It’s been common knowledge for a while now that entering a marriage while idealizing your partner is highly detrimental to a healthy, long-term relationship. After all, what partner can possibly live up to starry-eyed ideals after the honeymoon has ended and bills and chores take the place of romantic dates?
Past research seems to support this realistic point of view. A 13-year study by Tom Huston at the University of Texas Austin found that couples who engaged in a longer courtship and were more aware of their partner’s strengths and weaknesses were more likely to remain in long, happy marriages. In contrast, couples who had short, passionate courtships that quickly led to marriage would tend to become dissatisfied, resulting in an increased chance of divorce within seven years.
However, a new study in the journal Psychological Science paints a very different picture. In this study, 193 newlywed couples were tracked over the course of three years. Surpringsly, it was found that partner idealization actually protected these new couples from the expected steep declines common in the early years of marriage. In fact, those that idealized their partners the most had absolute no decline in satisfaction at all.
To Idealize or Not to Idealize?
So what’s the solution? Should you drop the pragmatic point of view common in today’s society and adopt the rose-colored glasses typically associated with reckless puppy love? Not surprisingly, the truth is somewhere in between.
Through careful data analyses, experts were able to determine a distinction in this protective partner idealization that makes it different from the stereotypical, dreamy worship of a partner. The protective effect does not come from turning a blind eye to your partner’s faults and glossing over their negative traits. Instead, it comes from facing those negativities head-on, accepting them – and still finding your partner perfect anyway.
The difference between this protective idealization approach and the more damaging blind worship approach is as simple as the difference between saying that someone is a perfect partner… or that someone is a perfect partner for you. When you change your ideal partner to something closer to your current partner – including their faults – it can result in a much healthier, more satisfying relationship.
This point of view can help prevent disappointments as you get to know your partner, since you won’t be holding onto unrealistically positive expectations. It can also encourage more forgiveness and compassion towards your partner’s faults, and well as a willingness to help support them through their problems. All of this results in a stronger, healthier relationship that is a true partnership between happy individuals.
It may well be that the secret to a long marriage full of dewy-eyed romance is to stop looking for the perfect partner. Instead, you should focus on looking for your perfect partner – someone as beautifully flawed as you are. If this seems difficult or unnatural, enlist the help of a Houston marriage therapist to aid you in changing your point of view.
Want to Learn More about Relating to Your Partner? Try Imago Therapy
IMAGO Relationship Therapy is the oldest formal school of psychotherapy devoted exclusively to the study of couples. It is by far the world’s leading modality, with over 2,000 Certified IMAGO Therapists in 25 countries. Imago has found that, in fact, everyone will only be attracted to someone who has some of the negative characteristics of one’s primary caregivers. This attraction is solely in the Unconscious mind. The Conscious mind informs us about our ‘checklist.’ And what Imago has discovered while working with many thousands of couples over three decades, with compatibility as an utterly common (and positive) factor in mate selection, it is INCOMPATIBILITY (and its transformation of the inevitable Power Struggle) that is the essential aspect of a great marriage. Learn more about all this in the 20 hours educational Couples Workshop offered by the Center for Marriage & Family Relationships in Bellaire, Texas, or with a private therapy session.