High expectations can ‘make or break’ a marriage

Family|March 18th 2016

Having high expectations of married life can either make a couple stronger or tear them apart, a new study suggests.

Research from Florida State University indicated that when a relationship is already strong, high standards can improve it but such expectations can eventually erode marriages which are already beset by problems.

Psychology professor Dr James McNulty led a team of researchers which surveyed 135 newly married couples. Each person was asked a series of questions without their partner present. These were about their happiness within their marriage, any problems they had in the relationship and their expectations about married life. The couples then participated in discussions which were monitored so the researchers could assess the way they communicated with each other and how much ‘indirect hostility’ they displayed. Following these assessments, the couples then separately completed marital satisfaction questionnaires every six months for the following four years.

Dr McNulty said that “indirect hostility is harmful for all couples” so those who displayed it tended to have more relationship problems unless it turned into direct hostility. He suggested that “blaming the partner for a problem and demanding that the partner change … can have important benefits to some couples”. Confronting a spouse directly about can give them the push they need to try harder at certain aspects of their marriage.

Overall, one of the biggest causes of trouble in a marriage is that “couples [can] experience a mismatch between what they demand and what they can actually attain” Dr McNulty said. He also advised that people should “realize their strengths and weaknesses and calibrate their standards accordingly”.

The study was published in the academic journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Photo by Grand Velas Riviera Maya via Flickr

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