Relationship satisfaction is not about your partner. It’s about you!
Is your partner “alpha” or “beta”? Have you found your “equal”? Your “soulmate”? There’s a lot of interest among the romantically-inclined (as well as among psychologists and relationship experts) in discovering how to choose the right person. Intriguing, yes. Relevant to relationship satisfaction? No.
Focusing on choosing “the right person” reflects belief in the conventional wisdom that marital success depends on it. Believing this myth is living a joke – the one about looking for something under the brightest street lamp not because it is likely to be found there but because you don’t have to venture into the dark unknown. Since everyone else seems to be looking there, why shouldn’t you?
Don’t rely on the “right person” myth because no amount of telling yourself that your “alpha” or “beta” partner, your “equal” partner, or your “soul mate” is just right for you leads to marital satisfaction. The right person myth dies hard because everyone deeply wishes for life to be easier- as it surely will be, if you find that one right person. But, think about it! How do you intend to guarantee that today’s “right person” stays that way?
Idealizing your partner
Of course, Everybody Marries the Wrong Person does not advocate ignoring essential compatibility criteria and marrying any old Joe or Jane. No one would do that, anyway. Well, okay, some do. (See my next post – “Great Mistakes – The Big Six Red Flags.”) Fortunately, most of us engage in a somewhat less consequential idealization of romantic partners.
Researchers conclude that the neurochemistry of infatuation causes us to overestimate compatibility.1,2 When infatuation fades (9 months to 4 years), incompatibility becomes our new focus. All our unmet expectations lead to post-infatuation frustration, which inevitably leads to disenchantment.
Disenchantment is inevitable as spouses’ “perceived” and “actual”personality characteristics become differentiated.1,2 (See previous posts – “There is no right person!” and “Bad advice: Follow Your Heart.”) Predictably, a disenchanted spouse chooses one or both of two, destructive responses:
1) You start tweaking your partner toward perpetual “rightness.” You endeavor to enlighten your not quite “right person” about how he or she can better suit you. Your formerly “right person” doesn’t see what all the fuss is about and resents being demoted from “right person” to “not quite right person.”
2) You start looking around for your real “right person.”
Of course, by the time one spouse is disenchanted, the other usually is, too.
The path to marital satisfaction
If choosing the “right person” is irrelevant to relationship satisfaction, what then? The path to relationship satisfaction is self-responsibility. Focus not on whether your partner is “alpha” or “beta,” your “equal,” or your “soulmate.” Give up the notion that it is reasonable or realistic to expect your partner to change to suit you.
Focus, instead, on taking responsibility for your own happiness and unhappiness. Take responsibility for managing your own expectations, emotional reactions, dark moods and insecurities. Become a self-responsible spouse. For details about behaving self-responsibly, see previous post – “New Marriage Paradigm: Self-responsible Spouse.”
1. Sandra Murray, et.al., “What the Motivated Mind Sees: Comparing Friends’ Perspectives to Married Partners’ Views of Each Other,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 36, no. 6 (2000): 600-620.
2. Shanhong Luo and Eva C. Klohnen, “Associative Mating and Marital Quality in Newlyweds: A Couple-centered Approach,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 88, no. 2 (2005): 304-326.
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