Marriage advice: Get real
Call it the ultimate reality check: Newlyweds who lower their expectations may have happier, and ultimately longer, marriages.
The idea that starry-eyed brides and grooms should take off the blinders may seem counter to marriage counselors’ advice to view a partner in a positive light. But James McNulty, an assistant professor of psychology, says it’s based on the real-life experiences of 82 couples who joined a four-year marriage study within a few months of tying the knot.
McNulty, of Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus, found that newlyweds ultimately were happier in their marriages if they had a true view of their relationship and the skills to work through problems. Husbands and wives with poor relationship skills and high hopes for happiness experienced deep declines in satisfaction.
“”If people expect their relationship to be perfect and don’t solve their problems very well, they become disappointed and less satisfied over time,”” he said.
The ability to argue effectively when the inevitable conflicts arose, without assigning blame or engaging in put-downs, was a critical factor in determining whether high expectations would be dashed by reality.
But having great skills didn’t ensure happiness if men and women entered a marriage with very low expectations. High hopes can be a motivator for solving problems.
The researchers watched videotapes of the couples discussing a problem in their relationship and then rated their problem-solving skills. They also reviewed questionnaires about the husbands’ and wives’ satisfaction and expectations. The couples were reevaluated every six months.
Linda Waite, a University of Chicago sociologist who studies married and unmarried couples, said the study essentially suggests that marriage counselors shouldn’t encourage everyone to look for the best, hope for the best and expect the best.
“”Even people with good relationship skills might hit a bad patch,”” she said. “”We’re better off to tell people that relationships are no more perfect than people are perfect, but that tough times can be gotten through.””
Howard Markman, a psychologist who directs the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, suggested couples take a marriage education program, if necessary, to learn the necessary skills.
The study appears in the May issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Autor: Jane E. Allen,