Relationships often falter over relatively minor flaws. It’s when we notice their constant need for to-do lists and itineraries, or their habit of leaving the peanut butter open, that we proceed with our exit strategy. But to have a happy marriage, it appears we need to keep our rose-colored glasses on and look past the petty problems. According to a recent study, those who delude themselves about their partners have happier marriages.
Sara Murray from the University of Buffalo studied 222 recent newlyweds over a three year period. Every six months, Murray and her teams surveyed the couples on their ideal partner, their actual partner, and themselves. In the end, they found that those who had an “unrealistic idealistic” view of their partner were happier.
People are very good at changing their definitions to match how they want to see themselves or how they want to see others. Someone can decide they’re a good driver—even if they’ve had speeding tickets—if they’ve never been in an accident.
“Marital Aggrandizement” was only thought to apply to newlyweds, but researchers Norm O’Rourke and Phillipe Cappeliez at the University of Ottawa in Canada studied 400 married couples who had been married for an average of 40 years. Based on their research, those who were most happy in their life and marriage tended to aggrandize their partners.
In past studies, Murray claimed that the reason for this is what’s dubbed the “Pollyanna effect.” That is, our need to believe that we are with the right person. Because of the vulnerability involved in a highly-committed relationship, we need to trust that our partner will be there for us in order to maintain security and happiness. We have a need to erase all doubts about the person, which means either choosing only to see the person one way, or forcing them to fit into our ideal—or both.