According to a study, thinking the world of your partner may not be the best romantic strategy. In fact, don’t put your partner on a pedestal at all, says this research out of Colgate University in New York. What happens when you do? The relationship satisfaction of your partner takes a nose dive. Psychologist and researcher Jennifer Tomlinson says that a balance in a relationship between admiration and a practical outlook on your partner is the best approach. In an interview with Live Science she said, “While it may be tempting to provide effusive praise, I think it’s also important to communicate understanding and validation of a person’s core identity.”
Those who believe that their partner is spectacular have higher rates of relationship satisfaction. But how a partner regards this also plays a role. Tomlinson and her colleagues wanted to investigate what the best level of idealization of a partner in a relationship was. Three experiments were devised to do just that. In the first experiment, 98 straight couples and one lesbian one were brought into a psychology lab. They were told to fill out a questionnaire about their relationship; one the participants believed was all the same. 50% of participants received a questionnaire with two different added questions. These participants were to list all of the “extremely valuable and positive” characteristics that their significant other possessed.
Next, the couples were to sit on a couch with a striped blanket over it. The stripes were inconspicuously used to count how far apart couples were. Those that had one partner who idealized the other too much found the couple sitting much farther apart. In the second experiment, 89 married couples whose median age was somewhere in the mid 30’s, and 153 university students in relationships participated. First, they completed surveys about their relationship including how their partner felt about them and how they felt about their partner. The best place to be, researchers found, was when the partner saw them as slightly higher than where they perceived themselves. But once the lover’s perception was far more elevated than the person’s own, the relationship suffered.
Those whose idealization was way out of proportion made their partners feel as though their sense of identity was threatened. They believe that their partner doesn’t really know them and that their expectations therefore cannot be met. Those who were overly-idealized were less accommodating in their relationships as well. Of this Tomlinson said, “People who are feeling over-idealized may feel like they have more power in the relationship, so they may be less willing to put their partner first.” This research appeared in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. For more relationship advice read, The Love Book for Couples: Building a Healthy Relationship by E. Michael Lillibridge, Ph.D.