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Lower Expectations Key to Marital Bliss?

Expecting Blips of Difficulty May Better Result in Long-Lasting Bliss
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WebMD Health News

May 12, 2004 -- It's all spelled out in those wedding vows: "For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health ..."You have been warned that once you walk down the aisle, expect bumps in the road ahead.

And new research indicates that if you're a newlywed, the better you're able to expect marriage blips instead of 24/7 bliss, the better your union's chances are to successfully reach that closing line: "So long as you both shall live."

Researchers find that couples are more likely to stay satisfied in their marriage when they enter it with an accurate picture of what awaits them -- even if it's not what they want. In other words, know that round-the-clock "happily ever after" is a fairy tale, and your Prince Charming will likely display some frog-like tendencies, at least on occasion.

How to Handle Those Curveballs

According to a new study in this month's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the key is that your expectations of "ever after" must accurately reflect the abilities -- or lack thereof -- that you and your mate have in handling the relationship curveballs you'll face.

"For some couples, that means lowering expectations, and for others, raising them," researcher and psychologist James McNulty, PhD, of Ohio State University, tells WebMD. "It depends on the skills you have, or don't have, at handling conflict. Marriage satisfaction goes down when a spouse's expectations don't fit with reality."

Let's say your spouse comes home moody because of work hassles. If you think that can suddenly change with a big smooch or nice dinner, your expectations may not jive with reality.

"You need to understand that when a partner is going through stress, your partner will not be perfect," says McNulty. "Many people, and especially newlyweds, expect their relationship will be perfect, even in times of stress. But when it isn't, they become disappointed, and as a result, have more stress and dissatisfaction."

Skills and Expectations Should Match

That can snowball into divorce, which occurred in 17 of the 82 couples that McNulty and colleague Benjamin Karney, PhD, of the University of Florida, followed over their four-year study. The couples, all married less than three months at study start, were first videotaped while talking about an issue of difficulty in their relationship. The researchers then rated the couples' predicted problem-solving skills.

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