Self-Concept Clarity and Romantic Relationships



This chapter reviews the empirical evidence examining the link between self-concept clarity and close romantic relationships. Overall, increased self-concept clarity among partners predicts a variety of positive relationship outcomes, including relationship quality (e.g., satisfaction and commitment), investment, and self-other correspondence that may facilitate relationship functioning. Moreover, relationship dissolution leads to the reduction of self-concept clarity (i.e., self-concept confusion) and subsequent emotional distress. We also review the literature examining the mediating variables in the association between self-concept clarity and romantic relationships, including psychological well-being, self-esteem, identity construction, and prototype matching. Finally, we examine the moderating role that self-concept clarity plays in romantic relationships, specifically related to relationship-induced self-concept change (e.g., self-expansion). This review suggests that self-concept clarity is a valuable construct, which is ripe for future research on the dynamic interplay of self-concept and romantic relationships.


Romantic relationships Self-concept clarity Satisfaction Commitment Self-expansion Investment Self-concept change Self-esteem Identity Self-other Significant-other clarity Prototype matching 


  1. Abrams, D., & Hogg, M. A. (1988). Comments on the motivational status of self-esteem in social identity and intergroup discrimination. European Journal of Social Psychology, 18, 317–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Agnew, C. R., Van Lange, P. A. M., Rusbult, C. E., & Langston, C. A. (1998). Cognitive interdependence: Commitment and the mental representation of close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 939–954.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aron, A. (2003). Self and close relationships. In M. R. Leary & J. P. Tangney (Eds.), Handbook of self and identity (pp. 442–461). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  4. Aron, A., Aron, E. N., Tudor, M., & Nelson, G. (1991). Close relationships as including other in the self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 241–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Aron, A., Ketay, S., Riela, S., & Aron, E. N. (2008). How close others construct and reconstruct who we are and how we feel about ourselves. In J. V. Wood, A. Tesser, & J. G. Holmes (Eds.), The self and social relationships (pp. 209–229). New York, NY: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  6. Aron, A., Lewandowski, G. W., Jr., Mashek, D., & Aron, E. N. (2013). The self-expansion model of motivation and cognition in close relationships. In J. A. Simpson & L. Campbell (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of close relationships. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 363–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Aron, A., Norman, C. C., & Aron, E. (2001). Shared self-expanding activities as a means of maintaining and enhancing close romantic relationships. In J. Harvey & A. Wenzel (Eds.), Close romantic relationships: Maintenance and enhancement (pp. 47–66). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  9. Aron, A., Norman, C. C., Aron, E. N., McKenna, C., & Heyman, R. E. (2000). Couples’ shared participation in novel and arousing activities and experienced relationship quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 273–284.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Aron, A., Paris, M., & Aron, E. N. (1995). Falling in love: Prospective studies of self-concept change. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 1102–1112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Arriaga, X. B., Kumashiro, M., Finkel, E. J., VanderDrift, L. E., & Luchies, L. B. (2014). Filling the void: Bolstering attachment security in committed relationships. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5, 398–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ayduk, Ö., Gyurak, A., & Luerssen, A. (2009). Rejection sensitivity moderates the impact of rejection on self-concept clarity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 1467–1478.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  13. Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497–529.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Bechtoldt, M. N., De Dreu, C. K. W., Nijstad, B. A., & Zapf, D. (2010). Self-concept clarity and the management of social conflict. Journal of Personality, 78, 539–574.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Bigler, M., Neimeyer, G., & Brown, E. (2001). The divided self revisited: Effects of self-concept clarity and self-concept differentiation on psychological adjustment. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 20, 396–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Błażek, M., & Besta, T. (2012). Self-concept clarity and religious orientations: Prediction of purpose in life and self-esteem. Journal of Religion and Health, 51, 947–960.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Bobrowski, M., Mattingly, B. A., Lewandowski, G. W, Jr., & DeMarree, K. (2016, February). Expanding the self without compromising clarity. Presented at the 2016 Society for Personality and Social Psychology Conference, San Diego, CA.Google Scholar
  18. Campbell, J. D. (1990). Self-esteem and clarity of the self-concept. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 538–549.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Campbell, J. D., Assanand, S., & DiPaula, A. (2003). The structure of the self-concept and its relation to psychological adjustment. Journal of Personality, 71, 115–140.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Campbell, J. D., & Lavallee, L. F. (1993). Who am I? The role of self-concept confusion in understanding the behavior of people with low self-esteem. In R. F. Baumeister (Ed.), Self-esteem: The puzzle of low self-regard (pp. 3–20). New York, NY: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Campbell, J. D., Trapnell, P. D., Heine, S. J., Katz, I. M., Lavallee, L. F., & Lehmann, D. R. (1996). Self-concept clarity: Measurement, personality correlates and cultural boundaries. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 141–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Cheryan, S., & Plaut, V. C. (2010). Explaining underrepresentation: A theory of precluded interest. Sex Roles, 63, 475–488.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  23. Collins, N. L., & Miller, L. C. (1994). Self-disclosure and liking: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 457–475.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Collins, W. A., Welsh, D. P., & Furman, W. (2009). Adolescent romantic relationships. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 631–652.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. DeMarree, K. G., & Rios, K. (2014). Understanding the relationship between self-esteem and self-clarity: The role of desired self-esteem. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 50, 202–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. DiDonato, T. E., & Krueger, J. I. (2010). Interpersonal affirmation and self-authenticity: A test of Rogers’s self-growth hypothesis. Self and Identity, 9, 322–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Drigotas, S. M., Rusbult, C. E., Wiselquist, 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.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Duffy, C. W. (2014). Why self-concept confusion erodes well-being: The role of self-presentational and social processes (Doctoral dissertation). Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.Google Scholar
  29. Eisenstadt, D., Hicks, J. L., McIntyre, K. P., Rivers, J. A., & Cahill, M. (2006). Two paths of defense: Specific vs. compensatory reactions to self-threat. Self and Identity, 5, 35–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Emery, L. F., Muise, A., Dix, E. L., & Le, B. (2014). Can you tell that I’m in a relationship? Attachment and relationship visibility on Facebook. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40, 1466–1479.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Emery, L. F., Walsh, C., & Slotter, E. B. (2015). Knowing who you are and adding to it: Reduced self-concept clarity predicts reduced self-expansion. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6, 259–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Feinstein, B. A., Davila, J., & Yoneda, A. (2012). Self-concept and self-stigma in lesbians and gay men. Psychology & Sexuality, 3, 161–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Finkel, E. J., Fitzsimons, G. M., & vanDellen, M. R. (2015). Self-regulation as a transactive process: Reconceptualizing the unit of analysis for goal setting, pursuit, and outcomes. In K. D. Vohs & R. F. Baumeister (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (3rd ed., pp. 264–282). New York, NY: Guilford.Google Scholar
  35. Fisher, T. D., & McNulty, J. K. (2008). Neuroticism and marital satisfaction: The mediating role played by the sexual relationship. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 112–122.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Fitzsimons, G. M., & Finkel, E. J. (2011). The effects of self-regulation on social relationships. In K. D. Vohs & R. F. Baumeister (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory, and applications (2nd ed., pp. 407–421). New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  37. Furman, W., & Collins, W. A. (2008). Adolescent romantic relationships and experiences. In K. H. Rubin, W. Bukowski, & B. Laursen (Eds.), Peer interactions, relationships, and groups (pp. 341–360). New York, NY: Guilford.Google Scholar
  38. Graham, J. M. (2008). Self-expansion and flow in couples’ momentary experiences: An experience sampling study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 679–694.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Gurung, R. A. R., Sarason, B. R., & Sarason, I. G. (2001). Predicting relationship quality and emotional reactions to stress from significant-other-concept clarity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 1267–1276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hansson, R. O., Jones, W. H., & Carpenter, B. N. (1984). Relational competence and social support. Review of Personality and Social Psychology, 5, 265–284.Google Scholar
  41. Hassebrauck, M., & Aron, A. (2001). Prototype matching in close relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 1111–1122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hawkins, D. N., & Booth, A. (2005). Unhappily ever after: Effects of long-term, low-quality marriages on well-being. Social Forces, 84, 451–471.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hendrick, S. S., Hendrick, C., & Adler, N. L. (1988). Romantic relationships: Love, satisfaction, and staying together. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 980–988.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Henrich, J., Heine, S., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). Most people are not WEIRD. Nature, 466, 29.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Higgins, E. T. (1999). When do self-discrepancies have specific relations to emotions? The second-generation question of Tangney, Niedenthal, Covert, and Barlow (1998). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1313–1317.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Hucker, A., Mussap, A. J., & McCabe, M. M. (2010). Self-concept clarity and women's sexual well-being. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 19, 67–77.Google Scholar
  47. Impett, E. A., Gable, S. L., & Peplau, L. A. (2005). Giving up and giving in: The costs and benefits of daily sacrifice in intimate relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 327–344.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Kamp Dush, C. M., Taylor, M. G., & Kroeger, R. A. (2008). Marital happiness and psychological wellbeing across the life course. Family Relations, 57, 211–226.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Knee, C. R. (1998). Implicit theories of relationships: Assessment and prediction of romantic relationship initiation, coping, and longevity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 360–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Knee, C. R., Patrick, H., & Lonsbary, C. (2003). Implicit theories of relationships: Orientations toward evaluation and cultivation. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7, 41–55.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Le, B., Dove, N. L., Agnew, C. R., Korn, M. S., & Musto, A. A. (2010). Predicting nonmarital relationship dissolution: A meta-analytic synthesis. Personal Relationships, 17, 377–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Lewandowski, G. J., Aron, A., Bassis, S., & Kunak, J. (2006). Losing a self-expanding relationship: Implications for the self-concept. Personal Relationships, 13, 317–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Lewandowski, G. J., & Nardone, N. (2012). Self-concept clarity's role in self–other agreement and the accuracy of behavioral prediction. Self and Identity, 11, 71–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Lewandowski, G. J., Nardone, N., & Raines, A. J. (2010). The role of self-concept clarity in relationship quality. Self and Identity, 9, 416–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Light, A. E., & Visser, P. S. (2013). The ins and outs of the self: Contrasting role exits and role entries as predictors of self-concept clarity. Self and Identity, 12, 291–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Lodi-Smith, J., Cologgi, K., Spain, S. M., & Roberts, B. W. (2017). Development of identity clarity and content in adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 112, 755–768.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Lodi-Smith, J., & Roberts, B. W. (2010). Getting to know me: Social role experiences and age differences in self-concept clarity during adulthood. Journal of Personality, 78, 1383–1410.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  58. Loving, T. J., & Agnew, C. R. (2001). Socially desirable responding in close relationships: A dual-component approach and measure. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 18, 551–573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Luchies, L. B., Finkel, E. J., McNulty, J. K., & Kumashiro, M. (2010). The doormat effect: When forgiving erodes self-respect and self-concept clarity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 734–749.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Luo, S., & Klohnen, E. C. (2005). Assortative mating and marital quality in newlyweds: A couple-centered approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 304–326.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Markus, H., & Kunda, Z. (1986). Stability and malleability of the self-concept. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 858–866.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  62. Mattingly, B. A., & Lewandowski, G. W., Jr. (2013). An expanded self is a more capable self: The association between self-concept size and self-efficacy. Self and Identity, 12, 621–634.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Mattingly, B. A., Lewandowski, G. W., Jr., & McIntyre, K. P. (2014). “You make me a better/worse person”: A two-dimensional model of relationship self-change. Personal Relationships, 21, 176–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Mattingly, B. A., & McIntyre, K. P. (2016). Relationship-induced self-concept change, self-concept clarity, and relationship quality. Unpublished raw data.Google Scholar
  65. Mattingly, B. A., McIntyre, K. P., & Lewandowski, G. W., Jr. (2016). Self-concept clarity and relationship status. Unpublished raw data.Google Scholar
  66. Mattingly, B. A., McIntyre, K. P., & Selterman, D. (in press). Individual differences and romantic relationships: Bidirectional influences on self and relational processes. SAGE Handbook of Personality and Individual Differences.Google Scholar
  67. Mattingly, B. A., Straughn, S., & McIntyre, K. P. (2016). Relationship-induced self-concept change, self-concept clarity, and psychological adjustment. Unpublished raw data.Google Scholar
  68. McConnell, A. R. (2011). The multiple self-aspects framework: Self-concept representation and its implications. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15, 3–27. Slotter, E. B.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  69. McIntyre, K. P., Mattingly, B. A., & Lewandowski, G. W., Jr. (2015). When “we” changes “me”: The two-dimensional model of relational self-change and relationship outcomes. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32, 857–878.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. McIntyre, K. P., Mattingly, B. A., Lewandowski, G. W., Jr., & Simpson, A. (2014). Workplace self-expansion: Implications for job satisfaction, commitment, self-concept clarity, and self-esteem among the employed and unemployed. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 36, 59–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Nardone, N. (2012). Self-expansion and self-concept clarity: The effect of expanding and rediscovery activities on perceptions of the self and relationships (Doctoral dissertation). Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY.Google Scholar
  72. Nezlek, J. B., & Plesko, R. M. (2001). Day-to-day relationships among self-concept clarity, self-esteem, daily events, and mood. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 201–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Niedenthal, P. M., Cantor, N., & Kihlstrom, J. F. (1985). Prototype-matching: A strategy for social decision-making. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 575–584.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  74. Reissman, C., Aron, A., & Bergen, M. R. (1993). Shared activities and marital satisfaction: Causal direction and self-expansion versus boredom. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 10, 243–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Richman, S. B., Pond, R. S., Jr., Dewall, C. N., Kumashiro, M., Slotter, E. B., & Luchies, L. B. (2016). An unclear self leads to poor mental health: Self-concept confusion mediates the association of loneliness with depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 35, 525–550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Ritchie, T. D., Sedikides, C., Wildschut, T., Arndt, J., & Gidron, Y. (2011). Self-concept clarity mediates the relation between stress and subjective well-being. Self and Identity, 10, 493–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Roberts, B. W., & Caspi, A. (2003). The cumulative continuity model of personality development: Striking a balance between continuity and change in personality traits across the life course. In U. Staudinger & U. Lindenberger (Eds.), Understanding human development: Lifespan psychology in exchange with other disciplines (pp. 183–214). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Rusbult, C. E., Finkel, E. J., & Kumashiro, M. (2009). The Michelangelo phenomenon. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 305–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Schlegel, R. J., Hicks, J. A., Davis, W. E., Hirsch, K. A., & Smith, C. M. (2013). The dynamic interplay between perceived true self-knowledge and decision satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 542–558.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  80. Setterlund, M. B., & Niedenthal, P. M. (1993). "Who am I? Why am I here?": Self-esteem, self-clarity, and prototype matching. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 769–780.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  81. Showers, C. J., Ditzfeld, C. P., & Zeigler-Hill, V. (2015). Self-concept structure and the quality of self-knowledge. Journal of Personality, 83, 535–551.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  82. Slotter, E. B., & Emery, L. F. (this volume).Google Scholar
  83. Slotter, E. B., Gardner, W. L., & Finkel, E. J. (2010). Who am I without you? The influence of romantic breakup on the self-concept. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 147–160.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  84. Slotter, E. B., Winger, L., & Soto, N. (2015). Lost without each other: The influence of group identity loss on the self-concept. Group Dynamics: Theory, Research, and Practice, 19, 15–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Sprecher, S., Treger, S., Wondra, J. D., Hilaire, N., & Wallpe, K. (2013). Taking turns: Reciprocal self-disclosure promotes liking in initial interactions. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49, 860–866.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Swann, W. B., Chang-Schneider, C., & Angulo, S. (2008). Self-verification in relationships as an adaptive process. In J. V. Wood, A. Tesser, J. G. Holmes, J. V. Wood, A. Tesser, & J. G. Holmes (Eds.), The self and social relationships (pp. 49–72). New York, NY: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  87. Talley, A. E., & Stevens, J. E. (2017). Sexual orientation self-concept ambiguity: Scale adaptation and validation. Assessment, 24, 632–645.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  88. Taylor, S. E., & Brown, J. D. (1988). Illusion and well-being: A social psychological perspective on mental health. Psychological Bulletin, 103, 193–210.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  89. Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2008). Adolescents' identity experiments on the internet consequences for social competence and self-concept unity. Communication Research, 35, 208–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Wegner, D. M., Guiliano, T., & Hertel, P. T. (1985). Cognitive interdependence in close relationships. In W. J. Ickes (Ed.), Compatible and incompatible relationships (pp. 253–276). New York, NY: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Wu, C. H. (2009). The relationship between attachment style and self-concept clarity: The mediation effect of self-esteem. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 42–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Trinity UniversitySan AntonioUSA
  2. 2.Ursinus CollegeCollegevilleUSA
  3. 3.Monmouth UniversityWest Long BranchUSA

Personalised recommendations