New Study Shows Having Low Expectations For Your Marriage Might Be The Key To Happiness

How you deal with your 99 problems is so important.

Most newlyweds worry about the many problems that can potentially ruin their marriage.

So, to figure out which of these problems should be their biggest cause for concern, Dr. James McNulty,  a psychology professor at Florida State University, studied 135 newlywed couples for four years in eastern Tennessee. Most of his subjects were White, in their mid-20s, and lived on an average combined annual income of less than $40,000. 

The results of his extensive  study titled "Should Spouses Be Expecting Less From Marriage?" were published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin last week. The findings show an interesting correlation between marital expectations and individual happiness levels: those who went into their marriage with high expectations that could not be met were generally unhappy, while those with lower expectations were more likely to be happy. 

Contrary to popular belief, then, low expectations for marriage might be the key to success, as those expectations are more likely to be met. 

While expectations being met is key to a married individuals' happiness, McNulty also found that the way couples communicated when expectations were not being met also contributed to the success or failure of the relationship. 

To understand the various communication methods couples had when dealing with expectations not being met, McNulty videotaped two ten-minute sessions per couple in which they discussed their issues. The problems discussed ran the gamut of normal marital stressors from money, to sex, to kids. 

After reviewing all the videos, McNulty identified a potent relationship-killer: passive aggression.

When couples directly addressed their problems with one another, they were more likely to find greater happiness and satisfaction in their relationship. However, couples who addressed their issues indirectly, tended to be less happy and satisfied in their marriages as time went on. 

"That is why it [passive aggression] is problematic," McNulty told NPR in an email. "It conveys discontent without providing the partner with clear information about how to address the underlying issue."

If your expectations for the marriage were low from the beginning, however, passive aggressiveness was less likely to affect the individual's happiness: Couples were generally satisfied meeting their low expectations and didn't become less happy over time. 

If you do have high expectations for your relationship and want to meet them, however, this study proves you certainly can. You just have to put in the time, effort, and, be willing to openly communicate. 

While there's no single, fool-proof way to ensure you'll always have a happy relationship, resolving issues in open and honest discussions can only help.

Cover image via Unsplash