Working memory capacity is the key to successfully dealing with relationship problems

Recent research has shined a light on the possibility of cognitive ability having an effect on romantic relationships in a rather substantial way.

The aforementioned study has concluded that a better ‘working memory capacity’ is tightly connected to the observable decrease in seriousness and extremity in relationship problems.

In the words of Levi R. Baker who is the co-author of the study, as well as an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and an associate editor for Personal Relationships: 

“I’ve been interested in relationship problem solving for quite some time. Just about every relationship encounters problems from time to time, but it is how people resolve those problems that determines whether their relationships are satisfying and lasting.”

In addition, he also added the following statement:

So the ability to resolve relationship problems is pretty important. Further, within relationship science, we’ve really ignored the possibility that basic cognitive processes (e.g., attention, memory, verbal expression) could play a role in whether or not people can manage their finances, distribute housework, address trust and jealousy issues, etc. Because of this, I thought it was an important topic to look at.”

The Study

The study itself consisted of 101 newly married couples who were tasked to complete two separate assessments in connection to working memory capacity.

What does working memory capacity, you might ask?

Simply put, it is descriptive of the ability to ‘actively maintain information’ during ‘ongoing processing’.

Therefore, the two assessments for the new husbands and wives were made up of problem-solving natured discussions in regards to their personal relationships. In the span of four to a maximum of eight months, the newlyweds were requested to recall the discussions which have taken place and asked to evaluate the current severity of said, talked about issues.

Consequently, the research found that the partners with a superior working memory capacity possessed the tendency to better remember relevant information after discussing their relationship problems. Hence, it has been evidenced that the higher rate of information recalled is connected to the decrease in the seriousness, as well as extremity of said issues in the span of 8 months.

“Partners vary in the extent to which they are going to remember what you have to say. There are many reasons for this: it could be dispositional (i.e., they are just born with poor memory) or situational (i.e., they are distracted, not motivated to listen, stressed, tired),” Levi Baker told PsyPost.


“Regardless of the reason, if they are doing something that bothers you, they aren’t going to change what they are doing if they can’t remember you saying it bothered you.”

The research controlled prospectively disconcerting elements, such as self-control and emotional regulation.

However, the aforementioned study, like all other research, includes limitations. Thus, Baker explained the following:

Our evidence is still quite preliminary. Although I think the methods we employed in the study are generally quite strong, we have only conducted one study that has addressed this research question so far.” 

Lastly, he put an emphasis on the importance of conducting multiple pieces of research in connection to an area of psychological interest, as well as the use of different methods. Therefore, until further research, these results should be taken as preliminary.

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