Ah, the blush of new love! For most of us, the beginning of a romance tends to be an exhilarating time when everything your new partner does seems intriguing or ridiculously cute — and possibly even darned near perfect (or all of the above!).
Then time passes, and you start discovering your partner's less appealing characteristics. Gradually that pedestal you put him or her on gets shakier and shakier, creating what we usually think of as inevitable disappointment.
For this reason, many of us have been advised by friends or family to go into our relationships with clear eyes. "Don't get swept away," they warn. "Nobody is perfect, so keep your wits about you," they suggest, in a good-natured effort to protect you from disappointment of becoming disillusioned when you learn about your partner's faults.
Well, as it turns out, these well-meaning folks might actually have it a bit wrong.
Research shows that newlyweds who idealize their partners are more satisfied with their marriages three years later than those who don't. The key, however, is in how they understand the notion of "idealizing" them, and then how they go about doing so.
In a research study by Dr. Sandra L. Murray and colleagues, participants were given a list of characteristics. They were then asked then to rate themselves, their partners, and their ideal partner on this variety of characteristics.
Based on this activity, the researchers then made three calculations:
- First, they compared the participants' rating of themselves with their partners' ratings of their ideal mate. This was called the real ideal, and it gave the researchers a sense of how close the each person was to their partner's ideal.
- Second, they compared each person's rating of their partner with their ideal mate ratings. This was called the perceived ideal. In other words, it allowed the researchers to see how closely each person's perception of their partner matched their ideal mate.
- Finally, the researchers compared these two numbers. If a newlyweds' perceived ideal was a lot higher than the real ideal, this would mean they were idealizing their partner. If the perceived and real ideal were similar, this meant that they were not.
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.
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!
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