Self-Help Guide Justification

Ideal Partner

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The Huffington Post recently published an article that described a surgeon’s criteria for his version of an ideal woman (Bahadur, 2013). The list included such items as urban experience, Type B personality, very skinny (anorexic), good values, well-travelled, college educated, very attractive — but not too attractive, altruistic, and gregarious to a fault. On the other end of the gender scale, Maria Forleo advises women to practice mindfulness as a way to become irresistible to all men (, n.d.). With divorce rates near the 50% level (Carlson & Meyer, 2014), maybe such advice needs to be challenged by hard reality before the authors do more damage than good. Toward the goal of helping would-be romantic partners separate the bad advice from the good, the following essay will provide an evidence-based justification for the self-help relationship guide published separately.

The Hard Reality of Modern Intimate Relationships

Nearly half of all marriages during the first decades of the new millennium will end in divorce or permanent separation (Carlson & Meyer, 2014). The prevalence of cohabitation continues to increase, with 68% of all women between the ages of 15 and 44 choosing cohabitation rather than marriage for their first long-term partner relationship. Consistent with this trend, nearly 41% of all births are now extramarital. As Carlson and Meyer (2014) discuss, the rising rates of cohabitation, divorce, permanent separation, and remarriage, in the absence of a comparable decline in fertility rates, has led to an increase in the relational complexity of today’s families. While there can be advantages to a more complex family structure, including greater financial and social support resources, the most common outcome is increased poverty and child neglect. The financial and supportive resources that become concentrated in a more traditional family structure are instead diluted by an increase in relational complexity and instability.

An Evidence-Based Remedy

The Ideal Standards Model (ISM) may provide a hedge against increased relationship instability and the growing problem of family complexity. This model assumes that most, if not all, people use a set of ideal standards for evaluating whether a person could be a viable long-term intimate partner (Fletcher & Simpson, 2000). The model’s foundation is based on three components: perceptions of self, partner, and relationship. The authors of the model propose that a potential intimate partner should be evaluated using any of the following three dimensions: (1) warmth, commitment, and intimacy, (2) health, passion, and attractiveness, and (3) status and resources. The goal of using these three somewhat independent dimensions would be to increase the chances of reproductive success and emotional, social, and economic security. While it may seem a good idea to evaluate prospective intimate partners using all three dimensions, Fletcher and Simpson (2000) warn readers that finding and keeping a person who fulfilled all three dimensions would be a fool’s errand for the vast majority of people, if only because most people would fail to meet the ideal standards of the perfect person.

The magnitude of the discrepancy between the ideal standards and how closely a partner matches these standards has been shown empirically to influence the success of intimate partner unions (reviewed by Lackenbauer & Campbell, 2012). In other words, the greater the discrepancy the more likely the relationship will fail and contribute to family complexity. Flexibility, on the other hand, represents the difference between a maximally fulfilled ideal standard and the minimum acceptable level for this standard (Tran, Simpson, Fletcher, 2008, p. 489).

Five Relationship Tips

1. Prioritize the three dimensions from most to least important for you personally. This is simply common sense because each dimension represents a distinct pathway for selecting an appropriate intimate partner (Fletcher & Simpson, 2000).

2. Pay attention to your emotions. Feeling dejected may be an indication that the prospective partner has failed to meet the minimum acceptable level for an ideal standard that you value (Lackenbauer & Campbell, 2012). Agitation, on the other hand, may be a sign that your partner feels you are not meeting their minimum for a valued ideal standard. It may be prudent to take a step back and realistically evaluate whether this relationship has a future.

3. Trust your instincts. Researchers have demonstrated that people in relationships are able to accurately evaluate how closely they match a partner’s perceived ideal standards (Campbell, Overall, Rubin, & Lackenbauer, 2013). In other words, if you feel that you are not meeting the minimum acceptable levels on a partner’s ideal standards it may be time to take the initiative and walk away.

4. Act in accordance with your own values at all times. Researchers have shown that a partner’s inferred ideal discrepancies are responsive to how a relationship issue is handled by the other partner (Campbell et al., 2013). For example, if a partner is barely meeting the minimum acceptable level of warmth then expressions of warmth during difficult times would likely decrease the magnitude of a perceived discrepancy.

5. Diversify shared activities. The magnitude of a partner’s perceived ideal discrepancy will also be responsive to experiences across different contexts, such that the magnitude of the discrepancy will be reduced if the partner’s performance on an ideal standard is resilient across contexts (Campbell et al., 2013).


With divorce rates hovering around the 50% level, cohabitation becoming the preferred structure for intimate partner relationships, and negative emotional and financial outcomes associated with increased family complexity, anyone searching for a life partner would do better to heed the advice of social scientists. The only alternative would be the loud cacophony of romantic advice polluting the many communication mediums, which is likely contributing directly to the adverse social trends mentioned above. Logic dictates an evidence-based approach would maximize the chances of success and a good choice would be the well-characterized and empirically-supported ISM.


Bahadur, N. (2013, August 7). Deluded surgeon’s email lists the most outrageous requirements for a woman we’ve ever seen. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost..html.

Campbell, L., Overall, N.C., Rubin, H., & Lackenbauer, S.D. (2013). Inferring a partner’s ideal discrepancies: Accuracy, projection, and the communicative role of interpersonal behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105(2), 217-33.

Carlson, M.J. & Meyer, D.R. (2014). Family complexity: Setting the context. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 654(1), 6-11.

Fletcher, G.J.O. & Simpson, J.A. (2000). Ideal standards in close relationships: Their structure and functions. Current Directions in Psychological Research, 9(3), 102-5.

Lackenbauer, S.D. & Campbell, L. (2012). Measuring up: The unique emotional and regulatory outcomes of different perceived partner-ideal discrepencies in romantic relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(3), 472-88. (n.d.). Book excerpt: Make Every You by . Retrieved from http://www.oprah..

Tran, S., Simpson, J.A., & Fletcher, G.J.O. (2008). The role of ideal standards in relationship initiation processes. In S. Sprecher, A. Wenzel, & J. Harvey (Eds.), Handbook of Relationship Initiation (pp. 487-90). New York: Psychology Press.