Partner effects in relationship research: Conceptual issues, analytic difficulties, and illustrations


  • The research was supported in part by grants to the first author from the National Science Foundation (DBS-9307949) and the National Institute of Mental Health (RO1–MH51964). We want to especially acknowledge Larry Kurdek, who discussed with us several issues while we were writing this article and who provided very helpful feedback on an earlier draft. Cynthia Mohr, Lynn Winquist, Josephine Korchmaros, Mark Attridge, and Niall Bolger also offered useful comments on an earlier draft. We thank Linda K. Acitelli for generously allowing us to use her data. Finally, this research also used the American Couples, 1975–1978, data set (made available in 1992, machine-readable data files). These data were collected by Pepper Schwartz and Philip Blumstein and donated to the archive of the Henry A. Murray Research Center of Radcliffe College, 10 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA (Producer and Distributor).


This article discusses the conceptual meaning of partner effects, which occur when one person is affected by the behavior or characteristics of his or her partner. We show that partner effects can be used to validate the presence of a relationship and can elaborate the particular nature of that relationship. We discuss possible moderation of partner effects and show that many theoretical variables in relationship research (e.g., similarity) can be viewed as the interactions of partner effects with other variables. We present three extended examples that illustrate the importance of partner effects.