The Pitfalls for Romantic Lovers

Romantic lovers have several main features that distinguish them from other types of lovers.

As I noted in another place, romantic idealization is a core feature that makes love “romantic”, as opposed to “rational”, “practical”, and pragmatic.” Such idealization can have some positive and negative side effects, some pros and cons.

The history of romantic love across cultures has demonstrated many positive benefits and inspirations that it brings to people’s lives, as well as many dramatic stories of despair and misery that it brings to them (Karandashev, 2017).

The Pitfalls of Idealization for Romantic Lovers

For example, romantic beliefs can lead to destructive fantasies and delusions about partners and relationships, which may divert people’s attention away from serious exploration of personal freedom and sexual diversity. It is possible that too many and too high romantic beliefs can cause dissatisfaction and unhappiness when such excessive expectations are not met.

The romantic hope of long-lasting joy and happiness can be elusive. It can make a person vulnerable and prone to possible frustration and disenchantment. Unrealistic standards and expectations for a partner and a relationship can cause disappointment, disillusionment, marital conflict, and divorce (see review of studies by Karandashev, 2019).

The excessive idealization of a partner and relationship can lead to disappointment in romantic lovers and put them on the edge of pessimism. Thus, their idealistic beliefs can turn into “realistic” and pessimistic disbeliefs. This is why cultural devaluation and cultural disbelief in romantic love can be natural self-protective psychological mechanisms.

For pessimistic people, idealization is contrary to their personal nature. So, their disbelief might be due to their personality traits.

Is Romantic Love an Immature Attitude toward Love?

It is known that romantic love and idealization are more common in the early stages of romantic relationships than in the later stages of companionate love relationships. Therefore, some may consider it an infatuation and a dangerous malady. Is romantic love really a sign of immaturity? 

There is still the question of whether romantic love is a “childish” illusion or a real reason to live. Some may believe that romantic love, with its idealization, is an immature emotion that drives young people’s dating, mating, and sexual relationships. As the relationship progresses, a lover may discover that the beloved falls short of his or her romantic ideals and hopes.

“Continuing to idealize one’s partner in the face of negative evidence should then impede adjustment, par­ticularly if intimates love only the idealized image, they con­struct. In this light, understanding the reality of a partner’s vir­tues and faults may prove to be the key to enduring satisfaction, whereas idealization may leave intimates vulnerable to dashed hopes and expectations.”

(Murray et al. 1996a, p. 79)

The Equivocal Effects of Idealization on Romantic Lovers

Romantic idealization in love can work as an adaptive or maladaptive psychological mechanism. In the eyes of a lover, idealization can highlight the pleasing attributes and overshadow the displeasing qualities of their loved one.

Admiration and idealization of a loved one make it hard for romantic partners to see any bad or unpleasant habits or traits that person might have. The actual qualities of their beloved may not be as good as they seem.

However, due to idealized perception, the lover sees her or him through rosy filters. The apparent faults of the beloved can be interpreted as virtues. When a lover tends to interpret some disappointing reality in a positive light without denying negativity, such a psychological mechanism can work in a good way. Such positive illusions can cause people to perceive the relationship as satisfactory (e.g., Murray & Holmes, 1997; Taylor, et al., 1989; see for review Karandashev, 2019).

Does Romantic Love Make the Loved One a Better Person?

Amorous idealization gives a good chance for a change for both the lover and the beloved. The lover may want to become a better person for the sake of the beloved.

Unfortunately, external attribution bias leads a lover to desire to change a partner. More often, a lover wants to change the loved one and make her or him a better person to meet their romantic expectations. She or he strongly hopes that their love will change the partner, despite any problems. They believe “love wins” in this matter of relationships as well. These beliefs, however, are unrealistic. People, in many cases, don’t change.

Love does not bring happiness. People carry their happy nature along with them, as well as their problems with insecure attachments from the past, into their love relationships.