Perceived partner idealization: Is there an optimal level?
Tomlinson, Jennifer Marie
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This dissertation explored the possibility of feeling over-idealized or"put up on a pedestal" by a romantic partner. Previous research showed that feeling under-idealized had detrimental effects on a relationship, but no work had considered the effects of the opposite extreme. The present study proposed that there is an optimal level of perceived partner idealization (PPI) from a partner, such that too little or too much PPI leads to decreased relationship satisfaction (this implies a curvilinear effect). It was hypothesized that, in addition to decreased relationship well-being, overly high PPI would be associated with (a) decreased relationship accommodation, (b) a decreased sense of autonomy in the relationship, (c) a fear of discovery of one's true self and (d) decreased responsiveness to the partner. These hypotheses and research questions were examined in (a) a questionnaire study of 159 undergraduates in relationships and (b) a laboratory experiment designed to manipulate over-idealization in a sample of 70 dating couples. Study 1 found that perceived partner idealization of traits had mainly linear associations with relationship satisfaction, relationship accommodation, autonomy threat, fear of discovery, and responsiveness; however, perceived partner idealization of abilities had the predicted curvilinear association with all of the dependent variables. Thus PPI of traits seemed to have uniformly positive relationship effects, while PPI of abilities has positive effects up to a point but negative effects at high levels. Study 2 found that individuals who underwent an over-idealization manipulation experienced increased fear of discovery of their true selves and felt that their personal autonomy was threatened. These results suggest that the over-idealization manipulation seems to cause increases in negative relationship experiences, while it did not have a significant effect on positive relationship perceptions. Taken together, these studies support the notion that there is an optimal level of perceived partner idealization of abilities and that manipulating over-idealization may lead to negative relationship processes. This research builds on a central current theme in relationships research--the importance of feeling understood, validated, and cared for by a partner--and applies it to issues that have been minimally studied and which promise to have important implications for relationship functioning.