At UBC Sauder, innovative ideas are hatched every day. Our professors challenge students to think differently and to make change in the world of business and beyond.
Professor Dale Griffin, a leading marketing and behavioural science scholar studying consumer judgment and decision making, made a discovery that sheds light on the key ingredients of a happy marriage. His study shows that when it comes to romance, losing touch with reality can be a good thing.
The study, published in Psychological Science, finds that unrealistically idealizing your romantic partner is actually beneficial.
“Seeing your partner in an unrealistically positive light is predictive of more forgiveness and less suspicion when difficulties come up, and a general tendency to look for the best explanation of your partner’s behaviour,” Griffin explains.
Typically, marital satisfaction declines in the first few years of marriage, but Griffin and his co-authors found that seeing a flawed lover as the perfect mate is a buffer against the corrosive effects of time, as the most idealistic newlyweds experienced no such decline in satisfaction.
He says couples need to make an effort to continue impressing each other so that the veil never comes off revealing their real – and less-than-perfect – selves.
“You should do your part in two ways – always be your best self with your partner, and try to see the best in them – even when it may not be there,” he says.
For the longitudinal study, the researchers asked newlyweds to rate themselves and their partner, and outline the qualities of their ideal partner every six months over a period of three years.
Griffin says the study, called “Tempting Fate or Inviting Happiness? Unrealistic Idealization Prevents the Decline of Marital Satisfaction,” ties into his academic interest in risk and decision making.
“There’s a lot of risk and potential reward in affairs of business and of love. For many decisions, being optimistic and ignoring the risk is the worst thing you can do. But we were interested in also looking at domains – like personal relationships – where being optimistic and slightly unrealistic about the risk might actually be a good thing,” he says.
Griffin, the Advisory Council Chair in Consumer Behaviour at UBC Sauder, is a part of the school’s Marketing and Behavioural Science Division, ranked sixth in the world for marketing research according to the latest rankings published by the American Marketing Association. He has published extensive research covering topics such as the relationship between national culture and corporate risk-taking, consumer reactions to health warnings, and entrepreneurship. He has taught in the school’s MBA, MM, PhD, BCom and Executive Education programs.