This may be a little confusing, so let me give you an example to clarify:
Let's say Michelle and John are two participants in the study. John rates Michelle as having 97% of his ideal mate's characteristics (i.e. the perceived ideal). Meanwhile, Michelle rates herself as having 50% of the characteristics of John's ideal (i.e. the real ideal). Because John's perceived ideal is so much higher than the real ideal, he is idealizing Michelle.
Meanwhile, Jennifer rates her husband, Bill, as having 60% of her ideal mate's characteristics (perceived ideal), while Bill rates himself as having 64% of her ideal mate's characteristics (real ideal). Jennifer is not idealizing her husband, because the ratings are so close together.
Researchers found that the more partners idealized their mates, the happier they were with the relationship three years later.
I'll admit that these results may seem pretty shocking. After all, once the honeymoon-period ends in marriages and long-term relationships, and the pressures of day-to-day life and maintaining a household become more pronounced, many couples lose that sense of romance and happiness they experienced in the early days of dating or being married. So, one might expect that those who had the most idealized view of their partners would be due for the rudest awakenings.
However, in looking at the data, the researchers found that the people in the study who idealized their mates weren't just looking at them through rose colored glasses, viewing them as perfect people who could do no wrong. Instead, they shifted their ideal to be more in line with their partner's characteristics — the good, the bad and the ugly.
In other words, instead of having an unrealistic representation of their partner as flawless, they were seeing their partner as someone who was not necessarily perfect, but was perfect for them.
So how can you apply this to your own love life?
1. Remember that absolutely no one is perfect.
When thinking about your ideal mate, remember that every single person you meet will have his or her own set of flaws. After all, you have a few things you could stand to improve, don't you? So why shouldn't they? Having more realistic expectations of your partner allows you to be more forgiving of foibles or areas for development.
2. Focus on the best parts of your partner.
As I've noted in another post, criticism and blame undermine the health of your relationship. Perceiving your partner in the best positive light will also likely cause you to behave in a more supportive way towards him or her. In turn, this will help create better interactions.
3. Recognize what it might mean for your partner to be perfect for you.
What are the qualities you are most grateful for in your mate? How does he or she help you to grow? Looking at their qualities in the context of your partnership can help you to appreciate all the good aspects of your relationship.
Put these strategies into practice and watch your relationship bloom!