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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