No one ever told me why marriage is so much work. My interpretation of that had more to do with diapers, laundry, yard work, house cleaning, cooking dinner and the like. No folks, that’s the easy part.
The hard part is managing the relationship.
Sure, some folks are just so easy-going that almost anything goes and they’re cool with that. In my opinion, they’re never 100% cool with everything their partner does, but for some couples, they’re like 90% cool and that’s good enough. Perhaps that’s the model we should strive for.
Until we get there, it’s work. Hard work. I’ve written before about that dynamic of choosing a mate then having to live with the consequences. Given that this is the cycle we inevitably and initially eagerly enter into, we spend much of our time (after the romance has faded) living with the consequences. There is much we can learn from positive psychologists about how to cultivate that relationship to create satisfaction and intimacy so that it survives and thrives post-romance.
Harvey and Pauwels calls this “minding” the relationship. We should “mind” relationships because we may have habits in the relationship that are unknowingly damaging to the relationship, such as not appreciating what the other needs, taking others for granted, or inability to see the impact of our behavior on others. The term “minding” does relate to a philosophy of mindfulness and being present and thus able to adapt to a given situation. Couples that successfully mind their relationship have a high degree of closeness and contribute to the other’s goals and hopes in life.
Harvey and Pauwels describe the components of relationship minding:
- Knowing and Being Known – This does not mean more communication; rather it refers to communication with the aim of having a better understanding of the other. For most of us, that means more listening.
- Attributing – Explaining positive behaviors as personality or character (as opposed to a freak of nature) and negative behaviors as circumstantial and temporary (as opposed to a character flaw).
- Acceptance and Respect – for the other, not only in terms of who they are, but for their values, opinions, and feelings, even during conflict. Ability to forgive is high among couples who mind effectively.
- Reciprocity – Equal sharing of effort and benefits to the relationship.
- Continuity – Continuation of the strong, close bond between the individuals, even as the individuals evolve and change over time.
The authors also share some minding behaviors to help us make these concepts a reality. These behaviors include affection, respect, support and assistance, shared quality time, and appreciation. It seems to me that investing in any relationship in these ways is likely to improve the quality of that bond. Is one of your relationships lacking any of these ingredients? Go fill that void and see what happens!
Source: Harvey, J.H. & Pauwels, B.G. (2009). Relationship connection: A redux on the role of minding and the quality of feeling special in the enhancement of closeness. In S.J. Lopez, & C.R. Snyder (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology (2nd ed.) (pp. 385-392). New York: Oxford University Press.