Previously, I discussed Why You Shouldn't Believe in Soul Mates. Essentially, the belief in a single, special "soul mate" can lead one away from actually being happy and choosing a satisfying relationship. That begs the questions though... How do you find a satisfying relationship? If there isn't just one special person, how do you choose?
Fortunately, research again has the answer! It comes in the form of Rational Choice Theory. No, that doesn't mean that your emotions are not involved. Rather, it means that the strategy you select for choosing a partner makes a difference in the outcome. Pick the right strategy and find a satisfying mate. Use the wrong strategy...and you may end up not so fortunate!
Making a Choice: Maximizing Versus Satisficing
Shwartz and colleagues (2002) evaluated the strategies that people use to make a rational choice. In other words, when people need to make a choice without knowing "all" of the options beforehand, how do they do it? The researchers noted two prevailing strategies:
- Maximizing - using this strategy, people try to obtain all the possible information they can and choose the very best option. Maximizers heartily agree with statements such as "I never settle for second best", and "no matter how satisfied I am with my job, it's only right for me to be on the lookout for better opportunities". Essentially, they want to maximize their choice. So, they search as hard as they can, for as long as they can, gain a ton of experience, and don't settle for anything less than the very best.
- Satisficing - using this strategy, people first decide on what features they need to be satisfied. Satisficiers select specific criteria and set-points to decide on what they want before they start looking at the choices. Therefore, rather than searching extensively to determine the absolute best, they are able to select the first option that "satisfies" their pre-determined, specific standards.
The researchers then set out to look at each group's decision-making outcomes. Would maximizers and satisficers be different in how happy, successful, and satisfied they were? Indeed, the researchers did find differences.
Put simply, maximizers did not fare well. Despite society's general encouragement for "maximization", it didn't work well for the individuals who used it. Across several studies, maximizers were more depressed, perfectionistic, and had more life regrets. They were also less satisfied with their consumer decisions, more concerned with social comparison, and less happy. In contrast, satisficers were generally happy, optimistic, had good self-esteem, and were satisfied with life. They had found what they wanted, needed, and what satisfied them.
Pretty compelling differences... It is amazing how much influence a decision-making strategy has on happiness, satisfaction, and regret!
What About Relationship Choices?
There are many people in the world following a "maximizer" strategy for finding love. In fact, one of the statements Schwartz, et al. (2002) used to identify maximizers was "I treat relationships like clothing: I expect to try a lot on before I get the perfect fit". If this applies to you, then you may want to reconsider the approach.
Put simply, trying to find the absolute "best" in love is an impossible task. There are simply too many people. No matter how much information and experience you obtain, there will always be somebody "better" on some level out there. So, people spend their lives looking for that perfect someone, never find them, and face the regret of maximizers. Or, they jump from partner to partner, "trading up", and never find satisfaction. In the end, they pass up a lot of good potential partners in the process too.
Instead, the solution is to decide for yourself what you really need in a partner to be happy. What are your specific criteria? How will you know when they are satisfied and met? Forget finding the best in everything...what are the essentials that you need to be content? Also, disregard what everyone else has and wants - go with your own thoughts and feelings. Make a small list of the very important, deal-breaker, must-have items. Then, only look for those!
By approaching relationships with a satisficing mindset, you can actually get what you really want and need. You can stop chasing the "next best thing", or the impossible dream of perfection. You can actually find a satisfying partner with the essential features you need. All it takes is knowing, specifically, what you really want. Then, be happy with the first person that fits the criteria.
On a final note, if you're pursuing this satisficing strategy, then it may benefit you to avoid maximizers too. If your potential partner "treats relationships like clothing", then it might be wise to move on to another choice yourself. It is not a recipe for success to build a relationship with someone who is always looking to trade up and doesn't know what they need to be satisfied. So, give yourself the best chance of relationship success by not being that person - and not dating them either!
Having a satisfying relationship doesn't require finding the perfect partner. All it takes is using the right strategy to choose a good one. That starts with deciding on the few, specific things that you really need a partner to possess. Look for those features and be happy with the first person who has them all. Don't become a perfectionist looking for better. Don't worry about what your friends have. Just enjoy the fact that you have somebody who has what you need to be satisfied - and ignore the rest.
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Until next time...happy dating and relating!
Dr. Jeremy Nicholson
The Attraction Doctor
Previous Articles from The Attraction Doctor
- Schwartz, B., Ward, A., Monterosso, J., Lyubomirsky, S. White, K., & Lehman, D. R. (2002). Maximizing versus satisficing: Happiness is a matter of choice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83, 1178-1197.
© 2012 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.