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Think You Have a Perfect Partner? That's a Good Sign

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, March 11 (HealthDay News) -- Forget that warning about rose-colored glasses setting you up for disappointment in romantic relationships.

Those who are unrealistically idealistic about their partners are more satisfied with their marriage than the realists, new research contends.

The idealization seems to thwart the commonly found decline in satisfaction that strikes marriages over time, said study author Dr. Sandra Murray, a professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York.

"If you didn't consider idealization at all, in this sample, as in many others, satisfaction declined on average" over the course of the three-year study, she said.

"But if you looked at the people relatively high versus low on idealization, people who are relatively high don't show any decline," she said.

What's going on? The positive outlook -- giving your partner more credit than what might be due, and seeing your partner as a closer reflection of your ideal partner than what might be true -- could help when things turn thorny, Murray said.

All that positive thinking, she added, perhaps "colors the way they perceive their partner's behavior. It [perhaps] gives them a stronger sense of optimism that they can resolve problems within the relationship."

For the study, reported in the April issue of Psychological Science, Murray recruited 222 couples as they applied for their marriage licenses in Buffalo, N.Y. They were, on average, about 27 years old, with family incomes of about $40,000 to $70,000 a year.

After some dropped out, 193 couples finished at least three of the seven waves of evaluation, she said. (Eleven separated or divorced.) Participants completed surveys about themselves, their partners and their marriages every six months for three years.

By comparing the information given on each person by themselves and their partners, the researchers developed a ranking of how idealistic and how realistic each person's perception was.

Those who were unrealistically idealistic actually were happier with their marriage than the others over the three years.

She can't say for how long that positive idealization might fuel satisfaction, because of the study's length.

But she concluded, "seeing a less-than-ideal partner as a reflection of one's ideals predicted a certain level of immunity to the corrosive effects of time: People who initially idealized their partner highly experienced no declines in satisfaction."

"It's an important idea," said Eli Finkel, an associate professor of social psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., who conducts relationship research.

The finding, he said, "does fly in the face of conventional wisdom," which warns people not to be too "blind" in love.

But the findings make sense, he said. "To the degree that I have this high evaluation of my partner, I interpret my partner's behavior as kind, funny and considerate," he said. The evaluation by these people may be "a little more positive" than the partner deserves, he noted.

The positive view, he said, may make day-to-day hurdles more bearable. "If you start from a place of positivity, you really see your partner as exactly the person you hoped you would be involved with, then all the little daily circumstances you face get interpreted through that lens," he said. Read: less disagreement, more satisfaction.

Or, as Finkel put it: "To the degree you think this is Prince Charming, it looks like there is no comeuppance for that."

More information

To learn more about positive psychology, visit the University of Pennsylvania.

SOURCES: Eli Finkel, Ph.D., associate professor, social psychology, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.; Sandra Murray, Ph.D., professor, psychology, University at Buffalo, State University of New York; April 2011 Psychological Science

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