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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):

Subscale 1

  1. I’m often preoccupied with the question of whether my partner is good enough for me.
  2. Sometimes I feel my partner is not good enough for me.
  3. I am obsessed with my partner’s faults.
  4. When my partner frustrates me, I contemplate ending the relationship.
  5. When my partner frustrates me, I start thinking about new relationships.
  6. When my partner hurts me, I’m immediately filled with a sense of distrust.
  7. I often feel I deserve to get more than I do from my relationship.
  8. In my relationship, I’m sometimes filled with a kind of rage that I hardly ever experience in daily life.

Subscale 2

  1. I have high expectations of my partner.
  2. I expect my partner to understand me without my having to explain myself.
  3. I can’t give up my expectations of my partner in a relationship.
  4. I expect my partner to be very attentive to me.

Subscale 3

  1. Sometimes I feel I am not good enough for my partner.
  2. I’m often preoccupied with the question of whether I deserve my partner.
  3. I feel my partner deserves to get more than he or she does from our relationship.

 Subscale 4

  1. I insist on getting what I deserve out of my relationship.
  2. I deserve a partner who is very sensitive.
  3. I think my partner is lucky to be with me.
  4. I won’t make do with less than what I deserve in my relationship.

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:

  • Subscale 1: Excessive entitlement.
    People scoring high on excessive entitlement, as you can see from the items comprising this subscale, probably come closest to the notion of the “entitled narcissist.” In their relationships, much as in their lives in general, they behave as though the world owes them something because they are so much better than everyone else. This gets played out with their partners in ways such as feeling they deserve the “best,” whatever that might be, and they are constantly ready to move on in case something better comes along. They see their partner’s flaws, but not their own.
  • Subscale 2: Entitlement expectations.

    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.
     

  • Subscale 3: Restricted entitlement.

    The items in this subscale tap into whether you feel that your partner deserves more than you do. People who score high on these items feel inhibited in their ability to meet their needs, wishes, and expectations in a relationship. The term “restricted" here means that individuals who agree with these items are literally unable to say what they want and need out of their partners.
  • Subscale 4: Assertive entitlement.

    By agreeing with these items, individuals are expressing their belief that their needs in a relationship should be met. Although the items by themselves seem similar to those of excessive entitlement, George-Levi and coauthors maintain that there’s something healthy about being able to stand up for your rights in a relationship. If you don't, you might become one of the restricted entitlement group at the opposite end of the scale, who cannot make their needs known to their partners.

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.

 

Reference

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

Image: http://pixabay.com/en/cry-zoom-effect-stress-angry-62326/

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