaction/ feel accepted or valued/ feel close
or intimate;a¼.90).
To consider several alternative explanations, we asked participants about the feasi-
bility of the planned date with 3 items “feasible,” “realistic,” and “likely to engage in the
activity” on a 5-point scale (1 ¼not at all feasible/realistic/likely to 5 ¼extremely
feasible/realistic/likely to engage,M¼4.38, SD ¼.76, a¼.83). Additionally, their
relationship satisfaction was assessed using a 7-item measure (Hendrick, 1988) on a 5-
point scale (e.g., 1 ¼unsatisfied to 5 ¼extremely satisfied,M¼4.12, SD ¼.77, a¼
.89).
2
Results
People planned a variety of dates including activities involving meals, movies, walks,
sports, entertainment (e.g., art, music) and travel. There was sufficient variability in the
excitement scores for both the personal ratings and independent coder ratings with the
average just above the midpoint of the scale (see Table 1 for descriptives). The exci-
tement ratings from the participants were moderately and positively associated with the
independent coder ratings of excitement, r¼.44, p< .001, suggesting that the level of
excitement in the planned dates was also recognized by others (see Supplemental for
examples of the types of dates the independent coders assessed as low, moderate, and
high in terms of excitement).
Do people who score higher (vs. lower) on approach relationship goals generate date
ideas that are more exciting when asked to plan a date to initiate with their partner? To
assess our hypotheses, we treated approach and avoidance relationship goals as simul-
taneous predictors with excitement ratings from the self and coders, as well as forecasted
self-expansion and closeness from the date as the outcomes (in four separate analyses;
see Table 1 for correlations). These results revealed that people high in approach rela-
tionship goals planned dates that were more exciting (self-rated), b¼.29, SE ¼.05, CI
[.19 to .40], b¼.38, p< .001, and this pattern of findings was replicated with the ratings
of three outside coders, albeit, the association only reached marginal significance,
b¼.10, SE ¼.06, CI [.02 to .21], b¼.12, p¼.09. In terms of forecasted outcomes of
the date, people who scored higher on approach relationship goals expected more self-
expansion from the date, b¼.32, SE ¼.09, CI [.15 to .49], b¼.26, p< .001, as well as
Harasymchuk et al. 7
Table 1. Relationship goals and date correlates in studies 1 and 2.
1 23a3b4567
Study 1
1. Approach goals
2. Avoidance goals .34***
3. Planned date excitement
a. Self-rating .36*** .06
b. Coder-rating .13
t
.04 .44*** —
4. Forecasted self-expansion .26*** .05 .58*** .29***
5. Forecasted closeness .49*** .19** .59*** .25*** .45***
M (SD) 5.81 (1.03) 5.29 (1.10) 3.21 (.81) 2.43 (.84) 4.01 (1.27) 5.60 (1.13)
Study 2 (replication)
1. Approach goals
2. Avoidance goals .43***
3. Planned date excitement
a. Self-rating .32*** .08
b. Coder-rating .10 .005 .38*** —
4. Forecasted self-expansion .18** .01 .62*** .30***
5. Forecasted Closeness .56*** .14* .63*** .18** .50***
Study 2 (follow-up)
6. Self-expansion .26*** .05 .47*** .23** .52*** .30***
7. Closeness .49*** .19** .43*** .09 .25** .45*** .55***
M (SD) 6.03 (.89) 5.45 (1.14) 3.27 (.86) 2.27 (.98) 4.02 (1.33) 5.72 (1.16) 3.80 (1.33) 5.46 (1.26)
Note. *** ¼p< .001; * ¼p< .05,
t
¼p< .10. Goals and closeness from the date (including forecasted) were rated on a 7-point scale, excitement (self and independent
coder ratings) on a 5-point scale, and self-expansion (including forecasted) on a 6-point scale.
8
more closeness from the date, b¼.54, SE ¼.07, CI [.40 to .67], b¼.49,p< .001.
Avoidance relationship goals did not significantly predict any of the variables in the
model (ps > .22). The variances for the reported models were R
2
¼.13, R
2
¼.02,
R
2
¼.06, and R
2
¼.25 (respectively).
An initial test of our model focusing on the self-ratings of excitement was conducted
(the independent coders’ ratings of excitement did not meet the statistical threshold). We
employed a serial mediation model, adapted from Harasymchuk et al. (2020), to assess
our prediction that people high in approach relationship goals will forecast more self-
expansion from the date and expect to experience more closeness with their partner
because they have a greater aptitude for planning dates that are more exciting. Our focal
variables were approach relationship goals (predictor), excitement level of the planned
date (first mediator), forecasted self-expansion from the date (second mediator), and
forecasted closeness from the date (outcome), while controlling for avoidance rela-
tionship goals. Indeed, these analyses revealed that people high in approach relationship
goals planned dates that were more exciting (b¼.29, SE ¼.05, CI [.19 to .40], p<.001).
Planning a date that was more exciting was associated with more forecasted self-
expansion (b¼.88, SE ¼.10, CI [.69 to 1.08], p<.001), and, in turn, greater fore-
casted self-expansion was associated with more forecasted closeness (b¼.16, SE ¼.05,
CI [.05 to .26], p¼.004). The indirect effect from approach relationship goals to the
closeness of the date, through planning exciting dates and experienced self-expansion
was significant (b¼.04, SE ¼.02, CI [.01 to .08]). The variance for the model was
R
2
¼.13.
Considering alternative explanations and generalizability. We also wanted to assess whether
the date people planned was something they thought was possible (i.e., not just an
unlikely, aspirational date). People high in approach relationship goals planned more
feasible dates (r¼.25, p< .001) and the pattern of associations between approach
relationship goals and excitement of the date remained consistent when controlling for
the feasibility of the date (b¼.29, p< .001). Further, a similar pattern was found when
controlling for the level of satisfaction in the relationship (b¼.29, p< .001). Addi-
tionally, we explored the role of relationship length and age (i.e., as moderators of
approach relationship goals in our regression analyses) and gender differences (assessed
the mean differences between men and women for the variables in the model) and found
no significant interactions for relationship length and age, nor mean-level gender dif-
ferences (respectively) for any of the variables.
Study 2: Date planning and follow-up
In Study 2, we sought to replicate the findings from Study 1 and expand upon them by
following up with participants to assess the actual (as opposed to just the expected)
outcomes of the dates assessed 1 week later. Even though in Study 1 our participants
rated the dates as being relatively feasible and realistic to initiate with their partner, we
did not have evidence that they followed through with actually going on the dates. In
Study 2, we had people plan a date to initiate with their partner (like Study 1) and asked
them to engage in the date with their partner in the coming week. We then followed up
Harasymchuk et al. 9
with participants 1 week later to ask about their experience of going on the date (e.g.,
self-expansion and closeness from the date).
Method
Participants. Participants in romantic relationships (N¼269) were recruited via Ama-
zon’s Mechanical Turk in exchange for monetary compensation (.50 US for Part 1; 2.25
US for Part 2). To be eligible for participation, participants had to (a) currently be in a
romantic relationship, (b) be in a geographically close relationship with their partner
(i.e., no long distance), and (c) report that they would see their partner over the following
6 days (as well as pass the initial CAPTCHA to assess for fraudulent responses). A
sample of 193 would allow us to detect small to medium correlations with 80%power.
We overrecruited to account for eligibility exclusions. Twenty-one participants failed
our attention check at Time 1 and were excluded from the analyses leaving a sample of
N¼248 (64%women). The majority of the participants were either married/common
law (55%) or exclusively involved (38%) (the remaining 8%were casually dating). The
mean relationship length for all participants was approximately 8 years (M
length
¼100.36
months, SD ¼103.36 months, ranging from 1 month to 50 years). Participants’ ages
ranged from 19 to 68 years old (M¼36.49, SD ¼10.18). The majority of the participants
were White (86%), followed by Black (8%), Asian (3%), and other (3%). The sample
was relatively satisfied in their relationship, (M¼4.19, SD ¼.74) on a 5-point scale.
Of the original 248 participants, 168 (68%) completed the follow-up questionnaire;
however, 18 of those participants did not report engaging in the date they originally
planned, leaving a final sample of n¼150 participants. Importantly, there were no
significant differences for any of the variables in the model (nor demographic variables)
for the people who completed both time points versus those that completed only the first
time point.
Procedure and materials. The first part of the study was nearly identical to the procedure
and measures used in Study 1. That is, participants completed a measure of demo-
graphics and relationship goals and were then given instructions to plan a date with their
partner that they would initiate and participate in with their partner in the upcoming week
and rate its qualities. Unlike Study 1, participants were additionally prompted to plan a
date that was reasonable to engage in during the next 6 days. All measures reached
acceptable levels of reliability: approach relationship goals (a¼.89), avoidance rela-
tionship goals (a¼.77), self-ratings of excitement (a¼.88), forecasted self-expansion
(a¼.96), forecasted closeness from the date (a¼.89), feasibility of the date (a¼.79),
and relationship satisfaction (a¼.89; see Table 1 for Study 2 descriptives). As well, the
reliability of the three independent coders (same coders as Study 1) for ratings of
excitement in the date was good (ICC ¼.76).
Just under 1 week following the initial session, participants completed an online
follow-up questionnaire in which they assessed the outcomes of their date. To assess the
outcomes of the date, we used an adapted version from Study 1 and asked participants to
rate the extent of self-expansion from the date with 3 items (e.g., “I feel as though I have
grown as a person through engaging in this date”) on a 6-point scale (1 ¼strongly
10 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships XX(X)
disagree to 6 ¼highly agree;a¼.96). Additionally, closeness from the date was
measured with Girme et al.’s (2014) 4-item measure adapted from Study 1 (e.g., “To what
extent did engaging in this activity bring you closer together to your partner?”) on a 7-point
scale (e.g., 1 ¼did not bring us closer at all to 7 ¼brought us a lot closer;a¼.91.
3
Results
We first replicated the findings from Study 1 with our sample from Time 1 (see Table 1
correlations and descriptives).
4
Consistent with Study 1, people who scored higher on
approach relationship goals planned dates that were more exciting, as rated by themselves,
b¼.34, SE ¼.07, CI [.21 to .46], b¼.35, p< .001 and by outside observers, albeit the
latter was marginally significant, b¼.13, SE ¼.08, CI [.02 to .29], b¼.12, p¼.09. As
well, people higher in approach relationship goals forecasted more self-expansion from the
date, b¼.32, SE ¼.10, CI [.11 to .52], b¼.21, p¼.003 and more closeness from the date,
b¼.80, SE ¼.08, CI [.65 to .95], b¼.61, p< .001. Avoidance relationship goals were not
significantly associated with any of the variables in the model (ps >.23),withthe
exception of forecasted closeness, b¼.12, SE ¼.06, CI [.24 to .005], b¼.12,
p¼.04. The variances for the reported models were R
2
¼.10, R
2
¼.01, R
2
¼.04, and
R
2
¼.33 (respectively). The serial mediation with forecasted outcomes also replicated
(with a similar pattern of associations as Study 1), as the indirect effect was significant (b
¼.05, SE ¼.02, CI [.02 to .09]). The variance for the model was R
2
¼.10. The results
were maintained when controlling for the feasibility of the date as well as relationship
satisfaction (with exception, not for independent ratings of excitement for feasibility).
5
Unique to this study, we followed up with participants after we gave them time to
engage in the date to assess the outcomes (rather than just forecasted outcomes) of date
planning. We employed a serial mediation model and our focal variables were approach
relationship goals at Time 1 (predictor), how exciting the planned date was at Time 1
(first mediator), self-expansion from the date at Time 2 (second mediator), and closeness
from the date at Time 2 (outcome), while controlling for avoidance relationship goals at
Time 1 (see Table 1 for correlations). We conducted the model only for self-ratings of
excitement because the independent ratings of excitement were only marginally asso-
ciated with approach relationship goals.
Consistent with our main hypothesis, people high in approachrelationship goals planned
datesthatweremoreexciting(b¼.31, SE ¼.09, CI [.13 to .49], p<.001). Planning a date
that was more exciting at Time 1 was associated with more self-expansion experienced
from the date, measured atTime 2 (b¼.71, SE ¼.12, CI [.48 to .95], p<.001), and, in turn,
greater experienced self-expansion was associated with greater closeness from engaging
in the date (b¼.44, SE ¼.07, CI [.30 to .59], p<.001). The indirect effect from approach
relationship goals to the closeness of the date, through planning exciting dates and expe-
rienced self-expansion was significant (b¼.10, SE ¼.04, CI [.03 to .19]).
Considering alternative explanations and generalizability. The findings in the model were
maintained when controlling for participants’ relationship satisfaction at Time 1. Control-
ling for relationship length, age, or gender did not alter the serial mediation model. As well,
there were no mean differences between men and women for the outcomes of the date.
Harasymchuk et al. 11
General discussion
Although the benefits of shared self-expanding activities in relationships (e.g., exciting
date nights) are well supported (Aron et al., 2000; Graham, 2008; Muise et al., 2019),
less attention has been placed on what leads up to their occurrence. In this research, we
asked people in romantic relationships to plan shared leisure activities (Studies 1 and 2)
as well as followed up with them after we gave them time to engage in these activities
(Study 2 only). The primary focus of our research was on whether people high in
approach relationship goals—those who are focused on promoting positive outcomes in
their relationships—have a greater aptitude for planning the types of dates that promote
self-expansion and closeness (i.e., dates that are more exciting). Drawing from the self-
expansion model and relationship goals literature, we found evidence that people who
score higher (vs. lower) on approach relationship goals generate date ideas that are more
exciting (as rated by themselves and independent raters) when asked to plan dates to
initiate with their partner. In addition, they forecasted more self-expansion and closeness
with their partner from the dates they planned. In our “plan and follow-up” design in
Study 2, we found that people who scored higher (vs. lower) in approach relationship
goals reported experiencing more self-expansion and, in turn, increased closeness with
the partner from engaging in the date because they planned dates that were more exciting
(as rated by the self).
Promoting closeness by planning to self-expand
One of the novel contributions of our research is that we examined a context in which
people can be proactive in promoting self-expansion in their relationship, namely by
planning exciting dates with their partner. To date, the self-expansion model has not been
examined in the context of how shared activities are planned and initiated. Scholars
suggest that it is best to engage in these activities as a preventative measure, rather than
waiting until relationship decline sets in (e.g., boredom) to react and initiate these types of
activities (i.e., Aron & Aron, 1996; Reissman et al., 1993). Indeed, there is supporting
evidence that although people know what they should do when they are bored in their
relationships (i.e., engage in exciting activities with their partner), they are not necessarily
more likely to do so (Harasymchuk et al., 2017). Although planning might seem contrary
to the intention of exciting activities (i.e., to be spontaneous and “in the moment”), it might
help to set the stage for an environment in which a couple can have natural, unprompted,
and free moments to explore and play (i.e., sorting out the logistics to maximize desired
choices). This fits existing research on planned leisure outside the relational domain, in the
context of vacations, where planning is viewed as an essential feature that contributes to
the success of the trip (Hwang et al., 2019; Stewart & Vogt, 1999).
Proclivity to plan for self-expansion: The role of approach relationship goals. When planning
dates, some people might be more adept at planning activities that promote self-
expansion. In this research, we not only found that people high in approach relation-
ship goals generated dates that they found more exciting, they also generated dates that
outsiders (i.e., independent coders) rated as more exciting. Consistent with self-
12 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships XX(X)
expansion theorizing that it matters more what the person thinks (e.g., see Aron et al.,
2013), the effects were stronger for self-ratings than for the independent coder ratings.
Indeed, it was only when the data sets were combined and there was greater power to
detect the effects that the association between approach goals and the excitement of the
date (as rated by independent raters) reached statistical significance (see Footnote 5).
The focus of past research and theorizing has been on whether the people in the rela-
tionship consider shared activities to be exciting, regardless of how the activities are
objectively rated (Reissman et al., 1993). For instance, one couple’s exciting activity,
such as attending a play, might be another couple’s version of a pleasant or even boring
activity. Thus, although research suggests that a wide variety of activities are considered
exciting and that people differ in terms of what they consider to be exciting (Aron et al.,
2013), our findings offer some initial insight that the dates that are being generated by
people high in approach relationship goals are also objectively rated as more exciting as
well. The dates rated as more exciting by independent raters had elements of adventure,
of making an active effort to travel a longer distance to explore a new environment.
Further, the more exciting dates generally involved multiple activities with different
experiences and environments to explore (see Supplemental).
In addition to planning dates rated as more exciting, people higher (vs. lower) in
approach relationship goals also forecasted more self-expansion from their dates in both
studies. In other words, they planned an activity with their partner that would allow them
to self-expand. This is another contribution of our research because, to date, scholars
have not examined whether people knowingly engage in activities that promote self-
expansion. Our research suggests that people, particularly those high in approach rela-
tionship goals, are cognizant about engaging in activities with their partner that allow
them to see the world in a new light.
Extension of the motivational model of self-expansion to the planning stage. Our results
complement Harasymchuk et al.’s (2020) findings that have shown that people higher in
approach relationship goals report a greater occurrence of daily exciting activities
which, in turn, is associated with higher daily relational self-expansion. Importantly, our
results provide a valuable extension by examining how people high in approach rela-
tionship goals might have arrived at the point of an exciting activity occurring with the
partner. With our plan and follow-up design, we found that people high in approach
relationship goals that planned and initiated a more exciting activity reported experi-
encing increased self-expansion when engaging in the date with their partner. Thus, from
the outset, people with higher (vs. lower) approach relationship goals are being proactive
in selecting dates that help them to self-expand with their partner. As well, in these
studies, our focus was on how people rated the outcomes of the date itself (vs. the daily
relationship outcomes), providing further support for the idea that it is the shared
exciting activity itself that contributes to increased self-expansion.
Limitations and future research
There were several strengths of this research including examining the self-expansion
model in a different context (i.e., planning). In addition, we examined the types of dates
Harasymchuk et al. 13
people planned and then followed up to examine the outcomes. Despite the strengths,
there are several limitations. First, we focused on one person’s perspective of planning,
initiating, and engaging in a shared activity, but we do not know about the partner’s
experience (i.e., whether they found the activity exciting, self-expanding, and closeness
inducing), nor do we know what occurs during the planning when both partners try to
negotiate their preferences. In future research, it will be valuable to explore this with
samples of couples in the lab. Second, our serial mediation model in Study 2 implies a
form of temporal sequence and although assessed at two time points, approach goals and
exciting date qualities were measured at the same time point (during the planning stage)
and self-expansion and closeness from the date were measured at the same time (i.e.,
after engaging in the date). Future research could tease apart these associations by
examining, for instance, whether people primed with approach relationship goals are
more apt to plan exciting activities to establish the causal direction. Third, although we
tried to limit the recall time by following up with participants within a week, it is possible
that people had to recall a date that they had gone on several days earlier. It will be
beneficial in future research to assess how people feel during and immediately following
the date. Fourth, based on our study, we do not know whether planning enhances or
detracts from self-expansion and closeness because we had all participants plan their
dates. Future experimental research could examine whether the act of planning enhances
the experience or detracts from it. Additionally, research could explore the boundaries of
the benefits of planning (e.g., downsides of over-planning or one partner engaging in
most of the planning in the relationship). Fifth, we did not assess and control for the level
of income or SES in our studies. Many of the more exciting dates involved greater
expenses (e.g., travel). In future research, SES could be assessed and controlled for to
examine the types of highly exciting dates people with more limited finances might plan.
Sixth, although our focus was on approach relationship goals as a predictor of planning
more exciting dates, we acknowledge that there are likely other related individual dif-
ference variables (e.g., desire for expansion, sensation-seeking, and openness to expe-
rience), that might similarly predict date qualities. Finally, we relied on samples of
American participants from Mechanical Turk and the findings might not generalize to
samples of people from different countries and to people that do not frequent the
Mechanical Turk site.
Conclusion
Shared recreation is important for promoting closeness in established relationships;
however, not all date nights are created equally, and some people might be more adept at
planning dates that promote closeness. Our results suggest that people high (vs. low) in
approach relationship goals are better at being proactive in terms of generating, planning,
and initiating the types of shared recreation (i.e., exciting activities) that broaden the
mind and ultimately enhance closeness. In other words, people high in approach rela-
tionship goals might have foresight into the types of dates that will enhance their rela-
tionship quality; that is, the excitement that they experience is not solely spontaneously
occurring. This research contributes to a greater understanding about what promotes
effective shared recreation and, more broadly, why some couples flourish.
14 Journal of Social and Personal Relationships XX(X)
Funding
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/
or publication of this article: This work was funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and
Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) awarded to the first, third, and fourth authors.
Open research statement
As part of IARR’s encouragement of open research practices, the authors have provided the
following information: This research was not pre-registered. The data and materials used in this
research can be obtained by emailing: cheryl.harasymchuk@carleton.ca.
ORCID iD
Cheryl Harasymchuk https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9872-0035
Amy Muise https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5338-5253
Emily A. Impett https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3348-7524
Supplemental material
Supplemental material for this article is available online.
Notes
1. Data for Studies 1 and 2 were collected before the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. We also assessed how much they thought their partner would want to engage in the date they
planned with a single-item, face-valid measure, “To what extent do you feel that your partner
will want to engage in this activity with you? (1 ¼not at all,4¼moderate desire to participate,
7¼strong desire to participate.” In both studies, people, on average, planned dates in which
they thought their partner would want to engage in, M¼6.40 (SD¼1.01) in Study 1, M¼6.40
(SD¼1.06) in Study 2. We found that approach relationship goals and anticipated partner desire
to engage in the activity were positively associated, r¼.31, p< .001 for Study 1; r¼.46,
p< .001 in Study 2. That is, people high in approach relationship goals were being mindful
to select dates that would be enjoyable for their partner.
3. In Study 2, we also asked participants about additional features of the experienced date (see
Supplemental) including the level of excitement using an adapted version of the measure from
the planning portion of the study (5-point scale where 1 ¼not at all exciting and 5 ¼very
exciting). There were no significant differences in the level of planned excitement M¼3.20,
SD ¼.86 and experienced excitement, M¼3.27, SD ¼.83, t(149) ¼1.15, p¼.25.
4. Unlike Study 1, people who reported being in their relationship for a longer period of time
planned dates that were less exciting, r¼.21, p¼.001, and forecasted less closeness from the
date, r¼.24, p¼.001; relationship length was unrelated to forecasted self-expansion r¼.
10, p¼.12. When assessed as a moderator of approach relationship goals for each of the
regression analyses (for replication and the outcomes), none of the interactions with relation-
ship length were statistically significant, bs < |.0005|, ps > .12. As well, like Study 1, there were
no mean differences for gender for any of the model variables (for the replication, nor the
outcomes, ps > .12).
5. Given that we obtained the same pattern of marginally significant findings for the independent
coder ratings of excitement in Studies 1 and 2, we explored the analyses by combining both
datasets. We found that the association between approach relationship goals and independent
Harasymchuk et al. 15
coder ratings of excitement reached statistical significance, r¼.10, p¼.03. As well, the
findings were maintained when controlling for feasibility and relationship satisfaction. Further-
more, when assessing the serial mediation model with independent coder ratings of excitement,
we obtained the same statistically significant indirect effect as the serial mediation model with
self-ratings, b¼.01 CI [.002 to .03].
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... While historically dating has been seen as the prelude to marriage, in contemporary society, the pathway from dating to marriage is no longer assured. Instead dating has taken more a recreational focus, and going on 'dates' has become a recognised means of forming and sustaining romantic relationships which may or may not lead to long-term commitments (Harasymchuk et al., 2021). Nevertheless, due to the considerable impact of the outcomes of dating on society (i.e., marriage and family systems), dating continues to be a highly socially regulated activity with a wide range of prescribed rules and expectations (Eaton & Rose, 2011). ...
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Introduction: Dating is an occupation through which people form intimate relationships with others. Despite the importance of intimate relationships for wellbeing, there is limited information available in occupational therapy literature about the activities involved in dating and little guidance for practitioners who wish to support clients from diverse backgrounds who experience difficulties with dating. To address this gap, this study sought to explore dating among young adults (18-35 years) and compare dating activities between two contexts: Australia and Hong Kong. Methods: Data were collected using an e-survey designed for this study and refined using cognitive interviewing (n = 12). It included questions about dating initiation and activities. Study design and reporting was guided by the Checklist for Reporting Results of Internet E-Surveys. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics and between group comparisons. Reponses to open ended questions were subjected to interpretative content analysis and quantified. Results: In total, 2208 young adults aged 18-35 who had at least one dating experience and resided in either Australia or Hong Kong completed the survey. Participants met their dates most commonly through school, friends, dating apps, and work. The most frequent ways to ask a person on a date were by suggesting 'hanging out' or going out for food, drink or to the movies. Most participants reported that organising a date required extended negotiation between the parties. Differences were found between participants from Hong Kong and Australia. Conclusions: This is the first study of contemporary dating from an occupational perspective and provides an understanding of dating activities in two different cultural contexts.
... Future research may explore further variables potentially associated with amplified other-serving double standards, such as the pursuit of approach (vs. avoidance) relationship goals and intimacy within the relationship (e.g., Harasymchuk et al., 2021). ...
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