State of mind is important. We’ve covered time and time again that we are each responsible for our own moods, that the attitude we put out to others is likely the kind of attitude we’re going to receive, that simply how we think about the world affects how interact with it…
What about expectation? In a way, it’s related – it’s a state of mind that helps inform how we see and deal with everyone and everything around us…
But can expectations hurt us too?
According to a recent study from Florida State University – they just might! In looking at a 135 sets of newlyweds over the course of 4 years, the people conducting the study, led by professor James McNulty, found some interesting results.
The asked the basic question: do high expectations of marriage quality actually help or hurt marriages? By asking participating couples questions through a series of surveys over the course of the study, a fairly surprising trend emerged…
For couples that communicated openly and directly, who were less likely to participate in destructive behavior, and who – as a couple – were quick to address what was upsetting them about the relationship, high expectations were associated with marital satisfaction.
These couples reported that they were more likely to see high expectations as a reason to rise to the challenge, to put forth the extra effort to turn those expectations into reality.
Now, on the other end of the spectrum, the results of the study are a little disturbing…
For couples more likely to engage in destructive behavior, to approach problems with indirect hostility, to avoid communicating openly about problems or leave issues unsaid, high expectations had the opposite effect.
For these types of couples, high expectations were unrealistic, and instead of inspiring increased motivation or commitment, they instead made people feel hopeless and disappointed in their marriages.
These couples held unrealistically high expectations, but didn’t employ the behaviors required for meeting them – that is, open and honest communication, dedication to the relationship, making time for one another, etc. – and it becomes a cycle. Their marriages are already troubled, and the high expectations don’t match their reality – which makes them further disappointed, makes a happy marriage seem even further away, and leads to even more stress, arguing, and other problems (with which they aren’t likely to deal with in a healthy way).
So, what can couples do with this information?
First, this is a reminder to take a good look at how you and your spouse deal with problems when they arise – are you like the first type of couple, or the second? Do you deal with issues head on, or have a hard time communicating directly?
You can take action in a couple of different ways. If you recognize that you’re the “second type” of couple, then you know what you need to work on! If these are the couples more often facing problems – as well as the negative effects of unrealistic expectations – then it only makes sense that working together to improve the way you handle conflict will have long-term benefits for your marriage.
The other lesson here is one of balance. Every couple is different, of course, and the experiences of the people in the study might not fit you and your spouse exactly. So, perhaps the best takeaway is to split the difference…
Understand that overly high expectations (coupled with inaction) are a path to disappointment, and that realistic goals for improvement can serve as inspiration and an invitation to “rise to the challenge.”
Ultimately, it’s about aligning your expectations with the realities of your relationship. If you look too far, you’ll feel disappointed and overwhelmed, but if you look to attainable goals and realistic expectations for you marriage, you can be constantly improving – and as you do, you can continue to raise the bar higher and higher!
You can create the marriage you’ve always wanted, but it won’t happen without your effort. Keep your eyes on realistic goals and move toward them each and every day!