In Brief

An appreciation of a spouse's weaknesses as well as strengths may lead to a more satisfying marriage and a reduced likelihood of divorce, according to a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 88, No. 2). In fact, global adoration can actually spur marital troubles if it is not grounded in realistic spousal assessment, says study author Lisa Ann Neff, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Toledo, in Ohio.

Neff reached this conclusion by recruiting 82 couples that had been married less than six months. She asked them to evaluate their partners broadly--using the Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale as a measure of global affection--by agreeing or disagreeing with statements such as: "I think of my partner as being a worthwhile person overall."

Then, using the Self Attributes Questionnaire, the participants ranked their spouse's specific strengths in areas such as intelligence, social skills, tidiness, organization and athletic ability.

On the measure of global affection, all of the participants rated their spouses very highly. Over half of them gave their husbands or wives perfect marks. However, when evaluating their partners' specific strengths and weaknesses, some of the spouses were more even-handed--identifying areas of weakness that agreed with the partners' self-assessments.

Other participants, however, glossed over the negative aspects of their partners, and those were the couples that tended to get divorced over the subsequent four years, says Neff.

"Loving your partner is not enough," says Neff. "You have to love the partner and have an accurate perception of [him or her.]"

Taking off the rose-tinted glasses might assist newlyweds in having reasonable expectations of their spouses, Neff says. For example, if you know your wife is disorganized, you won't be surprised if she pays the bills late and could even take over the bill-paying yourself, she notes.