Expecting marriage to be a deeply fulfilling relationship makes it more likely that the union will thrive, or that it will doom with disappointment. According to a Florida State University study, high standards improve satisfaction only when a marriage is strong to begin with. For weaker unions, including those involving passive aggression or severe differences, high standards only make things worse.
Author Dr. James McNulty said that some people demand too much from their marriages because they are requiring that their marriages fulfill needs that they are not capable of achieving, either because they have limited time, energy, effort, or skills to apply to their marriages.
‘Expecting a lot can make marriage more satisfying, but if the spouse cannot meet those expectations, whether for lack of time, effort, or social skills, the relationship will suffer.’
McNulty added, "But other people demand too little from their marriages. Their marriage is a potential source of personal fulfillment that they are not exploiting. 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."
The researchers utilized data from 135 newlywed couples living in eastern Tennessee.
"When it comes to verbal problem-solving, indirect hostility is more destructive than direct hostility," says McNulty.
"Prior work by our lab and others indicates that direct hostility, such as blaming the partner for a problem and demanding that the partner change, can have important benefits to some couples, specifically those who need to change. The key is that direct hostility communicates that there is a need for change and even how each partner wants things to change. Our prior research indicates indirect hostility is harmful for all couples."
"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." McNulty noted that this research suggests people need to have some idea of what they can get from marriage before they get it. That is obviously difficult, which may explain why couples experience a mismatch between what they demand and what they can actually attain.
"Couples need to realize their strengths and weaknesses and calibrate their standards accordingly," advises McNulty.
The study appears in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.