Idealisation in relationships is characterised as the glorification of your partner. Especially in new relationships, we can all be guilty of idealising your partner whilst still in that sweet, sweet honeymoon period. It can be fantastic. You have found the light in the darkness, the sun to your sky, you feel as though everything that has happened to you has been leading you to this point. You are intoxicated by it.
Why do you idealise your partner?
To some extent, it is good. It is a very natural feeling. Your brain is swimming in a plethora of ‘romance’ chemicals as your primal self is encouraging you to mate. And it is also very understandable from a human level – you’ve just found (potentially) the one, why wouldn’t you be excited? ‘Positive partner illusions’ are actually beneficial as they increase the individual’s perceptions of their relationship. This leads to increased relationship satisfaction, self-esteem and wellbeing. Yet on the other hand, it has also been found that ‘positive partner illusions’ can also be destructive as they can lead to disappointment once the smoke has cleared.
Some people are more affected by ‘idealisation’ of their partners more than others. In the most extreme case, idealisation and devaluation has been found to occur in those with Borderline Personality Disorder. This is thought to be a defence mechanism used to cope with powerful anxiety. Idealisation allows the individual to experience the rush of the ‘in love’ feeling, which directs them away from their own mental discomfort. Devaluation is therefore a result of this. When their partner (inevitably) falls from these fierce expectations, the individual will deem them as ‘bad’ and worthless. This is another defence mechanism, shielding them from the harshness of reality.
What does this mean for you?
If you are idealising your relationship, it doesn’t mean you have Borderline Personality Disorder (although I suggest you see you GP if you are seriously questioning). Idealisation is very common in neurotypical people as well. It has been found to be more common in women than men and more likely if you had a crush on your partner beforehand. In a previous relationship of mine, my partner and I were interested in one another for four years(!) before we actually got together. And it turned into a Ross & Rachel romance (without anyone getting off the plane). With much reflection on this relationship, I realise now that it could have turned out great. But I had way too much time to idealise my partner before the relationship had even began! I had built up fantasy situations in my mind (don’t judge me, we all do that), fantasy conversations, arguments – the works. This made me anxious when problems inevitably began to arise. Every time something had not gone ‘the way I believed it should have’, it made me frustrated and feel like relationship was ‘wrong’. But of course, it was not wrong, my imagination had just become my own worst enemy. My anxiety had got the better of me.
From this experience, it has occurred to me that being a romantic at heart may not be a good thing (cue the hopeless romantic stereotype). I have come to realise that my inability to maintain relationships, is due to my ridiculously high expectations that I place on them. And I’m sure many of you are in the same boat.
How can you stop it before it ruins your relationship?
Firstly, it is good to set relationship expectations (even if you are single), that are as objective as possible. You can do this by writing a list of everything you are looking for and what you are unwilling to tolerate. Once the honeymoon period begins to fade, this will help you identify whether your partner’s qualities are deal breakers, or if you are just being unrealistic. Another method is by simply being a good conversationalist. In the early days of your relationship make sure you are seeking out as much information about your partner (the good, the bad and the ugly). This should help you adapt your expectations to a much more realistic image of your partner. Another method is giving yourself some rest days. If you find yourself becoming head over heels, putting your partner on a pedestal, it might be worth taking a step back, taking a few days away from your partner. These feelings usually occur when things are moving too fast and you’re drowning in all the love chemicals (back to them again). However, taking a few days (or even weeks) to focus on yourself, your personal goals and your own life will help to ground you again. You may want to take this time to remind yourself that they’re are only human, however great they appear to be!
What are the benefits of doing this?
Minimising intense idealisation during romantic relationships is beneficial for many reasons. For starters, if you got used to idealising your partner, what happens if they betray you? Or simply want to end the relationship? If you only view your partner as a flawless being that can do no wrong, you are likely to assume anything that goes wrong in the relationship is your own fault. This is a sure-fire way to chip away at your own self-worth. Whilst is good to take responsibility, it is never good to always take all the blame. Also, your partner won’t enjoy being idealised. No-one enjoys having to live up to high standards set by someone else, especially if it’s for someone they care about. They may try their best, but it’s tiring for them. They know they’re flawed and now they’re terrified for you to find this out too – this is not a healthy relationship!
One of the best outcomes of a serious, long-term relationship is that you will eventually come to know someone as well as yourself. Also, feel as comfortable around them as you do yourself. You know that your strengths are only as good as your weaknesses. There are certainly times where you hate yourself and times where you love yourself. Cut your partner the same slack! Reduce expectations, know your limits and enjoy your partner for everything that they are, warts and all. Psychology refers to this much more realistic version of idealisation as ‘protective idealisation’ (and it’s apparently very good for relationships!). There is no better way to make your partner feel more secure and happy in the relationship, as well as yourself.
So, with that thought in mind, the honeymoon period is over – time for some real love!