When my husband and I went to therapy a while back, I started to realize for the first time that I was afraid he thought I was capable of more than I actually was. It eventually came out that I was deeply afraid I wasn't achieving enough and that he felt like he'd gotten duped into a "bait and switch"–that I was way better when we were dating than I was now that we were married. You can probably imagine how scared I was that he would wake up one day, see the "real me", and decide to leave because this wasn't the life he signed up for when he married me.
A recent article talked about how this exact phenomenon occurs in a lot of relationships. The researchers found that there's a certain point where partners feel over-idealized by their spouses and how this may start to cause trouble in relationships. It doesn't matter whether the spouse actually over-idealizes them or not–it's about the partner's perception of this over-idealization. When people feel like their partner hasplaced them on a pedestal, there are two typical reactions:
1. They start being selfish
and stop giving to the relationship because they realize they can do no wrong in their partner's eyes and they don't need to work for the relationship anymore.
2. They feel threatened
by their partner thinking they're better than they actually are. These people end up feeling anxious because their partner doesn't understand their "true self". They, (like in my experience), are scared that one day their partner will "wake up" and decide to leave because they don't like what they see.
Now, to some extent, idealizing your partner's qualities is a great thing for your relationship–particularly in the beginning stages of a relationship, where passion and romance are high. It's important to always look for the best in your partner, but it's also important to communicate that it's okay if your partner isn't perfect and that they don't have to live up to over-idealized traits and abilities just to be accepted by you. Here are some practical tips to help avoid this common pitfall in your relationship:
1. Be cautious with your compliments
We don't mean hold back when you want to tell your partner something you love about them. This just means to be careful how you craft your compliments. Be sure that you communicate that you love your partner unconditionally, not just because of what they've accomplished or done.
If you find yourself in one of the above camps (feeling selfish or threatened), explore it with each other! Often these types of feelings go unspoken because we ourselves aren't even fully aware we have them. Have a conversation about expectations of each other in your relationship and be honest about if you feel they are too high or unequal in any way.
3. Pay attention to your feelings
If you find yourself feeling guilty for something out of fear of what your partner will think about it, voice that! Chances are, your partner won't actually be as disappointed as you have built them up to be in your head, but you'll never know until you talk about it with them and ask how they feel. Don't walk around quietly harboring fears that you aren't good enough for your partner…that does nobody any favors in a relationship.
In my case, once we had a name for what I was feeling and what I was afraid of, my husband and I were able to explicitly communicate what we expected from each other and I was able to hear that regardless of what I was able to achieve or not achieve in life, he loved and accepted me for who I was. It's worth having the conversation if you ever worry that you're not good enough for your partner.
This article was originally published on Relate Institue. It has been republished here with permission.
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.