If you are frustrated with your relationship, buying from brands that your partner would turn away from may make you feel better, psychologists have discovered. This is particularly true for those who hold less power within the couple and worry that direct conflict will be damaging.

Frustration can typically arise between romantic partners. Most people choose to directly express the problems, but in some cases, individuals find other strategies to show they are unhappy with a particular situation.

In a study due to be published in April in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, researchers have examined whether buying products from certain brands may be an effective strategy to voice discontentment with the relationship. If the Christmas presents your partner gives you are from a brand you dislike, you are now warned.

The team starts out by giving examples of daily frustration that can arise, such as one partner never participating in house chores or always returning the car with the petrol tank empty. Whilst most people would address these concerns, a number of individuals prefers not to say anything to avoid triggering a fight, especially if they believe they have less power in the relationship.

Using brands to vent frustration

To explain one strategy that they might use instead, the researchers introduce the concept of 'oppositional brand choice' – a situation that occurs when people choose a brand for themselves that is the opposite of what they believe their partner prefers.

To test this concept, the scientists conducted a number of experiments. The main one recruited 297 participants in long-term relationships to answer a questionnaire in which they indicated what brands their partners preferred – among coffee, shoes of toothpaste brands. They then had to write about different situations in their relationships – about a time they had felt frustrated, about a time when their partner had made them happy and about their partner's appearance. Next, they had to indicate what brands they personally preferred.

The results indicated that when people wrote and remembered about a time they had felt frustrated, they tended to go for the brands their partner liked less. This effect was more pronounced for people who perceived they had a lower power in the relationship.

Other experiments confirmed these findings. "This tendency – to choose brands that are the opposite of what our partner prefers when frustrated with our partners – seems to arise from two conflicting desires of wanting to express frustration, but not wanting to harm our relationship," study author Danielle Brick, from the University of New Hampshire, said.

The study highlighted initial evidence that oppositional brand choices is actually effective at reducing relationship frustration, but more research will be needed on the subject. It is also uncertain whether seeing their partner buy a brand they dislike can lead to positive changes in people's behaviours.