We've all heard that low expectations keep disappointment at bay. But when it comes to marriage at least, that's not exactly true. In fact, couples who set lower standards for their marriages can end up less satisfied than those who reach for the stars.
According to a recent study, this actually turns out to be true. Researchers at Florida State University assessed 135 newlywed couples and found that couples who reported having relatively high standards for their marriage also said they were relatively satisfied in their relationships and engaged in little indirect hostility with one another.
On the flip side, the researchers found some couples who reported having lower standards for their marriages also said they were less happy — and showed more hostility toward one another. Not only that, their research shows that higher marriage standards seem to increase couples' marriage satisfaction over time.
That couples with higher standards are happier is really no surprise, though, if you think about it. As Lesli Doares, marriage coach and author of Blueprint For a Lasting Marriage, puts it, "high standards provides clarity and structure to the marriage. With them, both spouses are clear about what is expected from the very beginning, when love and commitment are the highest."
Rather than set themselves up for failure or disappointment, couples who set higher standards are more likely to invest the time and effort needed to meet them. And, says Doares, "meeting those standards results in positive outcomes that reinforce the behaviors making them more likely to continue, and a strong, healthy, successful relationship will be the result."
With that and these findings in mind, you may be thinking it's high-time to raise your own marriage standards (or pat yourself on the back if they're already sky-high). But where to start? One way to know if you need to kick your marriage standards up a notch is to reflect on your own deal breakers, as well as what is and isn't working in your relationship. Be honest in your assessment, Doares says, and see what could use improvement. Then, sit down with your partner and "create a vision of what you want your marriage to look like in terms of lifestyle, finances, friends and family, intimacy, household management, boundaries, and privacy," she recommends.
But before you take your standards too far, it's best to keep in mind that "standards should be set as high as possible while still being achievable," Doares says. They should focus on behaviors and be reasonable." For example, she explains, "setting a standard that your partner can never find someone outside of your marriage attractive is unreasonable, but expecting him not to act on that attraction is."
Finally, if you don't think you need to set marriage standards at all, think again: "Developing standards may seem unnecessary in the beginning when things may be working well. It may also seem like why spoil a good thing by discussing potentially challenging issues," Doares says. "But it's easier to define the path when things are good and the desire to keep it that way is mutual. Waiting until an expectation is violated and one partner is upset makes the process much more difficult. Being calm and clear headed is much easier when you aren't dealing with the immediate fallout from something."