Most people would agree that having a partner who adores every quality—bad or good—is at the top of their wish list. While the idea of being put on a pedestal might sound great, it may not always be the case that being idealized is the key to a happy relationship. Consider the common question of why some people prefer “bad boys” and why nice guys sometimes finish last even though their heart is in the right place?
According to researchers, putting someone on a pedestal or over-idealization of a partner “occurs when perceptions of a partner’s positive evaluation of oneself meaningfully exceeds one’s own positive self-evaluation”. 99 dating couples between the ages of 17-36 years old who averaged a relationship length of 19.35 months participated in the research. Relationships where one partner over-idealizes the other often involves some form of dependence and power.
To write off over-idealization might be brash considering that idealization can be beneficial depending on the stage of relationship. Partners in dating relationships early on are more intimate with partner who idealized them while married partners are more intimate with partners who viewed them realistically.
The effects of over-idealization includes the following:
Over idealization leads partners to physically distance themselves from each other.
Lower relationship satisfaction in married couples was reported when partners felt that either their abilities or traits were being over-idealized at high levels.
Being somewhat idealized can be good for relationships but it becomes detrimental when it reaches a high level for married couples.
Slight to moderate perceptions of partner idealization may be optimal.
In dating couples, being idealized may encourage behaviors that maintain that view early on.
Being put on a pedestal may lead to self-centeredness and seeing less need to put partner’s needs first.
Once partners are in an established relationship, the idealized partner may feel less pressure to expend energy maintaining the relationship.
Perhaps this research is most poignant in reminding us that while being in the clouds can feel great, the benefits really lie in being realistic about your partner and the relationship. Having your partner see you in a genuine way reinforces your sense of self and congruency has shown to increase closeness. Finally, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing and it’s not always healthy for the heart.
Source: Tomlinson, M.J., Aron, A., Carmichael, L.C., Reis, T.H. & Holmes, G.J. (2013). The cost of being put on a pedestal: Effects of feeling over-idealized. Journal of Social and Personal Relatonships.
Amy Yew is a registered clinical counselor and relationship therapist. Tell us what you think and submit any questions you have to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also tweet your thoughts on Twitter @AmyYew.