Optimism is bad for marriage, study suggests

Family|November 27th 2013

Are getting married any time soon? Perhaps you know someone else who has set a date and is now dashing around trying to book a venue and worrying about the 101 things that will need to be sorted out before the big day, from favours to flowers?

Arranging a wedding can be hard work, and that applies whether it will be your first or your third. But the rush and the stress mingle (in most of us at least!) with other emotions: excitement, happiness, anticipation. A hugely significant new chapter in our lives is set to begin. Even if we already live with our spouses-to-be, marriage is still a move up to fifth gear.

But as tempting as it may be to get caught up in the shiny romance and joy, it does in fact, here as elsewhere in life, pay to keep a clear head.

A recent study highlights the potential damage done to marriage by inflated expectations. Researchers followed 501 couples over a four year period to examine any links between a person’s expectations of marriage and their subsequent happiness.

The paper, entitled Newlyweds’ optimistic forecasts of their marriage: For better or for worse?, was published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

At the beginning of the process, almost all the couples said they expected to remain or become even happier after their upcoming marriages. But the reality was rather different, with most finding they became less happy over time. And this effect was most pronounced amongst wives with the highest expectations of their marriage.

According to the researchers:

“Wives who predicted the greatest increases in satisfaction actually had the greatest declines in satisfaction.”

In addition, such women “also had lower self-esteem and higher levels of stress and physical aggression toward their partners initially.”

That’s a rather toxic mix. Perhaps such women were trying to counterbalance their own unhappiness by projecting inflated expectations onto the wedding days?

The findings, said the researchers, show “that nearly all couples overestimate the durability of their existing satisfied feelings at the start of their marriage.”

So there you have it. I don’t subscribe to the poet Alexander Pope’s often quoted maxim “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.” Wise in a bleak way, but a rather joyless way to view the world. But I certainly believe in keeping a clear head, about marriage as much as anything else.

So yes, enjoy the romance and the excitement of an upcoming wedding by all means, but my advice to anyone planning their big day would be: don’t get too carried away with the fairy tale and part company completely from the reality of your relationship.

A marriage is a bit like a shelf. It can hold a certain amount but if you stack on too much weight it will tear right off the wall.

Author: Stowe Family Law

Comments(6)

  1. Stitchedup says:

    According to the researchers:

    “Wives who predicted the greatest increases in satisfaction actually had the greatest declines in satisfaction.”

    In addition, such women “also had lower self-esteem and higher levels of stress and physical aggression toward their partners initially.”

    Physical aggression towards their partners??? Surely not!!

    Like I said in an earlier post, another report telling us something we already know. Given 68% of divorces are initiated by Women, only 4% by men, this is no surprise. Poor little princesses not having their dreams met, time to find a new “Soul Mate”.

  2. JamesB says:

    As it must always be a man’s fault – (family law), then Walt Disney has a lot to answer for.

    Sometimes I do wonder if I should be showing these Disney princess films to my daughters. Oldest wants the Now that’s what I call music cd for Xmas and think that is ok. To be fair to me I never went big on pink princesses with my daughters and hope they will not be spoilt like my ex. I try to bring them up not like this and hope they find husbands the same to make a better go at it then me and my first wife and perhaps more like me and my second wife.

  3. Luke says:

    “Wives who predicted the greatest increases in satisfaction actually had the greatest declines in satisfaction.”
    ============================

    This is as one would expect, some women have ridiculous expectations of marriage – it is one of the reasons women bail from their marriage so often.

  4. Nellsbob says:

    This doesn’t actually go on to explain why the low level of satisfaction or indeed what they expected from the ‘ marriage’. It’s simply talking round the subject as apposed to facts and statements. Only then can one see a direct link to expectations and dissatisfaction.

    Otherwise it’s making the damning assumption that women live in a fantasy world. That’s unfair and unfounded.

  5. Luke says:

    ====================
    Otherwise it’s making the damning assumption that women live in a fantasy world. That’s unfair and unfounded.
    ====================

    ‘Fantasy world’ is a bit harsh, but unrealistic expectations then yes, I think for many women that is fair and well founded.

    There is an argument that the female human is driven instinctively to couple up to have children and then to naturally want to break up when there is no longer the need for the support the male brings. This makes sense from an evolutionary point of view because she can then reevaluate the male population for the next round of children she is to bear. It also explains female infidelity – which is much higher than previously thought and is another tactic to get the best genes for their offspring.

    So the reasons for breaking up with the man may often just be a rationalisation – but anyway whatever the reason women drive the divorce business and men who have significant assets and get married don’t understand the situation they are placing themselves in !

  6. JamesB says:

    I think that the welfare state and unnatural family law have a lot to do with the unrealistic expectations mentioned here.

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