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Based on the typical relationship advise: "Don't try to change your partner" and such, I would say that many people want to see their romantic partners behaving just a little bit differently. It is a common thinking pattern.

For example, a person may be wanting for the strong and independent partner to be more caring and compassionate. Or wanting for a partner to spend more time listening, or being more punctual, etc.

These thoughts can be summarized as "Our relationship would be perfect if only he/she did XYZ". In other words, people expects to experience relationship bliss when their partner complies with their wishes.

It seems to me that the XYZ is always a moving target, and can never actually be fulfilled, a sort of mirage, just out of reach. This makes me think these thoughts could be caused by some neurochemical process.

Is expectation of relationship bliss, conditional on XYZ is just a side effect of some neurochemical process? Is it an expression of seeking novelty in a relationship ("same, but different")?

Edit: To clarify what I mean by Neurochemical: If a person ingests 8 shots of hard liquor, there's a new chemical -alcohol introduced into blood circulation. In a short time alcohol will affect cognition regardless of any protests from the person's higher order cognition. A person cannot will themselves to not feel the effects of the chemical and act normal.

The ingested chemical affects the brain (neurochemical?). Until the chemical is cleared from the circulation or neutralized, the person will continue experiencing cognitive effects of the chemical compound.

By neurochemical process I meant an indigenous process by which brain can release a brain affecting chemical/hormone that will act according to the model above. Adrenaline in fight/flight response is an example of such chemical. Maybe Oxytocin is another example. I know of words like psychoactive, psychedelic, neuromodulator and less scientific terms like "mind altering", but none of these seemed to fit.

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  • $\begingroup$ As you note, the XYZ tends to be a moving\dynamic target\goal. The phenomenon can probably be generalized as a desire for continuously improving ones quality of life, just like those who always desire more money. More, more, more. This tends to crash with a saying which says "the sum of all burdens is constant". $\endgroup$ – Berit Larsen Apr 8 '16 at 8:49
  • $\begingroup$ "This makes me think these thoughts could be caused by some neurochemical process." That is a vastly unmotivated link you draw there. Care to elaborate? One could just as well argue, why wouldn't it be to some degree caused by neurochemical processes? $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Apr 8 '16 at 12:38
  • $\begingroup$ Also, your link "same, but different", does not explicitly state "same, but different" anywhere. If this is your own phrasing, do not use a quotation. $\endgroup$ – Steven Jeuris Apr 8 '16 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ @BeritLarsen It's possible that the phenomenon is at least partially similar to hedonic adaptation. $\endgroup$ – Alex Stone Apr 8 '16 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ @StevenJeuris I've seen "Same but different" used in a number of articles on modern addictions to video games or porn. These addicts can't be satisfied with a single "killer title" and are seeking novelty. They have their general preferences for genre, but within that genre they keep seeking slight variations of their favorite game/video. In essence, they want the same game, only slightly "modded", then it would be perfect, yet even then it can never become the idealized perfection the person is seeking. $\endgroup$ – Alex Stone Apr 8 '16 at 14:37
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People are different. Our thoughts and behaviour emerge from a neural network that is shaped by countless events and no two people experience the world exactly in the same way. Even identical twins present conflicting attitudes and beliefs.

Therefore, social interaction will always involve some level of conflict. Cultures form due to differences between agents.

This conflict is actually pivotal to our well-being, and is far better recognised by Eastern philosophy - conflict drives change, change results in conflict. If we all thought exactly the same, our life would likely be a a bore and we would have little motivation improve it.

Partners are no different from any other person, but our interaction with them is more intense, and often involves high personal stakes. In turn, conflicts are frequent and often emotional, but conflict resolution and behaviour change are not easy affairs.

You are right that our mental state is in constant flux - people's needs and aspirations change over time. So there will always be some other desired state - many cognitive models are goal-driven (goal being a desired state).

I'd attribute your concern mainly to social aspects that stem from some cognitive properties. I've covered individual differences, and due to limited relevance omitted pattern recognition and change detection, which also play an important role in relationships.

This makes me think these thoughts could be caused by some neurochemical process.

I'm not sure what you mean by neurochemical, where did electricity go, and whether you simply mean a cognitive process. But the sentence is unclear since any though is caused by some cognitive process (involving both neurons and chemicals). I also don't quite see how such conclusion follows from the premise of goals being a moving target.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sorry but this answer is vague with no references, and no discussion on neurocognitive or cognitive processes. I am also extremely skeptical that conflict drives change, time and experience are probably greater contributors to changes in personality/traits factors. Generally humans are adaptable to state based circumstances and can change habits out of necessity and learning. Learning to conducting yourself and your behaviour, is beneficial regardless of precipitating circumstances, conflict is often not required. Eastern philosophy is not cognitive science. My apologies for the harshness. $\endgroup$ – Comte Apr 8 '16 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Comte, fair enough; perhaps I have overused the term conflict to denote a 'gap'. I guess this would be a good place to start - how familiar are you with the TOTE model? And I must ask - why would anyone change their behaviour in the absence of either internal or external circumstances? $\endgroup$ – Izhaki Apr 8 '16 at 12:56
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't say internal and external circumstances may cause 'change', I merely mentioned that conflict wasn't necessary. For example, using a social setting, if I'm pleasant to someone another person and they are more positive to me an observer may model that behaviour to obtain better outcomes from a social interaction, no conflict. I am familiar with TOTE, its an old simplistic model primarily used in NLP these days. I wouldn't recommend using for the basis of answering this question. $\endgroup$ – Comte Apr 8 '16 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ I found your answer to be insightful - I never thought of interpersonal conflict as a catalyst and driver of societal change. I must note however, that this question is in the context of expectations of intimate romantic partner, and the dynamics at play may be very different from common social interactions, where no physical intimacy is involved. $\endgroup$ – Alex Stone Apr 8 '16 at 15:01

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