High expectations may not harm healthy marriages, but they could make unhealthy marriages worse, according to a study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Previous research on how expectations affect marriage is mixed. Some studies have linked high standards to disappointment, while others suggest high standards can motivate couples to live up to those standards.
How Your Expectations Could Affect Your Marriage
Researchers spent four years tracking 135 newlywed couples living in eastern Tennessee. At the beginning of the study, each partner independently completed surveys assessing their own standards, level of marital satisfaction, and perceived severity of relationship problems. Researchers also filmed discussions between the couples, then studied communication styles to assess indirect hostility. Both partners continued reporting marital satisfaction levels via a survey every six months for four years.
Among couples who displayed lower levels of direct hostility and who reported less severe relationship problems, high standards had a positive effect and increased satisfaction with the marriage over time. Couples with more serious problems and higher rates of indirect hostility were less satisfied if they reported having higher standards.
The Role of Indirect Hostilitypassive aggression, procrastination, and stubbornness—was more damaging to marriages than direct hostility. The researchers believe this is because indirect hostility can undermine communication. Direct hostility may make it easier to solve problems by explicitly identifying and addressing them.
Other research supports the notion that indirect hostility can be damaging to relationships. John Gottman, a psychotherapist and relationship researcher, has observed thousands of couples in a laboratory setting. His research points to four distinct behaviors that undermine relationships: stonewalling, contempt, criticism, and defensiveness. As with other forms of indirect hostility, these behaviors can undermine affection and interfere with communication over time.
- Gottman’s four horsemen of the apocalypse. (2013, August 5). Retrieved from http://couplestherapyinc.com/gottman-four-horsemen-of-the-apocalypse/
- High standards produce mixed effects on marriages. (2016, March 16). Retrieved from http://www.spsp.org/press_release/high-standards-produce-mixed-effects-on-marriages
- Mcnulty, J. K. (2016). Should spouses be demanding less from marriage? A contextual perspective on the implications of interpersonal standards. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42(4), 444-457. doi:10.1177/0146167216634050
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