Dale Griffin, a business pyschologist at the Sauder School of Business at UBC, studies how well people can predict the future.
"Across most of those settings it's better to be realistic — if you can anticipate the dangers ahead, you succeed," said Griffin. "But across different areas of life, there were some where we thought being a bit out of touch with reality may be an advantage."
Griffin's research looked at new marriages over a five-year period, examining objective data like whether or not couples remained together as well as softer data like satisfaction and happiness.
"The key finding is that the average person becomes less and less satisfied over five years," said Griffin.
But not all individuals fit that pattern. Griffin found that those who were still satisfied with their marriage also had an idealized view of their partner — they ignored their flaws and saw their spouse in an unrealistically positive light.
"Seeing the best in your partner actually leads you, our research finds, to be more forgiving when they do something wrong," said Griffin.
That forgiveness, according to Griffin, is significant.
"We see that these people who are having the successful marriages, who are idealizing, are really very forgiving in how they attribute problems," he said.
When idealists' spouses did something wrong, they were more likely to attribute the problem to factors other than the spouse themselves.
Griffin believes he can apply his findings to workplace relationships as well. He will examine scenarios in which it may be better for colleagues to be optimistic rather than realistic with each other.
To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: UBC researchers uncover secret to a happy marriage