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

Lawrence C. (Larry) Welsh joined the firm in 2003 after five years of practice with the Delaware County Public Defender’s Office. Native to Lansdowne in Delaware County where he attended public schools, Larry graduated from St. Joseph’s College (in its pre-University days) and taught school briefly before entering the hospitality industry and working his way through hotels, restaurants and resorts in four states and the District of Columbia. As a graduate of Villanova University School of Law, Larry now focuses primarily on the firm’s family law practice along with other areas of the Law. Larry handles a full range of domestic relations matters throughout the five-county southeastern Pennsylvania area and looks forward to expanding the firm’s practice, especially in the family-law field, into New Jersey where he is one of three members of the firm (along with Gregory P. LaMonaca and Christopher R. Mattox) admitted to practice.