What do your standards say about your relationship?
Can your expectations of a relationship affect how satisfied you are with it? If you have high standards, are you more likely to be disappointed? Or can having high standards be a motivator to make your relationship stronger?
A long-term study of recently married couples tested this question, to see how a person’s standards affect their relationship satisfaction . It turns out that it all depends on how happy you are to begin with.
The results depended on whether or not there were existing problems in the relationships. Those with fewer problems were more likely to get good results from having high standards. Those with more problems were more likely to find their high standards causing further problems.
Newly married couples were asked to rate their relationship satisfaction early on, and then again four years later. They were also quizzed about their standards, and on how important certain relationship factors were to them. These factors included communication, trust, sex, affection, and money management.
Those who expressed some relationship dissatisfaction at the start were more likely to take a hit from having high expectations. Those who were happiest went on to feel the most benefit from having higher standards.
These results suggest that, as long as you start out on the right footing, having high expectations can be a source of motivation in maintaining a positive relationship. Whereas, if there are already some problems rooted in the relationship, having higher standards can develop into further problems.
This might seem logical - the higher your standards are, the harder it is to meet them. However, this study shows that, at least where relationships are concerned, it’s your ability to meet expectations that affects what kind of an impact they have on you. If you have the capacity to grow, you’ll benefit from having high standards. If you don’t, you may suffer.
So, if you’re struggling, there are two things you can do – either lower your expectations a little, until you feel better able to manage, or seek some support to help strengthen your relationship.
If you do sense that there are problems, even if they’re only little ones, seeking help from a professional relationship counsellor can help prevent them from growing into something bigger and allow you to deal with them while they are still small.
 McNulty, J.K. (2016). Should Spouses Be Demanding Less From Marriage? A Contextual Perspective on the Implications of Interpersonal Standards. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42(4), 444 –457