Award-winning psychologist says many have unrealistic expectations in marriage – Newshub
"The greater expectation for happiness… the greater the chance you're going to be disappointed." Credits: The Project & Getty Images
Our modern view of relationships is that they should be highways to our happiness and personal growth. We want our partners to contribute to every single one of our emotional needs.
And it’s been a long-held belief that married people are happier than those who aren’t.
Of course, common wisdom also once assured us the Earth was flat, left-handers were evil, and pineapple was a valid pizza topping.
Despite endless articles promising total joy by just tying the knot, the rate at which New Zealanders are getting hitched has been sliding since its peak 50 years ago and, according to Stats NZ, "continues a long downward trend".
The number of marriage and civil unions last year was just 17 percent of what it was back in 1971. When you see that dropoff on a graphic, it looks like one of the ski slopes at The Remarkables. Sure, it’s not a Black Diamond run, but you’d definitely need a motorized lift to get back to the top.
Maybe our growing disillusionment with marriage is the realisation that it won’t make you happy. That notion would likely please Dr Joshua Coleman.
"In some ways, the greater expectation for happiness in a romantic relationship, the greater the chance you’re going to be disappointed," the California-based clinical psychologist told The Project on Friday.
In any partnership, you’re going to have times where you feel bored, irritated, or even hating your partner, but Dr Coleman said those shouldn’t necessarily be dealbreakers.
"If you get too worried about those negative emotions, you’re either going to leave a potentially good relationship or not do the kind of work that real relationships require."
Gone are the partnership roles we sometimes see – either parroted or parodied – in old TV programmes from the ’50s and ’60s. Ironically, those roles were shown in a black-and-white portrayal starkly similar to the television broadcasts themselves. Rigid, defined, and almost business-like.
It’s not that those earlier generations had better marriages, far from it. They simply didn’t have such high expectations from a romantic relationship.
"Now, people get married or get divorced purely on the basis of whether or not that person is their soulmate," Dr Coleman told The Project.
"[Marriage is] not just this passive process of finding your soulmate and everything goes great. It doesn’t work that way."
But Dr Coleman said while he encourages this lowering of expectations, there are red flags that you should leave the relationship.
"Being with a partner who’s consistently critical, who’s contemptuous, who doesn’t seem very interested in your happiness, isn’t willing to work on the relationship… those can be serious signs you need to either get into couples therapy or get out."