How We Behave in Relationships Is Predicted by Who We Blame

The ideal standards model (ISM) of interpersonal evaluations suggests that a partner becomes dissatisfied with his or her relationship when the significant other fails to measure up to what he or she expects an ideal mate to be. Likewise, this level of dissatisfaction can occur when one partner perceives that he or she is not living up to his or her partner’s standards. These relationship discrepancies therefore are indirectly caused by each partner, whether that person realizes it or not. Additionally, each type of discrepancy, whether partner generated (PD-Partner) or self-generated (PD-Self) can produce a different behavioral response. Although partner behavior has been studied in the context of ISM, it has not been explored further. Therefore, to address the partner discrepancy origins and effects using the ISM, Sandra D. Lackenbauer of the Department of Psychology at Western University in Ontario, Canada, recently led a series of studies of partners in unmarried and married relationships.

Lackenbauer assessed how PD affected motivation, avoidance, feelings of self-worth and agitation. In the first three studies, Lackenbauer found that those with high levels of PD-partner felt dejected while those with high levels of PD-self had more agitation. This was especially evident on scales that measured trustworthiness and feelings of warmth and caring. In the final two studies, the participants with PD-partner led to promotion-focused emotional responses while the presence of PD-self resulted in more prevention-based strategies.

The findings from these studies extend previous research on ISM and emotional regulation within intimate relationships. Although some existing research suggests that discrepancies are directly related to dissatisfaction within relationships, the results of Lackenbauer’s research suggests otherwise. In fact, the participants who exhibited PD-partner trends engaged in nurturing and promoting behaviors which can be a positive path for increases in satisfaction. The prevention behaviors displayed by those with high levels of PD-self suggest that individuals who perceive themselves as less than ideal take actions that minimize feelings of insecurity and abandonment in their relationships. Additionally, these individuals tend to maximize their assets in an effort to more closely match what they believe their partner’s ideal to be. Lackenbauer added, “Especially for those people involved in generally satisfying and committed relationships, this prevention strategy could be aimed at reducing the partner discrepancy to ultimately maintain the relationship satisfaction.” Regardless, Lackenbauer believes that more research is needed to fully examine how these discrepancies and ensuing behaviors contribute to overall relationship satisfaction.

Lackenbauer, S. D., Campbell, L. (2012). Measuring up: The unique emotional and regulatory outcomes of different perceived partner-ideal discrepancies in romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029054

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • andree west

    July 12th, 2012 at 4:07 AM

    The biggest problem is that I think that most of us go into relationships with this idea of what we want it to be like, or what we want this person to be like, and then we get disappointed when things don’t go the way we think that they should. We set our own selves up for disappointment, so we have to do a little better job at being more realistic about what we expect or we will continue to be disappointed by these relationships that we rush into.

  • Gregory.M

    July 12th, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    Well I can imagine how the different causes for dissatisfaction can bring about different feelings.

    I would definitely have different feelings if I though I was not up to the mark compared to if I thought my partner does not meet my expectations.

    But honestly,it is always best to have lower expectations so that you are not disappointed and the overall satisfaction remains high.

  • Rochelle

    July 12th, 2012 at 1:10 PM

    Expectations are constantly being rearranged but I think if couples can sit down and identify the 3 most important ones that they consider firm, that will give the other person a clear guideline toward change or figure out if they can’t meet 1 or all 3.

    I think it does feel different if the discrepancy in expectations/hopes come from yourself or your partners. I suspect that if a person is more inclined to take on more responsibility or blame the degree of response will be different as compared to someone who is less likely to take on responsibilities.

    It would be nice to see more research in this area and come to a point of less discrepancy!

  • stewart

    July 12th, 2012 at 5:07 PM

    Look, when you go into a relationship with issues, then why do you think that this relationship won’t be loaded with issues too?
    There are a lot of us who carry childhood memoroes and feelings with us far into our adult lives.
    It’s easy for us to say that we need to move on, get over it, but many times we have been far too traimatized to do that.
    Instead we continue the cycle and allow ourselves to be hurt time and again when we don’t have to be if we would just own the situation and work on getting right within ourselves.

  • Lila

    July 13th, 2012 at 4:36 AM

    I was once in a relationship where my boyfriend refused to take any responsibility for any disagreement that we had, to him he was never the one who was wrong and was always the one quick to point the finger of blame toward me. I loved him, so I accepted that I was the blame for everything that was wrong in our relationship and came to feel that I was unworthy of being happy with him or with anyone else. That whole situation really did a number on my self esteem. I was once so strong but he tore me down little by little, all because I think that he was threatened by the fact that I was so strong and successful. If you had known me a year before being with him and a year after you would not have been thought that I was the same person. I came to accept that I was to blame for every single thing, which was the way he wanted it. It put me into a manner of submission that I have had to fight for a while now to get away from.

  • diaz

    May 30th, 2013 at 10:44 PM

    I can strongly relate to you. I was in a relationship where he would always point the finger and blame everything on me. He made me feel less of a person. My self-esteem dropped. I was so depressed. He just made me feel worthless. He never phisically hurt me, but emotionally he did. I tolerated so much from him. I also think it goes back to my childhood. I was afraid of abandoment. I haven’t had any kind of contact with my father since age 9. I sometimes feel angry at myself for letting him and people overall mistreat me. I guess I just wanted to feel loved. I’m much happier now that he is not part of my life. Looking back I was so miserable when I was with him

  • SoulRoll

    July 13th, 2012 at 4:44 AM

    There are partners who view themselves as reasons for discord and not totally blame their spouses?? Because I have only met the opposite kind.

  • marlon

    July 15th, 2012 at 4:30 PM

    Last time I checked no one wins when you go around playing the blame game

  • Barry

    July 16th, 2012 at 4:09 AM

    No matter whether you are blaming yourself, your partner, or some other external factors, until you are ready to take responsibility for your own actions, then I have a feeling that you are not really ready for a grown up relationship. There are times in all of our lives when we choose to point the finger at someone else. But let’s be clear here- you can’t go around doing that all the time and at a certain time you just have to face it yourself and look for what your own role could have been,

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