Entries in ideal partner (6)


Your Ideal Marriage Partner: Intelligence Edition

One of the great things about being a relationship scientist is that you get to ask interesting questions and find out the answers to those questions. One question that has always intrigued me is whether people want a smart partner, and if so, how smart? I have also wondered if men and women will differ (i.e., will men be less likely to want a smarter partner?)

On the one hand, an intelligent partner would be more desirable because you may benefit from more insightful conversation, a better sense of humor, and more successful career outcomes. On the other hand, if your partner is smarter than you they may have more power and influence, and thus make more of the decisions and it could make you feel bad about yourself due to social comparison. 

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Do Your Preferences for a Romantic Partner Influence Your Actual Choice of Romantic Partner?

A lot of research, from all over the world, has asked people about what they prefer in a future romantic partner. There is a big assumption in almost all of this research: that these preferences matter when people choose a romantic partner from many possible alternatives. For example, if my friend Chris says he prefers a woman that is a few years younger than him, outgoing, ambitious, and wants to start a family (eventually), most would assume when deciding to enter a romantic relationship he should be more likely to select someone that closely matches, rather than defies, his preferences. If my friend Shelby says she is looking for a dark-haired man with sagacious eyebrows who can simultaneously walk and chew gum, then she should be more likely to enter a relationship with a man that is both intelligent and has eyebrows and that scores high on the sagaciousness scale (assuming he knows what sagaciousness means).

I have not counted the number of studies that focus on “interpersonal attraction”, the general term used to describe research that is concerned with partner preferences, but it is safe to say that there are hundreds upon hundreds of published research studies on this topic.1 So do individual’s preferences for a romantic partner when they are single reflect the traits and personalities of their actual future romantic partners?

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The Michelangelo Phenomenon: How Your Partner Sculpts a Better (or Worse) You

Take a moment to think about the kind of person you would ideally like to be. What skills or traits do you want to possess? Is it important to you that you develop greater patience, foster leadership skills, become physically fit, or learn to speak another language? Psychologists believe that each person has an “ideal self” they strive to become.1 This ideal self is essentially the person you would be if you fulfilled all your dreams and aspirations. Certainly, you might be able to work toward your ideal qualities on your own, but it seems that your romantic partner can be especially helpful (or unhelpful) in shaping you, a process researchers refer to as the Michelangelo phenomenon.2 

This phenomenon is named for the Renaissance artist Michelangelo (famous for the Pietà and David, among other masterpieces), who viewed sculpting as an opportunity for an artist to release an ideal figure from the block of stone in which it slumbers. The ideal figure exists within the stone, and the artist simply removes the stone covering it. In romantic relationships, partners adapt to each other, adjusting as needed to keep the relationship running smoothly, and over time these responses can become a relatively permanent part of who we are (read more about this idea here). Thus, our romantic partners can “sculpt” us (and we can “sculpt” our partners) just as Michelangelo sculpted marble figures.

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You Were So Perfect When We First Met


Match Me if You Can: Lack of Matching Between Partners Predicts Divorce

Let’s play a quick game. What do all of these celebrity couples have in common?: Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries; Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony; Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher; Heidi Klum and Seal; Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. If you said divorced, you’d be correct (we would have also accepted “lack of talent” as a correct answer). These couples are just a few among the many who had a marriage that didn’t survive, and some, like Kim and Kris, had barely left the wedding chapel by the time they were divorced! (Clearly, they didn’t think this one through before having a multi-million dollar wedding!). 

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Partner Ideals: Do They Matter?

You might call it your dream date, your prototype, or, if you’re the pragmatic sort, you may call it your list of must-haves. Regardless of the framing, if you’re single-and-looking then you probably have an idea of the sort of romantic partner you’re after. And although some of the qualities you’re looking for are probably attractive to everyone (e.g., trustworthiness), you may also be after other personality traits that are attractive to some but not to others (e.g., sophistication). Ultimately, though, does it really matter? To what extent do we actually pick partners who resemble our “ideal partner” images?

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