Why You Should Lie to Yourself About Your Relationship
As the story goes, whenever Pinocchio told a lie, his nose would grow to the length of a ballpark hot dog. Beyond how you should never trust a puppet, the moral seemed to be that if you’re dishonest with others, they’ll be able to read it all over your frankfurter face.
So what happens when you’re dishonest with yourself about your romantic relationship? Surprisingly, depending on your attachment style, more good than bad.
At least, that’s the conclusion Richard Rigby, a graduate student at Simon Fraser University in Canada and a member of the Close Relationships Lab, stumbled upon when he began studying attachment theory. Specifically, the concept of “positive illusions” — or the little lies we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel better — can help those of us who struggle to feel secure in their relationships. “As I started researching, I realized how powerful positive illusions are in maintaining relationships and started thinking less about how attachment insecurity changes perceptions and how perceptions may buffer attachment insecurity,” Rigby told PsyPost.
As part of their study, Rigby and his team followed 196 heterosexual, cohabitating couples for eight years on average. After interviewing them about their relationship and attachment styles three months prior to getting married, these couples were sent follow-up surveys every three months thereafter. They also attended two additional interview sessions in person — both at the start of the experiment and at the end of it.
The results indicated that when couples experienced short-term conflicts, positive illusions like the belief that their spouse could see their point-of-view, increased marital satisfaction, regardless of whether it was true or not. “Positive illusions help people weather stormy parts of their relationship by reassuring them that their partner is a good choice,” Rigby explained. “They are particularly good in a relationship with a husband who has trouble being emotionally open (high attachment avoidance). If he thinks his wife is excellent at seeing things from his perspective, and these perceptions exaggerate her true abilities, his insecurity may matter less to the couple’s relationship satisfaction.”
That may not sound like the best way to go about a relationship, let alone a marriage, but before you judge these lying liars, Rigby pointed out that “previous studies have found that over time people often grow to embody their partner’s positive illusions — e.g., if I think my partner is good at taking my perspective, their perspective-taking skills are likely to grow over time.”
When you look at it that way, maybe Pinocchio wasn’t lying after all. Maybe he was just trying to manifest a better relationship with those around him.