Self-regulation affects more than the self. Healthy relationships and, indeed, social interactions of all sorts depend upon a degree of self-control from the participants. When willpower is depleted, it’s hard to resist tempting but unhelpful behaviour. A study of heterosexual people in committed relationships, for instance, found that when their self-regulation was low they spent more time looking at scantily clad people of the opposite sex in magazine photos. Also, when you feel tired, you are not ready to discuss personal problems. Those with self-regulation fatigue were more likely to pick arguments, to threaten to leave a relationship, and to hold on to grudges. People who are low in self-control are more predisposed to cheat and to lie and less likely to say thank you.
For some people, suppressing racial prejudice seems to require a lot of self-control. Researchers compared highly prejudiced white people to those low in prejudice as they interacted with a black participant. Afterwards, the more prejudiced participants did poorly on a test on mental control compared to the less prejudiced folks.
So, good self-regulators have better relationships than poor self-regulators do.
Did you know…
Self-regulation is closely linked to the personality trait of Conscientiousness.