Perceptions and relationship satisfaction

Josh Lockhart

Mark Young, a counselling professor at Gonzaga University, did research around what makes couples "healthy" and "happy." He found there were key themes in the healthy couples he interviewed. These themes were security, perceptions, expectations and interactions. However, there seemed to be the most emphasis on perceptions.

Ones perception of the relationship informs and influences the expectations of the relationship. The expectations of the relationship influence how one interacts in the relationship. Interactions then confirm the perception. Or the interactions may reject the perception, but couples may discount the interaction to maintain the perception. The perception needs to change when the interaction disconfirms the perception, but that is an uncomfortable process.

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Think of this example, a wife calls her husband the 10-minute father, meaning she perceives that he only spends 10 minutes a day interacting with the children. She wants him to stop being so involved with work and become more involved with the children. The wife was given a challenge to time how long her husband actually interacts with the children for a week. Much to her surprise she found he was actually spending hours a day, and many hours on the weekend, with the children. Actual reality was contradicting her perceptions of reality.

The wife now has a choice, maintain the perception and be dissatisfied with her husband's contribution, or she could change her perception and realize that her husband is contributing to the family. If she changed her perception, she would expect her husband to be with the children a couple hours a week, and the interactions between her husband and the children could change for better, thus confirming her new perception. This could also impact her relationship with her husband and with her children.

Now this isn't to say that perceptions are the end all and be all of relationships. The wife's perception of a 10-minute father could have been true. This would then mean an intervention would have been needed at the interaction point, so the husband would start spending more time with the family.

This logic of perceptions informing expectations, and expectations influencing interactions, and interactions confirming perceptions can be applied to our relationship with ourselves, with our children, with coworkers and so on.

If we perceive ourselves as worthless, we will most likely behave in a way that meets our expectations. If we believe our kids are lazy, we will set a low expectation for them. Note that we tend to look only for interactions that confirm our perceptions. We don't like change, so we don't usually look for evidence to counter our perceptions.

Let us start developing healthy perceptions of our relationships, and become ever more aware of how our perceptions skew the reality of our relationships with others.

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