Getting married, unrealistic expectations and how psychology can help

Romantic relationships are distinct from friendships in that they are characterised by greater social and communication, heightened emotionality and exclusivity (Collins, 2003). Romantic relationships also have a peculiar intensity and the intensity can be marked by expressions of physical affection—including physical and commonly the expectation of sexual relations (Brown, Furman, & Feiring, 1999; Reis & Shaver, 1988). As they become long term, the relationships usually involve some level of commitment, attachment and caring (Brown, Fiering & Furman, 1999). 

People seek romantic relationships and maintain them in light of perceived awards (Simon & Barret, 2001) and although research has followed more of the benefits of marriage rather than romantic relationships per se, it has also been consistently shown that people benefit physically, emotionally (Stafford & Canary, 1991) and financially when they are in a committed and long term relationship (Barrett & Simon, 2000). 

More specifically, an individual may receive many benefits from a romantic partner such as assistance in everyday tasks, emotional support when coping with stressful life events, material support, suggestions for effective behavioural regulation, and satisfaction of crucial psychological needs such as intimacy, alliance, social integration (Duck, 1991; Sedikides, Oliver & Campbell 1994). However, it is not just material support that romantic partner offers, but psychological support, which may serve as a protective factor against mood disorders (Costello, Swendsen & Rose, 2008). This is also the reason why married people usually have greater social, psychological, and economic resources (Simon & Barett 2010), and also report less psychological distress than those who have never married, those who are divorced, and those who are widowed (Barrett & Simon 2000). 

However, if there are all of these benefits from getting married, why does the average marriage last 12 years in Australia? One such explanation, is that people enter marriage, and or long-term relationships, with unrealistic expectations.  

Unrealistic relationship beliefs can be defined as predispositions that bias a person toward interpreting intimate relationship events in an irrational manner and which are based on unhelpful expectations (Kurdek, 1993). Examples of unrealistic relationship expectations include: if we decided to only date people who have nice straight teeth, are very physically attractive, have an ideal job and be intuitive to our inner most wants and needs. Views such as these are destructive to marital relationships because they are unrealistic and impossible to uphold (Wright, Simmons & Campbell, 2017). 

So why is this an issue when we need to have some kind of standard to pick our partner by? Well, expectations only become a problem if someone’s inflexible beliefs are very different compared to the realities of marriage. This experience can create inconsistency between what a couple expected and what they experienced in the actual marriage or relationship. These expectations then negatively affect marital satisfaction and adjustment (Hall & Adams 2011). Extensive literature on marital counselling has continuously revealed that unrealistic marital beliefs based on distorted assumptions tend to diminish interpersonal satisfaction in intimate relationships (Baucom & Epstein, 1990; Eidelson & Epstein, 1982; Kurdek, 1993; Larson, 1988). Therefore, it is unsurprising that unrealistic expectations continue to be at the forefront of identified couples’ problems and treatment issues encountered in couple therapy.  

If you have identified that perhaps your relationship is suffering due to inflexible or unrealistic expectations from either party, there is help. 

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychological therapy that helps people identify negative thinking patterns. This can be helpful when examining your own patterns of interacting with you partner and can explain more helpful ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. CBT also allows you to move on from your habitual ways of thinking and incorporates new ways of acting and feeling that are more conducive a healthy relationship. Usually, just by having a different world view, you can finally have the satisfying relationship that you crave and deserve. 

Contact us at Cause Effect Psychology if you believe a CBT-based approach might offer you more insight and guidance as to creating positive perspective in your relationship.

Written by a Cause Effect Psychologist

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