Do High Expectations Hurt Relationships?

posted: 03/16/16
by: Mara Betsch
Close-up Of A Tired Woman relationship expectations

When you were dating, you probably had a certain set of "standards" a potential mate had to possess. Whether that meant having a job, being a non-smoker, not living with their mother, or plenty of other attractive characteristics, you (hopefully) held out for someone who met these standards.

But should you carry these high standards over to your marriage? The answer, according to a recent study, is maybe.

Researchers took a look at 135 couples living in Tennessee, using surveys and recorded discussions, to look at verbal communication and see just how the couples interacted. The results are published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin but here's our summary of their findings:

High standards work for strong marriages

"Ultimately, spouses appear to be best off to the extent that they ask of their marriages as much as, but not more than, their marriages are able to give them," says Dr. James McNulty, Professor of Psychology at Florida State University and author of the study in a press release. So what does that mean? It means that depending on your marriage to fulfill a need that you're not capable of achieving yourself is a recipe for disaster. If you aren't able to find the time to have a date night with your husband, you can't expect him to always make time for you. On the flip side, demanding high standards can motivate some couples to get the most out of their relationship.

But sometimes people don't have high enough expectations

Though high standards can break up relationships that are already on-edge, it's OK to ask more of your partner and your relationship if things are on solid ground. "Other people demand too little from their marriages. Their marriage is a potential source of personal fulfillment that they are not exploiting," says McNulty.

Indirect hostility destroys relationships

We've already discussed the four things that ruin relationships, and indirect hostility should be added to this list. Whereas direct hostility -- blaming a partner for a problem and asking that they change -- can be helpful, indirect hostility, including passive-aggressive behavior, sarcastic comments, and nonverbal cues like rolling your eyes, can cause more harm. In this study, couples who engaged in indirect hostility were more like have lower marital satisfaction.

Life definitely gets in the way

"Each marriage is different; people differ in their compatibility, their skills, and the external stressors they face," says McNulty. "All of these play an important role in determining how successful a marriage will be and thus how much people should demand from it." For those who have been married for many years, you know that there are good and bad times, and times when your marriage feels strong as well as times when your marriage seems shaky.

Bottom line: What makes successful relationships is knowing your partner's strengths and weaknesses, and constantly recalibrating your demands based on your partner and what's going on in your lives at the time.