Do You Think Your Boyfriend Is Special? Science Says You’re Wrong but That’s a Good Thing
The psychology of seeing your partner with rose-tinted glasses.
Even if you have never heard the term “partner enhancement,” chances are good that you have experienced it many times in your life. And it’s a good bet you have experienced it both in a giving and receiving sort of way.
What is partner enhancement? Perhaps the easiest way to explain it is to first look at a different relationship in which one might experience what we’ll call “parent enhancement.” Think of all those times when your parents played up an achievement and how good it makes the kid feel. Examples include an outpouring of praise and support after a leap off a swing or a jump off the diving board, a celebration of a “graduation” from preschool or kindergarten, or cheers after a (let’s be honest, rather mangled) performance of a song during a piano recital.
Parents amp up the praise and support of their kids in part because they want the child to feel special and valued, of course, but we also tend to genuinely think of our kids as something even more special that most children. Which, statistically speaking, most are not by the very way that averages work.
When it comes to partner enhancement, however, the person who is the object of the elevated opinion is not the one who so directly benefits from it: you are. The better you feel about your partner, the more you see him or her as a special, talented, and interesting person, the better your relationship is likely to do. And that’s true even if, frankly, they’re not all that unique of a person. It works even better if they think the same about you.
How Partner Enhancement Helps New Relationships Grow Stronger
The early days of a relationship are a make or break time. As you get to know someone, you may soon find that there’s just not a genuine romantic connection, not a shared set of interests or ethics, and no real hope of a future. On the other hand, if you and a new boyfriend or girlfriend start to genuinely connect, you will likely soon begin to engage in what psychologists and relationship experts call partner enhancement.
In casual terms, you can think of it as looking at your partner through the proverbial rose colored glasses. You will elevate their accomplishments – from a funny joke or anecdote to a meal he cooks to a project she completes at work and so on – even beyond the objective merits of what they have done, seeing this person as talented, competent, and attractive. In the early days of relationship, we tend to seek out and identify myriad positives about our new significant other, and we also tend to be able to minimize their negative traits and failings – this too is a type of partner enhancement.
As a relationship progresses over the years, the partner enhancement tends to wear off to some degree. We still care for our partner plenty and see them in a positive light (in a good and loving relationship, anyway) and we still have cause to support and celebrate them often, but we’re not as likely to see every little thing they do as amazing. We’re also much more likely to allow ourselves to be annoyed by their quirks and habits.
But that’s OK: assuming you say in a union for the long run, partner enhancement has already done its job.
Why It’s OK That Partner Enhancement Fades Over Time
The fact that you celebrate every little detail of your significant other in the earlier days of the romance yet come to see them more as they really are (the old “warts and all” expression is a bit callous but illustrates the point here well) is nothing to be sad about.
The fact is that during the early partner enhancement days, you are building your relationship’s bedrock. If you and your boyfriend or girlfriend become close and loving enough in your early partnership, then chances are good that the foundation of the romance will be strong enough to endure for the long run, even after those rose colored glasses may have been traded in for reading glasses.
The Flip Side of the Partner Enhancement Equation
If you find yourself always seeing the negative things in your partner – doing quite the opposite of partner enhancement, really – then that’s a red flag for the relationship in the early days, and it may well be a sign that you should not commit to being with this person.
On the other hand, if you have been in a long and more or less loving and successful romantic relationship for a long time and yet you now see yourself identifying fewer and fewer positive traits and seeing more negatives about your partner, then that may be an issue that has more to do with you than with your partner. It’s important to do an honest gut check on yourself and determine if you are lacking in satisfaction with your own life and projecting this unhappiness onto the other person and onto your relationship.
It’s also entirely possible that your partner is making you depressed or leaving you unfulfilled, and in that case it’s a problem you need to work through together. The larger point is to realize the partner you are with today may not have changed over time, but rather you may have changed how you see him or her. It can take effort, later in the relationship, to look for the good and overlook some of the shortcomings, but this effort is well worth it if it means that you can both continue on happily together, through good times, bad times, and boring times, too.