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Your Relationship May Be Better Than You Think – Find The Knot

There’s an old saying, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” In other words, before you give up, take matters into your own hands and try a little harder.

As a psychology researcher, I believe this adage applies to relationships, too. Before you let go, look for the “knots” that might save you from accidentally letting a great relationship slip from your grasp. Relationship science suggests that the problem is that people tend to overemphasize the negative and underappreciate the positive when looking at their romantic partners.

If you could build the perfect relationship, what would it look like? Perhaps more importantly, how does your current relationship stack up? Expectations for today’s relationships are higher than ever. Now that relationships are a choice, mediocrity isn’t acceptable. It’s all or nothing, and no one wants to settle.

The secret to avoiding settling seems simple: have high standards and demand only the very best. Researchers refer to people who are pickier than others and always want the absolute best possible option as maximizers. Their counterparts are satisficers – those satisfied once quality surpasses a minimum threshold of acceptability. For them, “good enough” is perfectly fine. As long as their relationship exceeds their predetermined benchmarks for “high quality,” satisficers are content.

Maximizer personalities will tend to exhaust all options and explore many possibilities to secure the flawless partner. You might think that sounds ideal, even noble, almost like common sense. But there are hidden downsides. Call it the myth of maximization, because the research reveals that maximizers report more regret and depression and feel threatened by others whom they perceive as doing better. Maximizers also experience lower self-esteem and less optimism, happiness and life satisfaction. And they prefer reversible decisions or outcomesthat are not absolute or final.

See the problem? In long-term relationships, people tend to prefer more of a “‘til death do us part” approach rather than a “’til I find something better” tactic. Overall, the implication for your relationship is clear: The continuous pursuit of perfection could be fine for a car, but in your relationship it may result in failing to recognize the truly great relationship that’s right in front of you for what it is. Impossibly high standards can make an excellent relationship seem average.

You may also undervalue your relationship by being too quick to identify imperfections, notice the negatives and find problems. Blame what psychologists call the negativity bias, which is a tendency to pay attention to the bad or negative aspects of an experience.

Maximizer personalities will tend to exhaust all options and explore many possibilities to secure the flawless partner. You might think that sounds ideal, even noble, almost like common sense. But there are hidden downsides. Call it the myth of maximization, because the research reveals that maximizers report more regret and depression and feel threatened by others whom they perceive as doing better. Maximizers also experience lower self-esteem and less optimism, happiness and life satisfaction. And they prefer reversible decisions or outcomesthat are not absolute or final.

See the problem? In long-term relationships, people tend to prefer more of a “‘til death do us part” approach rather than a “’til I find something better” tactic. Overall, the implication for your relationship is clear: The continuous pursuit of perfection could be fine for a car, but in your relationship it may result in failing to recognize the truly great relationship that’s right in front of you for what it is. Impossibly high standards can make an excellent relationship seem average.

You may also undervalue your relationship by being too quick to identify imperfections, notice the negatives and find problems. Blame what psychologists call the negativity bias, which is a tendency to pay attention to the bad or negative aspects of an experience.

What do people value in a potential mate?

Researchers asked over 300 heterosexual newlyweds and daters what traits they preferred in a spouse. Contrary to gendered stereotypes, there’s a lot of overlap on the lists of men and women.

knot
Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND  Source: Journal of Personality, Botwin et al, 2006  Get the data

What have you been missing in your relationship? Surely there are boxes that your partner checks that you’ve neglected to notice. Start giving credit where credit is due. 

In fact, some studies suggest you should give your partner even more credit than she or he might deserve. Instead of being realistic, give your partner the benefit of the doubt, with an overly generous appraisal. Would you be lying to yourself? Sure, a little bit. But research shows that these types of positive illusions help the relationship by decreasing conflict while increasing satisfaction, love and trust.

Holding overly optimistic views of your partner convinces you of their value, which reflects well on you – you’re the one who has such a great partner, after all. Your rose-colored opinions also make your partner feel good and give them a good reputation to live up to. They won’t want to let you down so they’ll try to fulfill your positive prophecy. All of which benefits your relationship. 

It’s time to stop being overly critical of your relationship. Instead find the knots, the parts of your relationship you’ve been taking for granted that will help you hold on. If you know where to look and what to appreciate, you may just realize there are a lot more reasons to happily hold onto your relationship than you thought.

The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

About The Author
Gary W. Lewandowski
Gary W. Lewandowski
Professor of Psychology, Monmouth University. Dr Gary W Lewandowski Jr is author of Stronger than You Think: The 10 Blind Spots that Undermine Your Relationship and How to See Past Them and a Professor at Monmouth University. Dr Lewandowski’s research focuses on the self and relationships, which includes attraction, pick-up lines, relationship maintenance, infidelity, and break-up. His work and expertise has been featured in over 150 media outlets such as: The New York Times, CNN, Ladies Home Journal, Woman’s World, Marie Claire, WebMD, Women’s Health, Self Magazine, Woman’s Day, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Men’s Health, Scientific American Mind, and USA Today. Dr. Lewandowski is also a nationally recognised teacher who was featured in the book, Princeton Review’s: The Best 300 Professors. His articles have been enjoyed by over 3.5 million readers and his TED talk by 2 million viewers.
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