Great Expectations: How Unrealistic Optimism Hurts Romance

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What’s your general approach to the world? Is the glass half full, half empty, or not there at all? Do you come at relationships with a sunny disposition, or with the expectation that things will go wrong? All our interactions are clouded by previous ones, and this is especially true in intimate settings. If your partner cheated on you, you’re likely to be more conscious of ‘the signs’ in the future. Plus, people who have been rejected are more observant when their new partner starts pulling away, physically and emotionally.

Sometimes, we feel this may be a matter of falling for the same type of person and repeating familiar relationship patterns, but it often goes deeper than that. It could be that your misconceptions and preconceptions are making you act a certain way, and your actions are therefore resulting in the very response you’re trying to avoid. In this sense, the self-fulfilling prophesy cam be a very real thing.

A 2016 study has some interesting discoveries regarding this. Lemay and Venaglia wrote a paper called ‘Relationship Expectations and Relationship Quality.’ It noted that the way we think about relationships can have a direct effect on how things turn out, and that can be both positive and negative, depending on the situation.

Positive thinking doesn’t fix everything

For example, most newly-weds go into nuptials with positive expectations and no pre-nups,but divorce still happens half the time. At the other extreme, someone who goes into a marriage or relationship expecting their partner to cheat on them or leave them will often inadvertently act in a way that prompts this occurrence, fulfilling their expectation.

On the upside, couples who expect their partners to be positive, and forgiving often receive these responses. It might be because the partner with a bright outlook models the behaviour they expect, so their partner mirrors their actions. Unfortunately, your partner sometimes requires too much from you, which makes you fall short … however hard you try,

Also, positive thinking isn’t always accompanied by positive action.If anything, it could be the opposite. After all, if you partner is so sure that everything will be fine, they might not put in the effort required to support and maintain your relationship. Their assumption that things will work themselves out can leave you feeling alone on the relationship, and if they maintain their hands-off approach, things eventually disintegrate.

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The danger of unrealistic optimism

Lemay and Venaglia christened this problem ‘unrealistic optimism’, and their research found it sometimes inhibits problem-soling activities in a couple, because the couple relies on positive thinking instead. Of course this applies in the sexual arena as well. A man who believes his sexual performance will always be superb may consistently psyche himself into following through.

On the other hand, if he expects to ejaculate early, he probably will. And if he thinks the issue will fix itself,he’ll be unwilling to seek help or learn new bedroom techniques. Outside of intimate interactions, people who exhibit unrealistic optimism might continue to drive drunk or smoke cigarettes, believing they could never get into an accident or contract lung cancer.

This type of person is equally likely to take a passive approach to relationship problems, believing their partner will never break up with them. At the same time, they may participate in behaviour that damages the relationship, like flirting or taking their partner for granted. They assume their partner is committed so they don’t protect the relationship.

Accept, don’t reject

Unfortunately, people with unrealistic optimism often pair up with someone sensitive to rejection. This type of partner imagines the relationship sky is falling even when everything is okay. It may be driven by low self-esteem, where past experiences wrongly convince them they’re unworthy of happiness. Or maybe they’ve had a string of bad relationships.

This may cause them to act out destructive patterns that push their partners away. A 1998 study by Downey et al found evidence that actively expecting rejection leads you to unconsciously see rejection, fulfilling your own prophesy. For example, rejection-sensitive women psychologically turned away from their partners after a fight, reducing the chances of making up, and increasing chances of making the rift more permanent.

These observations are crucial for anyone dealing with early ejaculation or erectile dysfunction. If you expect bad results, you’re more likely to get them. Keep your attitude positive, seek help, and engage on behaviour that repairs or at least improves your bedroom problem rather than aggravating it.

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