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Students think love conquers all.

When it comes to relationships, the honeymoon never ends--at least in the minds of college students participating in a study designed to measure relationship expectations. The researchers found that students believed their relationships would keep getting better and better over time.

"These kind of expectations are like something you'd find in a 1950s Doris Day-Rock Hudson movie. But they are contrary to what research suggests about marital satisfaction," according to Andrew I. Schwebel, professor of psychology, Ohio State University. He maintains that such overly optimistic expectations can lead to marital dissatisfaction later in life.

"Someone might think, for instance, Well, I'm not really happy with my partner right now, but since things are going to get better, I'll go ahead and marry him or her.'"

Schwebel and doctoral student Bryce Sullivan studied 238 students ranging in age from 18 to 34. All were single, although more than a quarter of them were dating one person exclusively and had discussed marriage with their partner.

Each participant was asked to complete two questionnaires. One measured their dysfunctional relationship beliefs; the other assessed their expectations for four different stages of a relationship: casual dating, engagement, five years of marriage, and 15 years of marriage. The subjects also were asked what they thought the average American's relationship would be like at these same stages.

Based on their answers, the students felt their own relationships would be much better in the future than those of other couples. This finding, say the researchers, can be attributed in part to something called a self-serving bias--the belief that one's future will be more positive than that of others.

To a certain extent, Schwebel indicates, such beliefs can be helpful. "We want people to have positive expectations because this leads them to try harder--to experience the self-fulfilling prophecy phenomenon. On the other hand, there's probably some cutoff point where their expectations are unrealistically high."

For example, Sullivan points out, "People who think that they're never going to have any trouble in their marriage may be setting themselves up for disappointment. It would be much more adaptive if they realized that marriage can be tough and they're going to have to work pretty hard at it to make it succeed."
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Title Annotation:college students
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Dec 1, 1993
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