All is not lost if you’re unable to come up with suitable comparison couples — we can use other mental strategies. We can make comparisons to past times in our own relationship, and adopt the perspective that things are not as bad as they used to be, or convince ourselves that, while we’re not doing as well right now, things will eventually improve. In this way couples are able to admit to feeling unhappy, but still feel good about their relationship overall because there’s hope for the future.
Now, you may conclude that such mental hi-jinks are just a way of fooling yourself. That may be the case, but not necessarily. Sometimes we may be over-critical, or we may have expectations that are unrealistic, and so such comparisons can make us a little more grounded. That doesn’t mean we’ll be happier, but its helpful to believe that things are not as bad as we think they are.
These mental tools also serve another purpose — they allow us to maintain a positive global perception of our marriage. This is the tendency to keep more positive than negative thoughts about our partner, despite their faults. Our global perspective plays a key role in marital quality because it directs how we think and feel about our partner, and these thoughts and feelings determine how we treat them. Our partner will pick up on that, and they in turn are likely to feel and think better about you.
In other words, it can be self-fulfilling.