Each of us holds the image of an ideal self, which represents the very best we are capable of, our highest strengths and purpose of life fulfilled and active. When we feel that we are living up to the ideals that we hold most dearly, we are gratified, and exercising these strengths produces more gratification. When our partner sees this as well, we feel validated, and we work harder not to disappoint our partner’s faith in us*.

Sandra Murray, a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, studies romantic illusions tough-mindedly. Murray created measures of the strength of illusions in romance by asking many married and dating couples to rate themselves, their actual partner, and an imaginary ideal partner on a variety of strengths and faults. She also asked friends to fill out these ratings about each member of the couple as well. The crucial measure is the discrepancy between what your partner believes about your strengths and what your friends believe. The astonishing discovery is the bigger the discrepancy in a positive direction, the bigger the romantic ‘illusion’ that your partner has of you. Remarkably, the bigger the illusion, the happier and more stable the relationship*.

It kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? When we first fell in love, we thought of our lover as the most beautiful, nicest, most generous, smartest and funniest human being walking on the face of the earth. Then came marriage. And somehow we let the dirty socks scattered around the house and the inappropriate way to squeeze the toothpaste tube erode our admiration for each other. All of a sudden, he became the ‘laziest and most inconsiderate’ person in the world.

In my opinion, illusion rooted in reality generates true admiration and adoration. Often times, couples forget to be friends with each other after saying ‘I do.” Basic politeness and manner are thrown out of the window. Their body language conveys the message of “you annoy me” and they speak to each other in loathing tones. How is it possible to maintain the positive illusion with all that nastiness going on?

Satisfied couples see virtues in their partners that are not seen at all by their closest friends. Dissatisfied couples see fewer virtues in their mates than their friends do. The happiest couples look on the bright side of the relationship, believing that bad events that might threaten other couples do not affect them. Together, they handle the adversities of life with resilience and hope. Positive illusions, so Murray finds, are self-fulfilling because the idealized partners actually try to live up to them and they are a daily buffer against hassles.

So be kind and loving towards each other, hold on to your illusions and keep the flame of romance going!

*Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman