There are a lot of people roaming through life in unhappy marriages and relationships simply because they expect too much from their partners. Recent research suggests these people will always be unhappy because their partners will always fall short of their expectations. On the other hand, people who tell themselves that their partners live up to everything they’ve always wanted in a significant other are rewarded with much happier, more satisfying relationships. In doing this, these happy couples are deluding themselves but a recent study shows that it works.
A team of researchers from the University of Buffalo and the University of British Columbia sought out to find out whether unrealistically viewing a romantic partner as the image of one’s ideal partner accelerates or slows declines in marital satisfaction among newlyweds. To conduct the research, the team gathered nearly 200 participants from a courthouse in Buffalo, NY that were there to get their marriage license. They then followed the couples over the course of 3 years and surveyed each partner individually twice per year.
When researchers met with participants they asked them a series of questions about their relationships. Participants were asked details about positive aspects of their spouses such as whether their spouses were kind and affectionate, as well as negative aspects as to whether their spouses were critical and judgmental, thoughtless, or lazy. These assessments were conducted on a semi-annual basis and consisted of both in person interviews as well as mail in assessments. The results left very little room for error as several factors were taken into consideration.
First, researchers computed intraclass idealization (i.e., perceived-ideal) and realism (i.e., real-ideal) correlations for each participant at each time point. Next, they confirmed that satisfaction, on average, declined over time, and did so more for some people. Then, they showed that unrealistic idealization predicted the slope of this decline. Finally, they ruled out the alternative explanations.
In the end, researchers concluded that those who held positive illusions about their spouses were in much happier relationships than those who saw their spouses as they really were. There was still a decrease in satisfaction in both cases; however the couples who saw their spouses as they really were experienced a much more rapid decline in happiness than those who held positive illusions of their husbands and wives. Maybe it’s true what they say, love really is blind.