(I prefer to pronounce this like “pickle,” but since I just made it up, I’m not sure who wields the power of phonetic decree.)
Positive illusions, commitment, and love: put ‘em all together and you’ve got the brine for your very own Love Pickle. PICL comes from the meta-analytic work I introduced last time (See: A Breakup Equation for Lovers), a fascinating project that stitched together decades of research on thirty well-researched harbingers of dating success (defined as not ending the relationship–opposed to a breakup).
Here are their thirty love-life predictors, broken into three conceptual classes:
- Individual Factors: Attachment styles (fearful, avoidant, anxious, and secure), destiny and growth beliefs, and the Big Five personality traits (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism).
- Relationship Factors: Positive illusions, commitment, love, IOS (inclusion of other in the self–a proxy for intimacy), dependence, ambivalence, investments, adjustment, satisfaction, relationship quality, relationship duration, and conflict.
- External Factors: social network support and social network overlap.
Oddly enough, while each of these thirty variables had been harnessed in earlier research to predict relationship outcomes , when they were cobbled together and applied to the relationships of 37,000 people, only three had a statistically large effect on staying together or breaking up: PICL.
Love and commitment are intuitive; they sound like plausible pillars of a successful dating relationship. But what are positive illusions—some kind of love magic trick?
Thankfully, this is not the stuff of collapsible cages or pet rabbits. Positive illusions are those useful cognitive biases that let you think your boyfriend or girlfriend is the greatest person in the world. Positive illusions refer to the way you see your partner and how you understand his or her actions. Since our perception of reality is never objective, we always have to fill in part of the story. When we love someone, we fill in a nicer story than when we don’t. (To learn more, see this blog post about positive illusions from “Generally Thinking”).
For example, let’s say your boyfriend of eight months announces, rather grumpily, that he doesn’t like what you cooked for dinner. If you have negative illusions about him, you might mutter to yourself that he is always ungrateful and rude. See what you’ve done there? You’ve taken his sentence and given it roots that plunge straight down into his rotten little core. Probably time to break up with that one. If, by contrast, you have mixed illusions about him, you might say to yourself that he does often say whatever pops into his head without screening it. He’s also had a tough week at work. In this case, you are attributing some of his motivation to circumstances and the rest to a not-so-harmful character flaw. Lastly, let’s imagine that you have positive illusions about this boyfriend. You would say to yourself that he just didn’t like the dish–the boy can’t be blamed for not liking eggplant and ricotta after all. You might even overlook his grumpiness, saying that he’s had a tough week at work—it isn’t the food or anything personal. Even if you still chose to complain about his comment (after all, he could have considered your feelings or thanked you for your efforts), your complaints would arise from a very different place than the first women, who is hauling an emotional freight train behind hers.
Positive illusions are part of what keeps healthy relationships going. If you are in a relationship, start paying attention to what kinds of automatic formulations pop into your mind. No one thinks their partner is a saint all the time, but if you think your partner has some serious character flaws, consider that a yellow flag. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, as they say, but if you want this relationship to work, start finding positive explanations whenever possible. If you can’t seem to do that, consider seeing a therapist or moving on. Your silk purse might still be out there somewhere.
Prior Posts in Series: Post 1
*Rather unfortunately, PICL is already taken in esoteric ways according to the dictionary of acronyms. If you’re in Hawaii, PICL=Partnerships in Community Living. If you’re a railroad mogul, it means Perpetual Inventory of Car Locations. And computer nerds will recognize it as Platform Information and Control Library. I could go on…people have been very willy-nilly about their PICL applications.