If anyone ever thinks that you have rose tinted glasses for your spouse, be glad, because it’s helpful in keeping your relationship together and satisfied, so long as, of course, you’re not ignoring toxic behaviour.
Having ‘positive illusions’ about your beloved, i.e. seeing an idealised version of them, is healthy and helpful. Now that doesn’t mean you should automatically take your spouse’s side in a family disagreement when, for example, your mum is in the right, and it doesn’t mean that you should gloss over the problems in your marriage and pretend they don’t exist.
Here is how one group of researchers summarise positive illusions :
‘Overall, positive illusion motivates individuals to perceive their partners or relationships in a realistic positive light. It influences individuals to interpret the shortcomings of their partner in a kind and generous manner rather than to directly ignore those shortcomings.’
So engaging in positive illusion is not delusion, it’s compassion for and acceptance of your partner as they are.
They go on to say:
‘…as time goes by, positive illusion is associated with greater relationship satisfaction, care, trust, and lasting intimacy—hallmarks of healthy relationships.’
In other words, positive illusion also helps your relationship to thrive.
How positive illusion affects your relationship long-term when you’re dating
In a study of dating couples over the course of a year, researchers found that even when there was conflict, those who idealised one another were most likely to still be dating a year on . Plus, over time, those who idealised each other the most, reported greater wellbeing and satisfaction, and fewer conflicts and doubts, over time.
The researchers state:
‘Thus, lasting security and confidence appear to depend on intimates seeing the best in one another—overlooking each other’s faults and embellishing each other’s virtues.’
Another really helpful finding was that:
‘For some intimates, not recognizing a partner’s self-perceived frailties later tarnished their illusions and dampened satisfaction.’
This suggests that positive illusion works well when we are aware of our partner’s faults, not deluded, as I mentioned earlier on – being compassionate and accepting rather than pretending and deluding. Being awake, not asleep. Perhaps this quote explains this entire concept of positive illusion perfectly:
‘Love is not blind – it sees more, not less. But because it sees more, it is willing to see less.’ ~ Julius Gordon
Beautiful. Just beautiful.
How positive illusion affects your relationship long-term when you’re married
In a long-term 13 year study, researchers found that newlyweds were more in love when they idealised one another and, furthermore, those that had been more in love with one other as newlyweds, were less likely to have experienced a decline in their love as the years ensued .
Importantly, though, the chances of divorce remained the same for those less in love and those more in love, during the term of the study.
So perhaps this latter finding further strengthens the idea that a person can be in love, idealise their partner, and still be aware and affected by the things that are not right in the relationship.
This is a good thing for those in unhealthy relationships because it means that a partner cannot simply become complacent and not bother putting effort into making the marriage thrive just because there is a lot of love.
Love is amazing, but for two people to be truly happy and for the relationship to last, the relationship needs ongoing nurturing. And to nurture a relationship helps your partner and makes you feel good, too.
Giving due care to your relationship is a win, win, win. You win, they win and the relationship wins.
3 Ways To Keep A Positive View Of Your Marriage
So positive illusion or idealising your partner as they are – i.e. having compassion and accepting your partner as they are – is helpful both in the short- and long-term.
If you’re not sure you idealise your partner much or you want to idealise them more for the benefits you’ll both reap, how do you create more of that mindset in your relationship?
Although happy relationships are created through a series of good habits, consistently employed, here are 3 ways to keep a positive view of your marriage:
1. Have gratitude for the good aspects of your partner
Gratitude keeps our view of life, balanced. When you’re married to someone, they are choosing to spend their life with you. That means you have both committed to taking the rough with the smooth.
We all have our rough edges. And the things you focus on most either become more elating or more deflating, so focus mostly on the good aspects of your partner that you’re grateful for. Doing so will help you to maintain that bright-eyed perspective of your spouse and the compassion you’ll need when the going gets tough.
Research on married and cohabiting couples also finds that showing your partner gratitude, buffers your relationship from daily stress .
When you are grateful for who your partner is, it helps your wellbeing too. It also makes you more proactive about things like affection, going on dates and setting shared goals, all three of which are important to your relationship satisfaction and relationship’s survival.
2. Engage in novel, self-expanding activities together
Remind yourselves about what’s great about one another by engaging in novel, self-expanding activities together.
Keeping the relationship fresh with new activities that stretch you both out of your normal routine and even comfort zone, but that aren’t overly stressful, may help you to increase feelings of romantic love, much as you do in the early days of a new relationship .
Research has also found that when long-term romantic couples engage in self-expanding, new activities together that they haven’t experienced before, they increase their sexual desire for one another and their sexual satisfaction. They also experience general relationship satisfaction, which is sustained over time .
So all in all, keeping things fresh and exciting in some way (doesn’t have to be anything extreme, complicated or difficult to organise), helps to keep you emotionally and passionately connected to one another for the long haul.
3. Remember that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side
Before you get (understandably) deluded by the stuff you see on social media or hear from those bragging in real life, remember that the grass often isn’t greener on the other side when your relationship is overall healthy (e.g. not abusive or otherwise self-esteem-destroying). Better to water your side of the garden than trying to second-guess how great other people’s realities are.
And if you are currently caught up in an emotional affair, aside from the fact that it will entirely disrupt your ability to water your garden and notice it bloom, you’ll also be creating a fantasy about that other side of the fence. Online extramarital relationships, for example, will not be a direct comparison for the day-to-day reality of being in a marriage with someone.
So tend to your garden. Plant seeds of love and empowerment. Add compost when you need to by using words and actions that signify love, passion and commitment; and give it plenty of water and sun in the form of compassion and fun.
1. Song, H., Zhang, Y., Zuo, L., Chen, X., Cao, G., d’Oleire Uquillas, F., & Zhang, X. (2019). Improving Relationships by Elevating Positive Illusion and the Underlying Psychological and Neural Mechanisms. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 12, 526. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00526
2. Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G., & Griffin, D. W. (1996). The self-fulfilling nature of positive illusions in romantic relationships: love is not blind, but prescient. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(6), 1155–1180. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-35188.8.131.525
3. Miller, P. J., Niehuis, S., & Huston, T. L. (2006). Positive illusions in marital relationships: a 13-year longitudinal study. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(12), 1579–1594. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167206292691
4. Barton, A. W., Jenkins, A. I. C., Gong, Q., Sutton, N. C., & Beach, S. R. (2022). The protective effects of perceived gratitude and expressed gratitude for relationship quality among African American couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/02654075221131288
5. Acevedo, B. P., Aron, A., Fisher, H. E., & Brown, L. L. (2012). Neural correlates of long-term intense romantic love. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 7(2), 145–159. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsq092
6. Muise, A., Harasymchuk, C., Day, L. S., Bacev-Giles, C., Gere, J. and Impett, E. A. (2019). Broadening Your Horizons: Self-expanding activities promote desire and satisfaction in established romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 116(2): 237–58.
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