Entries in positive illusions (14)


Who’s Hot, Who’s Not? Time Will Tell

As we’ve previously written, people tend to pair up romantically with partners who are about as attractive as they are. So the most attractive people pair up with each other, followed by the next most attractive people pairing up, etc., all the way down the attractiveness scale. Scientists call this assortative mating.1 How do we know this assortative mating occurs? There is a correlation between two partners’ levels of attractiveness. This means that as one partner’s attractiveness increases, the other partner tends to be more attractive as well. People want the best partner they can get, and the more attractive a person you are, the better mate you can snag.

Although we do have some scientific evidence for assortative mating, this phenomenon really only makes sense when it is very clear who the most attractive people are. And this is not always the case.

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Is This the Best Way to Deal with Your Partner’s Faults?

Committing your life to another person is a big step. How can you feel comfortable taking that risk, committing yourself to a partner you know is flawed? To overcome those insecurities, it's sometimes best to hold some “positive illusions” about your partner, even if they’re not accurate.

Past research has shown that couples are more satisfied when both members of the couple view each another in an overly positive manner.1 In a survey, they asked couples to evaluate themselves and their partners on a series of personality traits and found that the most satisfied people rated their partners more positively than the partners rated themselves. The researchers argued that these “positive illusions” allow us to deal with the inevitable doubts and conflicts that surface in a relationship, by building up a store of good will. 

That doesn’t mean that love is blind. These happy couples are not wearing blinders, but rather rose-colored glasses. They notice their partners’ flaws, but find ways to minimize the importance of those flaws and to accentuate their partners' assets.

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The "Awesomeness Factor" on Freakonomics Radio

SofR contributor Melssia Schneider was recently on the Freakanomics Radio podcast talking about predictors of breakup, or what she calls the "awesomeness factor" (see her SofR post on this research here).

You can listen to the podcast here (jump to 28:58 to listen to what Melissa has to say).


Relationship Advice: Take the Rose-Colored Glasses Quiz!

Have you ever gotten really bad relationship advice? I certainly have. I remember reading one book that suggested I ignore fourth-fifths of a man’s text messages and emails to make him crazy about me. Apparently, the authors thought dating only desperate guys would be a good idea. 

I’ve also seen friends worry over personality differences between themselves and a partner. “Does it mean we aren’t compatible?” they wonder. Even though a large-scale study conducted in several countries found that having “compatible personalities” has hardly any impact on relationship satisfaction,1 the concept remains popular. The idea that certain couples have “compatible personalities” just sounds true—look at astrology and E-Harmony’s matching system—so it continues to masquerade as “good advice.”

If questionable advice is easy to find, where can you turn for good advice about dating and relationships? Relationships always involve uncertainty and trial-and-error, but knowing where to focus your attention can help. Decades of relationship research points to a set of “predictive factors,” or special traits and experiences that best predict relationship success. If you know your predictive factors and pay close attention to those areas as your relationships unfold, you’ll be prepared to make better decisions about your love life.

I’ve been on the trail of these “predictive factors” for a while now, and have written about four of them already—commitment, love, satisfaction, and closeness. Today I’m going to unveil the fifth. This one is interesting folks. It hasn’t been studied a lot, but in one huge analysis of 37,761 dating couples, it surprised everyone by emerging as the top predictor of long-term relationship success.2 I love unexpected results like this—it’s a good thing when scientists are surprised, right?

Before I pull back the curtain, why don’t you take today’s relationship quiz. It’s short, just 15 multiple-choice questions, and the personal feedback at the end will give you some insight into where your own relationship stands in this critical area. I recommend taking it now, before reading further, so you can give your natural responses.


Editors' note: This quiz is part of a project on great relationships conducted by contributor 
Melissa Schneider, LMSW, and is not supervised or conducted by ScienceOfRelationships.com,
other contributors, or the academic institutions affliliated with other contributors.

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Where Is This Going? Maybe Your Phone Knows

The key to decoding your relationship’s future could be sitting in your pocket right now. It’s not your wallet, or those breath mints, or that crumpled lottery ticket. It’s your cell phone.    

Similar to how a runny nose and sore throat can quickly let us know we have a cold, the right kind of information about our romantic relationships can tell us a lot about their future potential. For example, researchers know that a couple’s level of love, commitment, and “positive illusions” are powerful predictors of future relationship success (see my last article here), whereas the number of fights couples have and their respective personality traits are surprisingly less important (see more here.). I call these “predictive elements” -- i.e., the punchy details that psychologists use to predict the quality or future outcome of relationships (basically, whether or not a couple will live happily ever after). Although we cannot rely on these elements to foresee the precise outcome of any particular relationship, it is safe to think of them as useful clues. Predictive elements are like the weather report from a station you trust. If they say there’s a 90% chance of rain, then you should probably pack an umbrella. 

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Top Three Predictors of Successful Relationships: PI.C.L.

I love making up a good acronym as much as the next relationship researcher, and today I’ve invented one about the top three predictors of a successful relationship: PICL*.

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And For My Next Trick: The Magical Effects of Positive Illusions About Romantic Partners

Think about the last time you had a crush. What did it feel like? Chances are this experience involved overwhelming feelings of passion, confusion and excitement. Relationship researchers often refer to this experience as passionate love,1 or “Eros.”2 When someone is in this state of crush, thoughts about their partner (or desired partner) dominate their mind. Further, a person often thinks about their crush in highly idealized ways; their partner is the most beautiful, intelligent, and compassionate person in the world, and there is simply no way you can convince the crush-er otherwise.

Although common when someone is crushing, these idealizations—called positive illusions3—can occur at any relationship stage.

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“I Do…for Now”: Introducing Temporary Marriage Licenses

Legislators in Mexico proposed a new way to lower divorce rates: temporary marriage licenses. The controversial new law, currently under consideration, allows couples to decide how long they want their marriage contracts to last (two years is the minimum). After that period of time, if the couple is still happy, they can renew their marriage contract. But if they aren’t happy, the contract simply expires and couples are free to end the marriage without having to get divorced (read the full story here).

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Love is Blind. Your Friends Aren’t.

I previously wrote about the things that do and do not predict breakups. Now that we have a good handle on what predicts breakup, let's tackle the question “who predicts breakup?” 

The answer seems fairly obvious, right? If I want to know if your relationship will stand the test of time, I should ask you and/or your partner. Who knows more about a relationship than the people actually in that relationship? You’re there (and hopefully awake) for all of the interactions you have with your partner.

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Should I Stay or Should I Go? Five Predictors (and Five Not So Good Predictors) of Relationship Success 

Last week we posted a quiz to see how much our readers knew regarding the predictors of relationship stability (or success). Overall, it looks like we've got some work to do; the average score on the quiz was 48% (remember, random guessing should average 50%). The questions in the quiz were inspired by some of my work on understanding what factors influence relationship outcomes. One of my main research areas is the role of commitment in predicting the “success” of dating relationships (using the term loosely; i.e., staying together vs. breaking-up).

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Are You Hot or Not?

Let’s face it. Some of us are physically attractive. Others are…well…not so much. Logic tells us that we can’t all be above average in attractiveness. So how do you know if you are physically attractive or not? Who should you ask? Well, the answer to that question lies in the kind of answer you want. Do you want the truth, or would you rather just feel good about yourself? (Unfortunately, these aren’t always the same thing.)

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Ask Dr. Loving: Are Long-Distance Relationships Rewarding?

"DX" asked the following question: I'm wondering if there are any studies about long distance relationships? There's just so much knowledge I believe to be gained from focusing on such a very difficult but highly rewarding relationship type.

Dear DX-- You are exactly right; there's a lot to be learned by looking at the dynamics of long-distance relationships (or what those of us in the business affectionately refer to as "LDRs"). Fortunately, researchers have not neglected this common relationship context. Please see our previous posts by SofR contributor Dr. Bevan (see here and here).

Additionally, below I've pasted an excerpt from our forthcoming book, where I answer the question: Is distance bad for relationships?

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Test Your Relationship IQ: Question #1 (Answers Edition) - The Power of Positive Illusions

Last week as part of our "Test Your Relationship IQ" series, we asked readers:

The Question: Holding an inflated view of your partner leads to disappointment and is bad for your relationship.

The Breakdown:  27% of readers answered True, 63% answered False

The Answer:  If you're dying to know, the answer is at the end. Otherwise a bit of explanation first...

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Rose-Colored Glasses and Relationship Satisfaction

Research by Dr. Sandra Murray and colleagues, appearing in Psychological Science (April 2011), indicates that those who idealize their partners don't show a decline in satisfaction during their first three years of marriage. Click here for the Scientific American podcast about this work and here for the writeup on businessweek.com.