While feeling wanted and adored by our partners in public is a wonderful feeling, a team of scholars from Illinois wanted to know exactly what happens when we feel like our partners ignore us in social situations and they conducted an experiment to find out.
The researchers observed people in three situations. In the first situation, all study participants were in groups with strangers who ignored them completely during an activity. After the activity, the people in the study reported that they did not feel like they belonged in that group, making them feel lonely and unimportant, as expected.
Then each person in the study was divided into two different groups. In the first group, a romantic partner in addition to the group ignored the person during the same activity. In the second group, the strangers continued to ignore the person, but their romantic partner included them. The differences in feelings of belonging between these two groups shows just how important a romantic partner can be.
The people who were ignored by everyone, including their partner, still felt they didn't belong to the group at all, but didn't feel any worse just because their partner was ignoring them, too.
The people who were ignored by everyone except their partner, on the other hand, experienced a large increase in their sense of belonging. No matter what anyone else was doing, being included by their partner made them feel like they belonged.
So what does this mean? Perhaps it means that we can only feel so lonely, and once we reach the bottom, it doesn't matter who else ignores us. But when even just one person chooses to include us, suddenly we feel like we belong, especially if that other person is someone we are close to. This highlights one of the reasons we seek partnership so much.
When we are close enough to another person, they can often fill our needs for belonging better than a group of acquaintances or social friends can ever hope to accomplish. As a romantic partner, this research also suggests the importance of making sure our partners are connected to us. Next time you bring your partner to that work party or social gathering, make sure you try to help them feel connected to you. Even if they don't feel a connection with anyone else, you make a big difference for them.
The Relate Institute is a not-for-profit organization that revolves around the aim of distributing the Relate Assessment - the most comprehensive premarital/marital assessment available - to as many couples and individuals as we can reach. We believe that all may benefit from assessing personal strengths and weaknesses as relationship partners, and work to help make relationship success a reality.