Idealization is the action of regarding or representing something as perfect or better than in reality.
In relationships, idealization occurs when we create positive impressions of our partner by maximizing virtues and minimizing flaws.
People who “duly” idealize their partners choose to interpret the facts about their partner in a more positive and realistic light. On the contrary, those who unrealistically glorify their partner by imagining qualities that they do not possess may be at a high risk of disillusionment and setting themselves up for a big disappointment.
The Michelangelo phenomenon had its debut in 1999 in an American psychological study. The concept «describes the means by which the self is shaped by a partner’s perceptions and behavior.» By believing that our partners are the best versions of themselves, we may «sculpt» them to become those ideal selves.
When we fall in love, idealizing our significant other is inevitable. We may idealize our partner based on the cookie-cutter version we had of a «perfect» relationship growing up, the relationship our parents or some of our family members have/had, or reminiscing about past relationships, and believing we were way happier then.
My mom is an expert on the latter. She believes that I was way better off «before». Before, meaning when I was in the US living the «perfect» life. I know it is a generational thing, but she can be (a lot of Latin moms are) very judgmental about my bad decisions. I have learned the hard way to not allow her strong criticism to faze, bother, or affect me.
I like to reminisce about my past relationships too and, not surprisingly, I find myself idealizing and imagining how things would have turned out for me had I taken a different path or made different decisions.
Part of me knows that this is a pointless exercise, but the other part still wants to dream and cling to the idea of when things were apparently working out for me, instead of seeing what really happened.
In today’s modern relationship world, a lot of pressure is put on love and finding the right partner. We expect that, by falling in love or meeting that special someone, we will be able to solve all our problems and find the magic key to a fairy tale happy life.
Perhaps we are putting needless pressure on relationships – by wanting to make the other person happy and not ourselves – and also doing some idealization on the side.
Love is indeed fantastic, and so are relationships and even marriage. Being in love makes us happier and healthier. Falling in love, relationships, and marriage are wonderful and enriching experiences.
The question is: Why are there so many unhappy people «in love» out there? Does idealization have something to do with it? Why is it so common to idealize our partners?
I am a real sucker for idealization. Because of idealization and fulfilling a personal timeline, I got married for all the wrong reasons.
Now that I am back in Colombia, the added bonus of social pressure of finding the right life partner and knowing at all times where a relationship is going is not helpful either.
Since our childhood, we set our hopes for an ideal relationship at a high bar. Nobody grows up dreaming of a bad, torturous relationship or an unhappy ending.
Our expectations of relationships are higher and change as we become more mature. Love changes as well, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Early courtship romantic love – which can be a lot of fun – can actually evolve into a deeper and more satisfying experience.
How can we find the idealization sweet spot?
We can come up with different answers, but based on my personal experience and, as a serial idealist, after this reflection I’ve come up with my own list of goals to idealize less, or better so, idealize «efficiently».
1. Stop living in the past.
2. Avoid putting pressure on love and relationships and allow things to naturally flow.
3. Lower your expectations of love and relationships.
4. Come up with a list of real and tangible traits you’d like in what you believe is an ideal relationship.
5. Ignore social pressure when it comes to finding the right partner.
6. Be happy and love yourself so that it is easier to love someone else.
7. Believe your partner is his/her best version.
Idealization is not something we are entirely responsible for. The environment, childhood dreams, our families, a strong cultural background, Hollywood’s rom-com, social media, among other things, play an important role in subtly convincing people to idealize their partners.
Identifying the moments when we are wrongfully idealizing the person we are getting to know or in a relationship with, is a great start to quickly shift gears to a more efficient idealization.