Should Spouses Be Expecting Less from Marriage


The study, published this week in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, suggests that there is a sort of “sweet spot,” where the balance between spouses’ expectations for their marriage, and their experience within their marriage, is optimal and the result is a happy and fulfilling marriage. Conversely, posits the study, if spouses enter marriage with high expectations, and then come to feel that the relationship has fallen short of fulfilling those expectations, their relationship will suffer and the marriage may end. The rather unsatisfying inverse of that situation is that couples who enter a marriage with low expectations are not likely to be disappointed. If these low-expectation spouses do not then become less happy and do not end their marriage, the question remains as to just how fulfilling and satisfying their marriage is.

The research underlying the study, conducted by a psychology professor at Florida State University named James McNulty, examined whether couples entering marriage now have too many expectations for their marriage, and whether their relationship suffers when those expectations are not met. Professor McNulty’s study concludes that couples who communicate well and openly, even if they have problems, more generally report their marriage to be meeting their high expectation for happiness. On the other hand, marriages in which one or both of the spouses resort to hostility, either directly or indirectly, are marriages that result in the parties disconnecting from one another. The hostility prevents couples from addressing underlying issues and, unsurprisingly, it would seem, the marriages are reportedly less happy and fulfilling.

The study indicates that therapy and/or marriage counseling frequently does have a positive effect and that, in any event, those couples who can talk through their underlying issues usually find the best results. In the long run, it is important that couples have reasonable expectations for their spouses and for their relationship, and those who do are reportedly happier in their marriages.

As with many aspects of forming relationships and also of ending relationships, it is important to demand and to expect enough, but not to expect too much, in order to feel satisfied with the result.

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About the author

About Lawrence Welsh

A funny thing happened to Larry (Lawrence C. Welsh) on the way to his professional career in the practice of law. After graduating from college and before entering law school, he took an extended tour through the hospitality industry, working his way through both the service and business sides of hotels, restaurants and resorts in six states and the District of Columbia. Taking the business acumen and the ever-watchful attention to detail so well-honed during that experience into his lifelong passion to practice law has led Larry to his position as Chief Legal Counsel and head of the firm’s Forensic Support Team. Before joining the firm, Larry worked in the public defender’s office, through which he added an array of advocacy skills and trial experience to his resume. Since joining the firm in 2003, Larry has handled a full range of family law issues, which he continues to do, while lending experience and direction to others in the firm, particularly where and when the resources of the Forensic Support Team are most appropriate. Larry is also licensed in New Jersey, and he leads the firm’s New Jersey team operations. Larry is a multi-year “Top Lawyer” honoree in Main Line Today magazine, and he has been named as an “Awesome/Top Attorney” for family law and divorce in Suburban Life Magazine. Larry is an active member of the bar associations and family law sections of Delaware County, Chester County, and the state of Pennsylvania.