Purpose - Much of the success of a relationship marketing program rests on the consumers choice to participate in a service relationship in the first instance. The purpose of this study is to examine the degree to which this desire of the consumer to engage in a relationship impacts on their perceived cognitive-state gains (motivation, confidence and affiliation) and key measures of consumer-to-business relationship success (relationship strength, satisfaction and retention intentions). Design/methodology/approach - Following a qualitative study, the main quantitative study used a self-administered survey of 334 service consumers to understand relationship perceptions. Structural equation modeling was then used to test the hypotheses. Findings - Analysis revealed that consumers desire to participate in a relationship influenced their level of motivation, degree of confidence and these, in turn, impacted on the consumers sense of affiliation with the service provider. A consumer s sense of affiliation subsequently influenced the strength of their relationship and their level of satisfaction with the relationship. Additionally, the effect of relationship desire on relationship strength and satisfaction was apparent. Consumers desire indirectly impacted on retention intentions, suggesting that service managers should be careful not to assume that consumers deliberate choice to participate in a relationship will routinely result in loyalty. Originality/value - Practitioners and academics have sought to determine why some consumers, and not others, participate in relationships. This study adds to knowledge in this area by empirically demonstrating the extent to which the desire of a consumer to participate in a service relationship effects the gains accrued to the consumer and the relationship outcomes.