My partner is the only person with whom I could have a happy marriage: Exploring Unrealistic Expectations 

It may be no surprise that seriously dating and engaged couples are more prone to “agree” or “strongly agree” with statements such as “We are as happy as any couple could possibly be!”. Almost intoxicated by love, engaged couples are often known for being infatuated with one another. They tend to be confident that they’ll never have problems or that existing problems will just fade away with time, they’ll never question their love, never experience a drop in romance, and already know everything there is to know about their partner. They truly are love struck.

Unrealistic Expectations of Marriage: Recent Findings and Couple Types 

In reviewing data from a sample of 15,000 couples who have taken PREPARE/ENRICH, scoring revealed that marital couples often have lower scores in the Marriage Expectations, with an average score on Marriage Expectations at 35%. In other words, the average couple expresses healthy agreement on just 3 or 4 items out of 10. In the case of Marriage Expectations, healthy agreement often means both partners need to disagree with a naïve or unrealistic notion. The data demonstrates that it is common and perhaps even normal to be oblivious to the natural challenges and difficulties that accompany marriage.

Addicted & Obsessed?

Science is beginning to explain the phenomenon of being love struck. One recent article (Slater, 2006) summarised several intriguing findings on the topic. Helen Fisher, a professor from Rutgers University, has used MRI technology to study couples who report they are “madly in love”. While in the MRI machine, subjects were shown two photographs, one neutral and the other of their lover. The results showed that the pictures of the loved ones evoked a powerful chemical reaction in the pleasure centres of the brain, lighting up the neuronal receptors for a neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Dopamine is associated with intense energy, focused attention, exhilaration and motivation. Certain addictive drugs, such as cocaine, can activate the same regions and chemicals in the brain. In other words, brain physiology suggests couples can feel “addicted to love”.

It may not be unusual for such couples to feel like they have found their one true soul mate, the only person on earth with whom they could have a happy marriage. Italian researcher, Donatella Marazziti, explored the similarities between being passionately in love and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The neurotransmitter, serotonin, seems to be the culprit in OCD. Marazziti looked at three groups of subjects, one group of “lovers”, one group suffering from OCD, and another group free from mental illness and passionate love. Results showed that the levels of serotonin in both the OCD groups’ blood and the lovers’ blood were 40 percent lower than in the normal subjects. In other words, there were similar chemical markers in OCD and being madly in love. We’ve all seen young couples who seem to be obsessed with one another, spending every moment possible together. Perhaps this is why premarital couples taking PREPARE/ENRICH expect all of their needs for companionship, even after marriage, to be met by their partner.

It may be the norm for engaged couples to be love-struck, embracing romanticised notions regarding love and marriage or perhaps it may just be that humans are designed to function at a physiological level. Don’t sound the alarms or be overly critical but understand that couples may need to be more realistic about what they should expect from their relationship.

Marriage Expectations is a challenging, yet fun area of discussion for premarital couples, however whilst these couples often have a lot to discuss as they prepare for marriage, healthy dialogue about expectations is critical. The key question for exploration for engaged couples is:

  • “My partner is the only person with whom I could have a happy marriage.”

Source: Peter Larson, Ph.D. 

References: Olson, D. H. (2004). PREPARE/ENRICH Counselor’s Manual. Minneapolis: Life Innovations.

Slater, L. (2006). True Love. National Geographic. February, 32-49.

The Couple Checkup generates deep and productive conversations that couples would not otherwise have about their relationship. These conversations restore insight and understanding about one another. The Couple Checkup can help to revive a relationship and increase intimacy.

The Couple Checkup is an online couple assessment based on the PREPARE/ENRICH couple inventories. The Checkup assessment and Checkup report are designed to go directly to couples at any stage of their relationship (dating, engaged or married). The online system allows for dynamic customization of the assessment to each couple based on how the couple answers background questions. The goal is for the Couple Checkup to reach a more diverse group of couples, to empower couples to deal with issues on their own and to emphasise prevention over remediation.

For more information on the use and analysis of the Couple Checkup or to simply use the tool, please contact: or call today (02) 9520 4049 #couplecheckup #relationship


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