Research whether or not someone protects a partner from the negative implications of comparisons depends on the degree to which they view themselves and their partner as one unit. This phenomenon has been dubbed 'self-other overlap' by psychologists.
People who are high on self-other overlap will attempt to protect their partner and minimize the threat by rating the trait or skill that they compared their partner on as less important. Furthermore, these people are able to maintain positive views of their partner in spite of unfavourable comparisons. They still see their partner as being close to their ideal partner, which has positive implications on their relationship.
Our studies provide the first evidence that people do compare their partner to others with significant consequences for the relationship. People who are low in self-partner overlap have difficulty maintaining positive partner perceptions following threatening comparisons of their partner to others. This may be a key source of stress and conflict in people's relationships.
Moreover, by highlighting the benefits of high self-partner overlap, this research may identify a possible future intervention technique. Perhaps temporarily boosting someone's perceptions of self-partner overlap may help them cope with and overcome the negative outcomes of comparing their partner.
It is common for people to want to have the most fulfilling romantic relationship that has others looking up to them. Often, we end up setting benchmarks for ourselves by looking at the relationships of others, which leads to a feeling of comparison and inferiority within us. Instead of comparing one's partner to those around them, one can shift focus to themselves and their significant other, and celebrate the uniqueness, value, and worth of their relationship.