Yes, research tells us that sex, laughter and fitness are all important players in a satisfying relationship (and, no, couple selfies probably don't make the list, but, oh, aren't they cute?). But the latest news from relationship researchers on what makes marriages strong might surprise you—and it takes direct aim at what may be the biggest marriage challenge of the new millennium: high expectations.
A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University reports that the couples with the least expectations for their marriages had (surprise!) stronger relationships that were more likely to stand the test of time. It all comes on the heels of what the researchers say is an interesting phenomenon happening in today's marriages: Couples are more often bringing bigger expectations to their marriages, but investing less time into making them great—which, no surprise here, is a recipe for marital distress.
"They're asking less of their marriage regarding basic physiological and safety needs, but they're asking more of their marriage regarding higher psychological needs like the need for personal growth," says Eli Finkel, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the lead author of the study.
"In contemporary marriages," Finkel continued, "Americans look to their marriage to help them 'find themselves' and to pursue careers and other activities that facilitate the expression of their core self."
In the study, Finkel and his colleagues explored the historical view of marriage versus today's take on love, and while the idea of marriage meeting a person's need for personal growth and self-discovery can, in theory, produce high-quality relationships and happy marriages, it may also put too much of a strain on many relationships—especially since American spouses spend less time alone with each other now, on average, than in the past.
The bottom line, at least according to this research? "If you want your marriage to help you achieve self-expression and personal growth," Finkel says, "it's crucial to invest sufficient time and energy in the marriage."