Some of the best marriages contain two people looking at each other through foggy glasses. And that’s a good thing.

We have some control over how we experience ourselves, our lovers, our world. Why not, then, choose a more positive version out of the many possibilities we can imagine? When we perceive our partners, it’s not as if we can see their qualities directly or objectively. They do something, you figure out what it might mean, and then you decide what their personality is as a result. It’s not an exact science.

If you’re going to idealize your partner, it’s best to do it in such a way that the qualities you imagine your lover has match what he himself likes to think he has. Idealizing, however, is a delicate balance that may lean too far in the direction of fantasy. A certain amount of reality is useful. Many of us, realists especially, like to know we’re fully seen, enlarged pores and all. Otherwise we’d feel like imposters.

When I met my first husband, I had recently enjoyed Kahlil Gibran’s classic, The Prophet, and my brain played tricks on me: since he was from Lebanon just like Gibran, I projected my favorite values and qualities, as they’d been so sweetly epitomized by Gibran, onto him. To my barely post-high-school sentimental self, it seemed a perfect match. In that case, my imaginings turned out to be an unsustainable illusion. Sometimes we need to do the cold-hearted work of toning down such delusional thinking.

Generally, though, it’s been found that being (reasonably) idealized by one’s partner predicts the most satisfied marriages. It takes a certain wisdom to integrate the annoying with the delightful, totaling up to a big picture perspective that keeps the positive in the foreground. We like those who see us at our best. Bea, 61, provides an example. Her sixty-five-year-old husband Herb will be sitting across the aisle from her at breakfast and suddenly say, “God, you’re so beautiful.”

“I look like shit,” responds Bea in her typical blunt fashion. Tilting between seeing Herb’s hyperbole as a minor failing she’s gotten used to and recognizing it as his way of loving her, Bea is nonetheless pleased to have her own best version of herself thus confirmed.

Letitia and Lenny, in their late thirties and married eleven years, are busy with their jobs and a three-year-old daughter. Letitia tells me that Lenny says something almost every day “really nice or deep or thoughtful about how amazing I am to him. I say, ‘Stop telling me that!’ Of course I don’t want him to stop, and he knows it.”

If the particular attribute we’re talking about is a more-or-less observable one, say hand-eye coordination, or cooking ability, then it’s suitable for a partner’s judgment to be close to objective reality. We like our perceptions verified by the person we love most.

But when a long-married wife says her husband is the smartest and funniest man she knows, and that he’s always the most stunning man at any gathering, who are we to argue? Why debate how much of that glitter is in her love-filled eyes? Especially since he returns the idealizing favor by telling her repeatedly how beautiful and wonderful and fabulous she is.

If you’re not in a relationship where you find a lot of idealizing going on, no need to fret. Many happily married men and women can name their partners’ flaws as well as their good points, and they see those negatives and positives and their own as complementing each other for a harmonious balance.

Author's Bio: 

The above article is adapted from Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way (Sourcebooks, 2003), by social psychologist Susan K. Perry, Ph.D. Perry is a nationally known relationship expert and online advice columnist, as well as an author of six books, hundreds of articles, and a writing instructor and consultant. See her website at and read more about Loving in Flow at