Responsiveness as a Key Predictor of Happiness: Mechanisms and Unanswered Questions

  • Emre SelcukEmail author
  • Ayse Busra Karagobek
  • Gul Gunaydin
Part of the Cross-Cultural Advancements in Positive Psychology book series (CAPP, volume 13)


The importance of close relationships for happiness has long been recognized. This long-held interest has produced an increase in relevant empirical work investigating the links between relationships and personal well-being in the last three decades. Recent attempts at integrating this vast body of literature suggest that responsiveness—i.e., the belief that close relationship partners understand, validate, and care for us—is a core process linking close relationships to health and happiness. In the present chapter, we review the links between responsiveness and happiness, with an emphasis on studies of marital and long-term romantic relationships. The available evidence indicates that partner responsiveness improves happiness in both negative contexts (by preserving happiness in the face of stress and adversity) and positive contexts (by augmenting and prolonging happiness induced by pleasant events and supporting the pursuit of personally meaningful goals and self-actualization). We believe that future work should build on this literature by investigating intergenerational effects of partner responsiveness on offspring happiness, comparing the roles of different social network members in happiness, examining how cultural grounding of relationships modulate the responsiveness-happiness link, and identifying the different components of responsiveness critical for happiness across cultures and developmental stages.


Partner responsiveness Romantic relationships Marriage Happiness Well-being 


  1. Adams, G., Anderson, S. L., & Adonu, J. K. (2004). The cultural grounding of closeness and intimacy. In D. J. Mashek & A. Aron (Eds.), The handbook of closeness and intimacy (pp. 321–339). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  2. Adams, G., & Plaut, V. C. (2003). The cultural grounding of personal relationship: Friendship in North American and West African worlds. Personal Relationships, 10, 333–347. Scholar
  3. Anderson, S. L., Adams, G., & Plaut, V. C. (2008). The cultural grounding of personal relationship: The importance of attractiveness in everyday life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 352–368. Scholar
  4. Bowlby, J. (1979). The making and breaking of affectional bonds. London: Tavistock.Google Scholar
  5. Bowlby, J. (1988). A secure base: Clinical applications of attachment theory. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Brooks, K. P., Gruenewald, T., Karlamanga, A., Hu, P., Koretz, B., & Seeman, T. E. (2015). Social relationships and allostatic load in the MIDUS study. Health Psychology, 33, 1373–1381. Scholar
  7. Caprariello, P. A., & Reis, H. T. (2011). Perceived partner responsiveness minimizes defensive reactions to failure. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2, 365–372. Scholar
  8. Coan, J. A., Schaefer, H. S., & Davidson, R. J. (2006). Lending a hand: Social regulation of the neural response to threat. Psychological Science, 17, 1032–1039. Scholar
  9. Cohen, J. (1988). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  10. Collins, N. L., & Feeney, B. C. (2000). A safe haven: An attachment theory perspective on support seeking and caregiving in intimate relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 1053–1073. Scholar
  11. Crossley, A., & Langdrigde, D. (2005). Perceived sources of happiness: A network analysis. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 107–135. Scholar
  12. Cutrona, C. E. (1996). Social support in couples: Marriage as a resource in times of stress. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cutrona, C. E., & Russell, D. W. (2017). Autonomy promotion, responsiveness, and emotion regulation promote effective social support in times of stress. Current Opinion in Psychology, 13, 126–130. Scholar
  14. Demir, M. (2015). Friendship and happiness: Across the life-span and cultures. Dordrecht, The Netherland: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Demir, M., & Davidson, I. (2013). Toward a better understanding of the relationship between friendship and happiness: Perceived responses to capitalization attempts, feelings of mattering, and satisfaction of basic psychological needs in same-sex best friendships as predictors of happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 525–550. Scholar
  16. Demir, M., Doğan, A., & Procsal, D. A. (2013). I am so happy ‘cause my friend is happy for me: Capitalization, friendship, and happiness among U.S. and Turkish college students. Journal of Social Psychology, 153, 250–255. Scholar
  17. Demir, M., Haynes, A., & Potts, S. (2017). My friends are my estate: Friendship experiences mediate the relationship between perceived responses to capitalization attempts and happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 18(4), 1161–1190.Google Scholar
  18. DePaulo, B. (2011). Singlism: What it is, why it matters, and how to stop it. Charleston, NC: DoubleDoor Books.Google Scholar
  19. Depue, R. A., & Morrone-Strupinsky, J. V. (2005). A neurobehavioral model of affiliative bonding: Implications for conceptualizing a human trait of affiliation. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28, 313–395. Scholar
  20. Diamond, L. M., Hicks, A. M., & Otter-Henderson, K. D. (2008). Every time you go away: Changes in affect, behavior, and physiology associated with travel-related separations from romantic partners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 385–403. Scholar
  21. Ditzen, B., Neumann, I. D., Bodenmann, G., von Dawans, B., Turner, R. A., Ehlert, U., & Heinrichs, M. (2007). Effects of different kinds of couple interaction on cortisol and heart rate responses to stress in women. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 32, 565–574. Scholar
  22. Doherty, N. A., & Feeney, J. A. (2004). The composition of attachment networks throughout the adult years. Personal Relationships, 11, 469–488. Scholar
  23. Drigotas, S. M. (2002). The Michelangelo phenomenon and personal Well-being. Journal of Personality, 70, 59–77. Scholar
  24. Drigotas, S. M., Rusbult, C. E., Wieselquist, J., & Whitton, S. W. (1999). Close partner as sculptor of the ideal self: Behavioral affirmation and the Michelangelo phenomenon. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 293–323. Scholar
  25. Eisenberger, N. I., Master, S. L., Inagaki, T. I., Taylor, S. E., Shirinyan, D., Lieberman, M. D., & Naliboff, B. (2011). Attachment figures activate a safety signal-related neural region and reduce pain experience. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 1081, 11721–11726. Scholar
  26. Feeney, B. C. (2004). A secure base: Responsive support of goal strivings and exploration in adult intimate relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 631–648. Scholar
  27. Feeney, B. C., & Collins, N. L. (2014). A new look at social support: A theoretical perspective on thriving through relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 19, 113–147. Scholar
  28. Fekete, E. M., Stephens, M. A. P., Mickelson, K. D., & Druley, J. A. (2007). Couples’ support provision during illness: The role of perceived emotional responsiveness. Families, Systems, & Health, 25, 204–217. Scholar
  29. Fraley, R. C., & Davis, K. E. (1997). Attachment formation and transfer in young adults’ close friendships and romantic relationships. Personal Relationships, 4, 131–144. Scholar
  30. Furnham, A., & Cheng, H. (2000). Perceived parental behaviour, self-esteem and happiness. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 35, 463–470. Scholar
  31. Gable, S. L., Gosnell, C. L., Maisel, N. C., & Strachman, A. (2012). Safely testing the alarm: Close others’ responses to personal positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 963–981. Scholar
  32. Gable, S. L., & Reis, H. T. (2010). Good news! Capitalizing on positive events in an interpersonal context. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (pp. 195–257). San Diego, CA: Elsevier Academic Press.Google Scholar
  33. Gable, S. L., Reis, H. T., Impett, E. A., & Asher, E. R. (2004). What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 228–245. Scholar
  34. Gallagher, M. W., Lopez, S. J., & Preacher, K. J. (2009). The hierarchical structure of Well-being. Journal of Personality, 77, 1025–1050. Scholar
  35. Goodwin, R. (1999). Personal relationships across cultures. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Gore, J. S., Cross, S. E., & Morris, M. L. (2006). Let’s be friends: Relational self-construal and the development of intimacy. Personal Relationships, 13, 83–102. Scholar
  37. Grewen, K. M., Anderson, B. J., Girdler, S. S., & Light, K. C. (2003). Warm partner contact is related to lower cardiovascular reactivity. Behavioral Medicine, 29, 123–130. Scholar
  38. Gunnar, M. R., Brodersen, L., Krueger, K., & Rigatuso, J. (1996). Dampening of adrenocortical responses during infancy: Normative changes and individual differences. Child Development, 67, 877–889. Scholar
  39. Hane, A. A., & Fox, N. A. (2006). Ordinary variations in maternal caregiving influence human infants’ stress reactivity. Psychological Science, 17, 550–556. Scholar
  40. Harlow, H. F. (1958). The nature of love. American Psychologist, 13, 673–685.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hofer, M. A. (1984). Relationships as regulators: A psychobiologic perspective on bereavement. Psychosomatic Medicine, 46, 183–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., & Layton, J. B. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: A meta-analytic review. PLoS Medicine, 7, 1–20. Scholar
  43. Imamoğlu, E. O., Küller, R., Imamoğlu, V., & Küller, M. (1993). Social psychological worlds of Swedes and Turks in and around retirement. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 24, 26–41. Scholar
  44. Imamoğlu, E. O., & Selcuk, E. (2018). Cultural and self-related considerations in relationship well-being: With particular reference to marriage in Turkey. In C. C. Weisfeld, G. E. Weisfeld, & L. M. Dillon (Eds.), Psychology of marriage: An evolutionary and cross-cultural view (pp. 89–106). New York: Lexington.Google Scholar
  45. Kahneman, D., Krueger, A. B., Schkade, D. A., Schwarz, N., & Stone, A. A. (2004). Survey method for characterizing daily life experience: The day reconstruction method. Science, 306, 1776–1780. Scholar
  46. Khan, C. M., Iida, M., Stephens, M. A. P., Fekete, E. M., Druley, J. A., & Greene, K. A. (2009). Spousal support following knee surgery: Roles of self-efficacy and perceived emotional responsiveness. Rehabilitation Psychology, 54, 28–32. Scholar
  47. Killingsworth, M. A., & Gilbert, D. T. (2010). A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Science, 330, 932. Scholar
  48. Kumashiro, M., Rusbult, C. E., Wolf, S. T., & Estrada, M. J. (2006). The Michelangelo phenomenon: Partner affirmation and self movement toward one’s ideal. In K. D. Vohs & E. J. Finkel (Eds.), Self and relationships: Connecting intrapersonal and interpersonal processes (pp. 317–341). New York: Guildford Press.Google Scholar
  49. Lakey, B. (2013). Perceived social support and happiness: The role of personality and relational processes. In S. A. David, I. Boniwell, & A. C. Ayers (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of happiness (pp. 847–859). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Langston, C. A. (1994). Capitalizing on and coping with daily-life events: Expressivity responses to positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 1112–1125. Scholar
  51. Li, T., & Cheng, S.-T. (2015). Family, friends, and subjective well-being: A comparison between the West and Asia. In M. Demir (Ed.), Friendship and happiness: Across the life-span and cultures (pp. 235–251). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.Google Scholar
  52. Lindfors, P., Berntsson, B., & Lundberg, U. (2006). Factor structure of Ryff’s psychological Well-being scales in Swedish female and male white-collar workers. Personality and Individual Differences, 40, 1213–1222. Scholar
  53. Lu, L. (2001). Understanding happiness: A look into the Chinese folk psychology. Journal of Happiness Studies, 2, 407–432. Scholar
  54. Lucas, R. E. (2007). Adaptation and the set-point model of subjective Well-being: Does happiness change after major life events? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 75–79. Scholar
  55. Maisel, N. C., Gable, S. L., & Strachman, A. (2008). Responsive behaviors in good times and in bad. Personal Relationships, 15, 317–338. Scholar
  56. Mallers, M. H., Charles, S. T., Neupert, S. D., & Almeida, D. M. (2010). Perceptions of childhood relationships with mother and father: Daily emotional and stressor experiences in adulthood. Developmental Psychology, 46, 1651–1661. Scholar
  57. Markiewicz, D., Lawford, H., Doyle, A. B., & Haggart, N. (2006). Developmental differences in adolescents’ and young adults’ use of mothers, fathers, best friends, and romantic partners to fulfill attachment needs. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35, 127–140. Scholar
  58. Mikulincer, M., & Shaver, P. (2007). Attachment patterns in adulthood: Structure, dynamics, and change. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  59. Monfort, S. S., Kaczmarek, L. D., Kashdan, T. B., Drazkowski, D., Kosakowski, M., Guzik, P., & Gracanin, A. (2014). Capitalizing on the success of romantic partners: A laboratory investigation on subjective, facial, and physiological emotional processing. Personality and Individual Differences, 68, 149–153. Scholar
  60. Otto, A. K., Laurenceau, J. P., Siegel, S. D., & Belcher, A. J. (2015). Capitalizing on everyday positive events uniquely predicts daily intimacy and Well-being in couples coping with breast cancer. Journal of Family Psychology, 29, 69–79. Scholar
  61. Pavot, W., & Diener, E. (2013). Happiness experienced: The science of subjective Well-being. In S. A. David, I. Boniwell, & A. C. Ayers (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of happiness (pp. 134–151). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Pflug, J. (2009). Folk theories of happiness: A cross-cultural comparison of conceptions of happiness in Germany and South Africa. Journal of Social Indicators Research, 92, 551–563. Scholar
  63. Proulx, C. M., Helms, H. M., & Buehler, C. (2007). Marital quality and personal Well-being: A meta-analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 576–593. Scholar
  64. Ramsey, M. A., & Gentzler, A. L. (2015). An upward spiral: Bidirectional associations between positive affect and positive aspects of close relationships across the life span. Developmental Review, 36, 58–104. Scholar
  65. Reis, H. T. (2007). Steps toward the ripening of relationship science. Personal Relationships, 14, 1–23 doi: 1350-4126/07.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Reis, H. T. (2012a). Perceived partner responsiveness as an organizing theme for the study of relationships and well-being. In L. Campbell & T. Loving (Eds.), Interdisciplinary research on close relationships: The case for integration (pp. 27–52). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Reis, H. T. (2012b). A brief history of relationship research in social psychology. In A. W. Kruglanski & W. Stroebe (Eds.), Handbook of the history of social psychology (pp. 363–382). New York: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  68. Reis, H. T. (2013). Relationship Well-being: The central role of perceived partner responsiveness. In C. Hazan & M. I. Campa (Eds.), Human bonding: The science of affectional ties (pp. 283–307). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  69. Reis, H. T., Clark, M. S., & Holmes, J. G. (2004). Perceived partner responsiveness as an organizing construct in the study of intimacy and closeness. In D. Mashek & A. Aron (Eds.), Handbook of closeness and intimacy (pp. 201–255). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  70. Reis, H. T., & Gable, S. L. (2015). Responsiveness. Current Opinion in Psychology, 1, 67–71. Scholar
  71. Reis, H. T., & Shaver, P. (1988). Intimacy as an interpersonal process. In S. Duck (Ed.), Handbook of personal relationships (pp. 367–389). Chichester, England: Wiley.Google Scholar
  72. Robles, T. F., Slatcher, R. B., Trombeloo, J. M., & Mcginn, M. M. (2014). Marital quality and health: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 140, 140–187. Scholar
  73. Ryff, C. D. (2013). Psychological Well-being revisited: Advances in the science and practice of eudaimonia. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 83, 10–28. Scholar
  74. Salter, P. S., & Adams, G. (2012). Mother or wife? An African dilemma tale and the psychological dynamics of sociocultural change. Social Psychology, 43, 232–242. Scholar
  75. Sapphire-Bentler, S., & Taylor, S. (2013). Close relationships and happiness. In S. A. David, I. Boniwell, & A. C. Ayers (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of happiness (pp. 821–833). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  76. Selcuk, E., Gunaydin, G., Ong, A. D., & Almeida, D. M. (2016). Does partner responsiveness predict hedonic and eudaimonic well-being? A 10-year longitudinal study. Journal of Marriage and Family, 78, 311–325. Scholar
  77. Selcuk, E., Gunaydin, G., Sumer, N., Harma, M., Salman, S., Hazan, C., et al. (2010). Self-reported romantic attachment style predicts everyday maternal caregiving behavior at home. Journal of Research in Personality, 44, 544–549. Scholar
  78. Selcuk, E., & Ong, A. D. (2013). Perceived partner responsiveness moderates the association between received emotional support and all-cause mortality. Health Psychology, 32, 231–235. Scholar
  79. Selcuk, E., Stanton, S. C., Slatcher, R. B., & Ong, A. D. (2017). Perceived partner responsiveness predicts better sleep quality through lower anxiety. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 8, 83–92.
  80. Selcuk, E., Zayas, V., Günaydın, G., Hazan, C., & Kross, E. (2012). Mental representations of attachment figures facilitate recovery following upsetting autobiographical memory recall. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 362–378. Scholar
  81. Selcuk, E., Zayas, V., & Hazan, C. (2010). Beyond satisfaction: The role of attachment in marital functioning. Journal of Family Theory and Review, 2, 258–279. Scholar
  82. Shulman, S., & Connolly, J. (2013). The challenge of romantic relationships in emerging adulthood: Reconceptualization of the field. Emerging Adulthood, 1, 27–39. Scholar
  83. Simpson, J. A., Collins, W. A., Tran, S., & Haydon, K. C. (2007). Attachment and the experience and expression of emotions in romantic relationships: A developmental perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 355–367. Scholar
  84. Simpson, J. A., Rholes, W. S., & Nelligan, J. (1992). Support-seeking and support-giving within couples in an anxiety provoking situation: The role of attachment styles. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 434–446. Scholar
  85. Slatcher, R., & Selcuk, E. (2017). A social psychological perspective on the links between close relationships and health. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26, 16–21.
  86. Slatcher, R., Selcuk, E., & Ong, A. D. (2015). Perceived partner responsiveness predicts diurnal cortisol profiles 10 years later. Psychological Science, 26, 972–982. Scholar
  87. Sroufe, L. A., & Waters, E. (1977). Attachment as an organizational construct. Child Development, 48, 1184–1199. Scholar
  88. Stanton, S. C. E., Zilioli, S., Briskin, J. L., Imami, L., Tobin, E. T., Wildman, D. E., et al. (2017). Mothers’ attachment is linked to their children’s anti-inflammatory gene expression via maternal warmth. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 8, 796–805.
  89. Tasfiliz, D., Sagel, E., & Selcuk, E. (2016). Algılanan partner duyarlılığında yaş farklılıkları ve iyi oluş hali ile ilişkisi [Age differences in partner responsiveness and links to psychological well-being in Turkey]. Manuscript in preparation.Google Scholar
  90. Tasfiliz, D., Selcuk, E., Gunaydin, G., Slatcher, R. B., Corriero, E., & Ong, A. D. (2018). Patterns of perceived partner responsiveness and Wellbeing in Japan and the United States. Journal of Family Psychology, 32, 355–365.
  91. Taylor, S. E. (2002). The tending instinct: How nurturing is essential to who we are and how we live. New York: Holt.Google Scholar
  92. Uvnas-Moberg, K. (1998). Oxytocin may mediate the benefits of positive social interaction and emotions. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 23, 819–835. Scholar
  93. Van Dierendonck, D. (2004). The construct validity of Ryff’s scales of psychological Well-being and its extension with spiritual Well-being. Personality and Individual Differences, 36, 629–643. Scholar
  94. Vormbrock, J. K. (1993). Attachment theory as applied to wartime and job-related marital separation. Psychological Bulletin, 114, 122–144. Scholar
  95. Wu, T., Cross, S. E., Wu, C., Cho, W., & Tey, S. (2016). Choosing your mother or your spouse: Close relationship dilemmas in Taiwan and the United States. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 47, 558–580. Scholar
  96. Zayas, V., Günaydin, G., & Shoda, Y. (2015). From an unknown other to an attachment figure: How do mental representations change with attachment formation? In V. Zayas & C. Hazan (Eds.), Bases of adult attachment: Linking brain, mind and behavior (pp. 157–183). Springer: New York.Google Scholar
  97. Zayas, V., Mischel, W., Shoda, Y., & Aber, J. L. (2011). Roots of adult attachment: Maternal caregiving at 18 months predicts adult attachment to peers and partners. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2, 289–297. Scholar
  98. Zeifman, D., & Hazan, C. (1997). Attachment: The bond in pair-bonds. In J. A. Simpson & D. T. Kenrick (Eds.), Evolutionary social psychology (pp. 237–263). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  99. Zeifman, D., & Hazan, C. (2008). Pair bonds as attachments: Reevaluating the evidence. In J. Cassidy & P. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research and clinical implications (pp. 436–455). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emre Selcuk
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ayse Busra Karagobek
    • 1
  • Gul Gunaydin
    • 2
  1. 1.Middle East Technical UniversityAnkaraTurkey
  2. 2.Bilkent UniversityAnkaraTurkey

Personalised recommendations