Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Positive Illusions"

The idea that holding overly positive, "rose-colored" impressions of one's spouse/partner seems to improve the quality of relationships may strike some as counterintuitive. It could be argued, for example, that viewing one's partner realistically might be more likely to promote personal improvement in the partner, than would the apparent overlooking of any shortcomings.

However, as studied by the trenchant trio of Sandra Murray (whom I know from my years in Buffalo), John Holmes, and Dale Griffin, such "positive illusions" appear to be beneficial for couples. As summarized by Murray and colleagues (2003, p. 290):

...[individuals] were happier in their relationships when they saw their partner more generously than their partner saw himself or herself. In fact, people were also happier in their relationships when their partner put the best possible spin on the available evidence and idealized them.

Over the longer term, these types of positive illusions had positive, self-fulfilling effects. Specifically, people ultimately reported relatively greater satisfaction, less conflict, and fewer doubts about their partner the more they idealized their partner initially and the more their partner idealized them initially.

Also doing research in this area is Sylvia Niehuis, a new colleague of mine on the Human Development and Family Studies faculty at Texas Tech University. Sylvia's arrival got me looking at the positive-illusions literature again, which in turn, inspired me to write the following song...


Positive Illusions
Lyrics by Alan Reifman
(May be sung to the tune of “The Grand Illusion,” Dennis DeYoung, for Styx)

How do lovers, view their partners?
Honestly, with warts and all?
Or is it, through glasses tinted rose?

Does inflating, your perception?
Raise your, satisfaction level?
Or does it, contribute to your woes?

Are we fooled by, being in love?
Seeing just, what we want to see,
Getting ideas of, what coupled life should be,
Is it real, or fantasy?

So if your relationship, lacks complete effusion,
Don’t worry, help is on the way,
Thriving couples hold, positive illusions,
And happiness, is here to stay,
It’s here to stay…


Further Reading

Fowers, B.J., Fışıloğlu, H., & Procacci, E. (in press). Positive marital illusions and culture: A comparison of American and Turkish spouses’ perceptions of their marriages. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Fowers, B.J., Lyons, E., Montel, K., & Shaked, N. (2001). Positive illusions about marriage among married and single individuals. Journal of Family Psychology, 15, 95-109.

Fowers, B.J., Veingrad, M.R., & Dominicis, C. (2002). The unbearable lightness of positive illusions: Engaged individuals' explanations of unrealistically positive relationship perceptions. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 450–460.

Miller, P.J., Niehuis, S., & Huston, T.L. (2006). Positive illusions in marital relationships: A 13-year longitudinal study. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 1579-1594.

Murray, S.L., Holmes, J.G., & Griffin, D.W. (1996a). The benefits of positive illusions: Idealization and the construction of satisfaction in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 79–98.

Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G., & Griffin, D. W. (1996b). The self-fulfilling
nature of positive illusions in romantic relationships: Love is not blind, but prescient. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 1155–1180.

Murray, S.L., Holmes, J.G., Griffin, D.W. (2003). Reflections on the self-fulfilling effects of positive illusions. Psychological Inquiry, 14, 289-295.

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