No one likes being rejected. In many situations, though, our ability to build fulfilling relationships depends on being able to get past our fear of rejection.

As it turns out, sensitivity to rejection isn’t a fixed trait. You might find that types of rejection that really got under your skin when you were younger don’t bother you quite as much anymore.

For some people, this change in rejection sensitivity over time is more dramatic than for others. So recently, a team of researchers from the United States and Israel asked whether changes in rejection sensitivity could predict the quality of young adults’ future relationships.

The researchers followed a group of 110 emerging adults from the ages of 16 through 23, keeping an eye on how sensitive to rejection they were and what their romantic relationships were like. As expected, most of the people in the study tended to be less sensitive to rejection by the time they were 23 than when they were 16.

Whether people started off sensitive to rejection at 16 made somewhat of a difference in their relationships at 23. People who were less sensitive to rejection initially were more likely to be in a relationship at 23, and also tended to have higher relationship quality at that time.

More important, however, was how people’s sensitivity to rejection changed between the ages of 16 and 23. That is, how much people’s rejection sensitivity decreased during these seven years was a much better predictor of relationship quality than their initial levels of rejection sensitivity. People who experienced greater decreases in rejection sensitivity also tended to be better at coping with relationship stress at 23.

At least in young adults, then, sensitivity to rejection seems to be a trait that changes over time, with a substantial effect on people’s romantic relationships. It’s possible that actively developing an ability to cope with rejection (through therapy, for example) can lead to all sorts of benefits down the road, including more fulfilling romantic relationships.

Image: Flickr/Hassan Humayun