What place does myth and idealization have in a marriage or intimate relationship? Plenty, concludes a recent study in Psychological Science. The study surveyed 193 newlywed couples in there mid to late 20s over the course of the first three years of their marriages.
Participants were asked to describe both themselves and their partners, using either positive (kind, funny, understanding, warm) or negative (lazy, critical, moody or immature) words. They were then asked to rate their ideal, albeit imaginary partner on the same scale as a benchmark for perfection.
The results were both surprising and expected. The study found that the self-assessments were more often based on characteristics more aligned with reality. So, what we see in ourselves is more real and accurate. But, the way we see, or want to see others, is more often based on our hope for what we wanted that person to be. We idealize significant others.
By way of example, if one person wants an ideal partner who is understanding and kind, she is more likely to describe her new spouse using those same positive descriptive terms, even when the new spouse used negative terms in describing him or herself. The gulf between the two conclusions may play a central role in maintaining a happy relationship.
The study bears this last point out. The data showed an inverse relationship between the level of idealization in the partner and dissatisfaction with the marriage. Low or non-existent idealization caused a spike in dissatisfaction. The idealizing segment of the study reported more happiness and marital satisfaction.
The study’s authors concluded that humans adapt definitions of self and others to what they really want. We have the power to see our way into lasting and fulfilling unions.