Do you look to your partner as a role model? Over my 13 years of marriage I have consistently found myself thinking about ways that my wife is a better person than I am. This has motivated me to become a better person, not only as a spouse, but in general. But does this type of thinking actually help most relationships?
The scientific word we use for the phenomenon of looking up to our romantic partner as a role model is called idealistic distortion. That sounds negative but it highlights that many of us have an overly positive view of our romantic partner that is slightly distorted from reality. But that doesn't mean it's necessarily bad. In fact, research has found that this type of thinking can have both positive and negative effects on relationships. Here's how to make sure it has a positive impact on your own relationship:
1. Let It Motivate You
It's one thing to look up to your partner but what really helps relationships is when such thinkingmotivates us to be better. This is not the same as feeling guilty because we don't feel worthy of our partner's attention or love. Again, think of the role models you had growing up. You wanted to be like them and act like them. They made you a better human being and you're probably where you are today in part because of them. Your partner should be the same way. When our partners motivate us to change for the better, our relationships are often healthier and happier.
2. Let the Positive Overshadow the Negative
Another positive benefit of thinking about your partner as your role model is that it helps us avoid fixating on the negative things about our partner we don't like. Every spouse or dating partner you have ever had (or will have) will have things about them that you don't like. This is a simply a fact of all relationships. But if we're focused on what we like or admire about our partners we're less likely to let these little things create tension, frustration, or negative feelings in the relationship.
3. Idealizing is NOT Idol Worship
Thinking positively about our partner can have negative effects if we take such thinking to the extreme and believe our partner can do no wrong. This has two negative effects. First, we may develop unrealistic expectations of our "perfect" partner that they will never live up to. Second, such thinking may keep us in a relationship that has become abusive or otherwise extremely unhealthy (in fact, this type of thinking is common in abusive relationships). While it's great to think about your spouse in a positive light, realize that they are still fallible because they are human.
The Relate Institute is a not-for-profit organization that revolves around the aim of distributing the Relate Assessment - the most comprehensive premarital/marital assessment available - to as many couples and individuals as we can reach. We believe that all may benefit from assessing personal strengths and weaknesses as relationship partners, and work to help make relationship success a reality.