Many single people have been told that the reason why they haven’t found someone to marry is that their standards are too high. Usually, that’s brushed off as bad advice, but that may not be the case. Contrary to what many think, a partner’s high expectations don’t always motivate their significant other. In fact, a study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that high expectations can potentially do more harm than good in a marriage. Keep reading to learn more about the study’s findings and how a marriage therapist may be able to help.
Why High Expectations Can Be Harmful
The study, authored by Dr. James McNulty, a psychology professor at Florida State University, shows that having high expectations of your partner only improves satisfaction in strong, happy marriages. Weaker marriages that may involve indirect hostility or other severe issues may be further damaged by high standards.
Dr. McNulty explores why some marriages suffer: “Some people demand too much from their marriages because they are requiring that their marriages fulfill needs that they are not capable of achieving, either because they have limited time, energy, effort, or skills to apply to their marriages.” He also stated, “Ultimately, spouses appear to be best off to the extent that they ask of their marriages as much as, but not more than, their marriages are able to give them.”
In addition to this, McNulty explains that high expectations are often unrealistic. Many marriages suffer because one partner’s expectations are not satisfied because their significant other cannot meet them for various reasons.
Indirect vs. Direct Hostility in Relationships
To demonstrate this theory, researchers utilized data from 135 newlywed couples living in eastern Tennessee. Each partner separately completed surveys that measured their marital satisfaction and the severity of their relationship conflicts. The newlyweds also participated in marital discussions that were video-recorded where researchers studied their verbal communication. The couples completed this process every six months over the course of four years.
Researchers discovered that “when it comes to verbal problem-solving, indirect hostility is more destructive than direct hostility,” (McNulty). On the other hand, “direct hostility, such as blaming the partner for a problem and demanding that the partner change, can have important benefits to some couples, specifically those who need to change,” (McNulty).
“The key is that direct hostility communicates that there is a need for change and even how each partner wants things to change. Our prior research indicates indirect hostility is harmful for all couples.” The study concluded that the fate of a relationship depends on a couple’s style of communication.
How Communication Styles Affect Marriages
Couples that worked well together communicated directly with their partner. Direct communication allowed them to meet higher standards, thus showing high satisfaction in their marriages.
The opposite was true for couples that held indirect hostility towards each other, and as a result, didn’t work well together. Oftentimes these couples held high standards that their partner was unable to meet.
“Each marriage is different; people differ in their compatibility, their skills, and the external stressors they face,” McNulty says. “All of these play an important role in determining how successful a marriage will be and thus how much people should demand from it.”
“This research suggests people need to have some idea of what they can get from marriage before they get it. That is obviously difficult, which may explain why couples experience a mismatch between what they demand and what they can actually attain,” he states.
Improve Communication With Help From a Marriage Therapist in Newport Beach
In some relationships, high standards may motivate partners to work to improve their relationships. However, this study shows that high standards cannot be met unless they are communicated in an efficient way. Sometimes the standards that a partner has for their significant other are unrealistic and can’t be met due to certain obstacles or even a lack of communication. Finding a direct way to communicate with your partner will eliminate indirect hostility, possibly motivate them, and encourage growth in your relationship.
If you and your partner are having trouble communicating, a marriage therapist like Jennifer De Francisco can help. Jennifer De Francisco, MPA, MSW, LCSW, offers couples counseling in Orange County, CA for couples at any stage in their relationship. Her approach provides a safe environment to open and honestly share thoughts and emotions. Through developing a positive, therapeutic relationship, you and your partner can interpret what is going on, both in your life and in the session, creating a better awareness within your relationship. Contact Jennifer De Francisco by calling (949) 251-8797 or make an appointment online.