The Romeo and Juliet Effect: How Disapproval Can Affect Your Relationship

By Dr. Justin Lehmiller

In the recent hit “Rude” by MAGIC!, the song tells the story of a guy who goes to his girlfriend’s father to ask for her hand in marriage, but is denied and doesn’t get his blessing, which leads to the guy asking, “Why you gotta be so rude?” Some of us may have run into similar situations in our lives, or at least know somebody that has, in which a couple’s parents or friends do not approve of their relationship. Can the disapproval of others have a significant effect on the couple’s actual relationship?

Research in the 1970s investigated such an effect, and found that meddling and disapproving parents would actually create a stronger relationship between the couple, which they coined as the “Romeo and Juliet” effect. However, research since then has not been able to replicate that original finding.

What has been found in recent research, however, has actually been the opposite. Sinclair, Hood, & Wright (2014) did a very similar study to the original Romeo and Juliet effect study, and found that couples who reported more parental interference and disapproval of their relationship were more likely to have lower levels of love, trust, and commitment, as well as higher instances of criticism of their partner four months later. So rather than supporting the Romeo and Juliet effect, this study showed that support from a couple’s social network led to a stronger relationship, which has been referred to as the Social Network effect.

Additional research has shown similar results. In a series of studies by Dr. Justin Lehmiller, he found that couples who had higher levels of disapproval were more likely to break up in the next year. More interestingly, that disapproval can affect both people both psychologically and physically. Individuals who felt like their relationship wasn’t approved of reported significantly lower levels of self-esteem, more reports of poor physical heath, and more instances of risky health behaviors, like cigarette smoking and lower usage of condoms. Dr. Lehmiller explains that this could be because of the great amount of stress that a relationship with high disapproval can elicit, and in turn people in these stressful relationships will turn to riskier behaviors to cope with the stress, as well as have more physical ailments due to stress.

So the singer from MAGIC! might want to reconsider marrying that girl anyway, given that it could have a significant effect on their relationship. Rather than just going against the wishes of a disapproving father, maybe he should work on winning him over instead of forcing him to stand on the altar with him. It could help out his relationship in the long run.

To hear more about this research, listen to this Relationship Matters podcast where Dr. Justin Lehmiller talks about this research in greater detail.

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