Ralph Waldo Emerson said this of his ideal friend, “In a friend, what I’m looking for is not a mush of concessions, a person who will agree with everything that I say; rather what I’m looking for is a beautiful enemy, a person who will push me, who will help me in my apprenticeship to the truth.”
The top 10% of happy relationships, what separates them from the other 90% are five traits:
1. The understanding that relationships are hard work. They don’t have a “finding mindset,” they have a “cultivating” mindset. Many people, especially people that live in big cities filled with potential have this mindset that “I must find the love of my life,” and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but to always have that mindset is to bounce around from person to person, always looking for the next high or the next peak experience. The most successful relationships are the ones where the people in it have a cultivating mindset, it’s the people that work on their relationships, and are “working” on their relationship.
There is no such thing as a “successful” relationship because they couples are always “succeeding.”
2. Being known and understood rather than being validated. This is where Positive Psychology separates from conventional wisdom – a lot of relationships books talk about “validation” as one of the biggest pillars of building successful relationships, but what research has found was that it’s not validating the “impressions” that our dates/partners/friends leave us, it’s about “expressions” of our dates/partners/friends. If a partner likes you because you impress, do they really like you for you or do they just like the image of you that you portray? Don’t impress, express.
According to David Shnark –
“Intimacy is about letting yourself really be known, including parts that you or your partner don’t like. But it’s not just about letting “weaknesses” be known, it also involves showing strengths you’ve been hiding too. Most approach is focused on getting your partner’s validation and acceptance when you disclose, but you can’t count on this, and if you try, it will limit self-disclosure because you won’t say things your partner won’t validate. Resolving gridlock involves intimacy based on validating yourself.”
3. Conflict. In flourishing relationships there’s a 5:1 positive vs negative conflict ratio. That’s not to say that if you have a 13:1 ratio that your relationship isn’t working. The 5:1 is an average. Partners need to learn how to argue. Learn how to be in the midst of conflict. The partners that get personal instead of situational causes more harm in the relationships than those who don’t. Notice the difference here:
Situation: The dishes aren’t done for the third day in a row.Personal Response: “You are so lazy, why can’t you just do the dishes? It’s been three days!”
Situational Response: “Hey I know you’ve been busy, I’ve asked you to do the dishes, can you do the dishes today?”
The personal attacks have to stop in order to cultivate relationships. Insults, contempt and embarrassment are extremely destructive to relationships. Focus needs to be on the behavior, focus needs to be on the substance, not the person or the emotions. When you focus on the person and the emotions, you created a negative self-fulfilling prophecy.
4. Having a positive perception of your partner, having a positive self-fulfilling prophecy. The best benefit creators see positive traits that are not there and make them real. Focus on your partner’s potential, what works in the relationship instead of what doesn’t work. Focus on what are your partner’s best traits are and what attracted you to him in the first place. List these out if you have to.
5. Communicating about positive events. Shelly Gable found that how couples communicate about positive events is a better predictor of long-term relationship success than how couples communicate about negative events. The key is to be active and constructive in your responses and not passive or destructive. Showing a lack of interest, changing the topic, seeing the negative aspects of a situation or “Oh, that’s great, awesome…” are all examples of being passive or destructive. The difference between that and, “Let’s go celebrate!” “Well done, you’ve worked so hard!” “Tell me how it happened!” is the difference between relationships that are succeeding vs those that fail. What happens when you are active and constructive is that you prolong the elevated positive emotions of your partner, and they in turn associate those positive emotions with you.
Be genuine, step into the shoes of your partner and be happy for your partner, especially in times when they are happy.
Now I end with a great quote, one of my favorites: