Updated: Apr 18, 2020
Have you seen couples who are incredibly happy? Who enjoy their time together, who understand and support one another, who seem to be on the same page about most things? If you’ve seen these unicorns, do you wonder how in the heck they manage to make their relationship so good? Or perhaps you believe there must be skeletons in their closet, they must be hiding some horrible fights - no couple can be that perfect!
I’ve been studying marital research for a long, long time. There are stable findings about the QUALITIES of a good relationship, and I’ve been trying to see how normal, imperfect people such as myself and every person I know can use these findings to drastically improve their relationships.
It wasn’t until I started studying MINDSET that I finally put it together. It’s not that people in happy relationships are somehow superior to those in unhappy relationships - in fact, superiority doesn’t even factor in! Most people in happy relationships just have a different MINDSET, one that’s easily learnable and that WILL improve how you feel in your relationship incredibly fast.
You see, those in happy relationships tend to operate from a growth mindset. This means they don’t judge themselves or their partner for where they’re at - they take every disagreement, every bad situation, and they focus on actively improving their relationship so it’s better the next time that same situation or disagreement occurs.
Let’s take an example. Say you and your partner have a disagreement about how to discipline your toddler. Your partner believes in giving "time outs" (where the toddler has to stay in one place and think about what they’ve done wrong) and you strongly disagree, taking the “time in” approach instead (where the toddler gets extra time and attention from you).
This situation could end up in a fight, with both sides thinking the other is completely wrong and doesn’t know what they’re talking about. They are left wondering How will we ever make this work if we can’t even agree on how to discipline our kid? With this doubt comes thoughts like “Should we even try?” or “Ugh, things will never get better.” It’s hard to recover from fights and thoughts like these.
Couples who have a growth-minded relationship, on the other hand, may still argue. They may both believe STRONGLY in their case. But they’ll also recognize that relationships take work, and raising a kid is especially hard on many couples. They’ll try to understand where the other person is coming from, and they’ll share why their own view is so important to them. They’ll do the work so that the next time something like this comes up, they’re better prepared, they understand their partner a little bit more fully, and they feel closer overall as a result.
You see, the difference in these two mindsets is that people with a fixed mindset operate from the assumption that you either have it or you don’t - and every situation is a judgment about whether we, as a couple, have it or we don’t. When you teach yourself to operate from a growth mindset, you stop judging yourself on the here and now. Instead, you take every opportunity to LEARN more about who you are as individuals and as a couple. Your focus is on how you can get better, NOT on how good or bad you are right now.
If you adopt this mindset, a few things will happen. First, you’ll likely feel bad about all the times you’ve unfairly judged or criticized your partner. BUT, taking a growth-minded approach of improving on mistakes, you can honestly apologize for those times and commit to appreciating their good qualities more than you ever have before. Second, you’ll start to see EVERY SINGLE SITUATION in a new way. You’ll be motivated to see just how much your relationship can improve, just how good you and your partner can feel about each other and your marriage, just how much more fun you can actually have with each other. You’ll take disagreements and use them to your benefit - by learning about the other person, discovering who they are and what they’re all about, sharing yourself with them, and actively growing together as a couple. Third, you’ll wonder what other aspects of your life you can improve by using a growth mindset. (The answer: all of them!)
I’m with you on this journey, sharing as I learn. I’d love to hear how adopting a growth mindset goes for you, and what questions you have after putting it into practice! Comment below, send me a note through the submission form on jenatharani.com, or tag me on Instagram @connectedcouplescounsellor. And share this article with a friend - it could change his or her life! Thank you for including me in your journey.