How Are They Staying Together?

There are dozens, if not hundreds, perhaps thousands of reasons why relationships flourish or fail. And the research to explain these factors is accumulating.

As Lisa Neff, Professor at the University of Texas found in a 2013 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. High “Dispositional Optimism” is a factor for flourishing, Disposition is your natural state, attitude. How you learn how people would predict you to respond. Optimism is a term encompassing positivity, optimism, and hope.

When Lisa Neff and her co-authors researched first-year newlyweds, the dispositional optimists reported a more stable well-being and were more suited to conflict management. By contrast, the relationship optimists remain positive as a condition of the quality of the relationship at any moment. The well-being of this group declined to display poorer problem solving, avoided touchy discussions and suppressed their own desires. In other words, having arguably high expectations lead to greater disappointment or discouragement with inevitable minor conflicts.

So what is the lesson? We all know this… optimism is always better! Agreed. And you may be part of the population that is not a natural optimist but you may want to lower your expectations, standards, requirements, and imperatives when conflict and disagreements arise. Failure to do so, especially over decades, can cause irreversible damage.  

I am reminded by my deceased father. He had dispositional optimism (a trait not carried genetically to his son). He also had hardships, not least of which the loss of his wife, my mother, at an early age. Regardless, aside from positive emotions of joy or happiness, he had only two ways of expressing a negative experience. If it was minor he dismissed it, if it was moderate he would say “that was disappointing”, and if it was major he would say “well, that was a real disappointment”. His way of regarding things this way prevented damaging anger, lingering hurt or festering depression.

So, strive for an optimistic state. Find and list the things you are grateful for that he/she has (or do not have for that matter). When all else fails, change your expectations to preferences. That will keep you from anger to disappointment.