We all come to expect that our closest romantic partners will “be there” for us in times of need. Like it or not, you also unconsciously measure whether your partner is good enough for you, or vice versa. Research into relational entitlement is now putting under the microscope this set of attitudes and trying to determine whether and how it relates to a couple’s satisfaction with each other.
Bar-Ilan University’s Sivan George-Levi and collaborators (2014) decided to test a measure of relational entitlement developed with college students on a real-world sample of adults in their 50s who had been married since their 20s, many of whom were also parents. Unlike the typical undergraduate sample, these individuals had a far more extensive set of shared experiences on which to draw when contemplating their relationship and the extent to which it met their needs. Additionally, the George-Levi team tested both married partners (all the couples were heterosexual) instead of relying on the word of just one, as is also typically the case in much relationship research.
The George-Levi et al. findings provided new insight into how our expectations about our closest relationship influence the extent to which we feel emotionally satisfied; further, they were able to tie people’s expectations about their relationships into the satisfaction their partners reported experiencing. This he-said, she-said dyadic type of study provides far better insights into the inner workings of a relationship than those which only ask one partner’s perspective.
Let’s take a closer look at the way that George-Levi and colleagues defined relational entitlement.
Their scale divided the concept into four subscales. See how you would score on each one by rating each statement below from 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much):
Now total up your scores for each of the 4 subscales.
The subjects who answered these questions in the study had average scores of about 13 (subscale 1); 14 (subscale 2); 5 (subscale 3); and 13 (subscale 4), with averages per statement being highest on Subscales 2 and 4 (3 out of 5) and lowest on Subscales 1 and 3 (1.5 out of 5).
To interpret your own score, here is some detail on what each subscale represents:
This subscale refers to the tendency to have expectations for your partner’s behavior toward you. People with high scores on this subscale feel that their partner should provide them with attention and understanding—perhaps more than they deserve.
With your entitlement scores in mind, then, what are the odds that your relationships will be satisfactory, both for yourself and your partner? In correlating relationship entitlement scores with relationship satisfaction, George-Levi et al. defined conflicted entitlement as characterizing individuals with high scores on the excessive and restricted entitlement scales. Having an overly high or low view of yourself and your needs in a relationship can make you chronically unhappy because your partner will never be able to fulfill your expectations—either because they are too high or because you never express them.
Oddly enough, though, the more entitlement expectations individuals had of their partners and the better able they were to articulate their expectations (subscales 2 and 4), the more satisfaction their partners expressed with the relationship. The logic: If you expect your partner to show understanding and compassion, your partner will see you as invested in the relationship. You’ll be seen as needing his or her care and compassion. And in a good relationship, people feel needed and trusted, and can communicate these needs to their partners.
There are two sides, then, to the story of entitlement in relationships: Being unrealistically high or low in what you want from your partner contributes to your own dissatisfaction, but having no expectations, or not being able to see yourself as having rights, contributes to the dissatisfaction of your partner.
Finding that delicate balance will contribute to your relationship’s potential to provide fulfillment over the long haul.
Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting. Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. 2014.
George-Levi, S., Vilchinsky, N., Tolmacz, R., & Liberman, G. (2014). Testing the concept of relational entitlement in the dyadic context: Further validation and associations with relationship satisfaction. Journal of Family Psychology, 28(2), 193-203. doi:10.1037/a0036150