The famous psychiatrist Carl Jung once said "The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed."
As the quote suggests, romantic relationships can create a valuable opportunity for happiness, love and personal development. The key to achieving these things, however, is for both partners to be committed to examining the role they play in the relationship dynamics.
If you are ready to learn more about the part you are playing in your relationship, take some time to honestly reflect on the following four questions, all of which are backed by science!
1. Am I taking responsibility for my own happiness?
This is a big one. While Hollywood screen writers would have us believe that finding the right person can make us happy and even complete us, research actually shows that the opposite is true - having a solid sense of happiness and well-being not only increases your odds of having a relationship, it also leads to more satisfying relationships.
Reflect on whether you expect your partner to make you happy, and if you do find yourself susceptible to looking outward for happiness, understand the tenuous position you are putting yourself in by making your sense of well-being dependent on the whims of someone else. Take back your power and recognize that you, and only you, are responsible for living a joyful life.
2. Do I strive to see my partner in a positive light?
In psychology, there is a phenomenon called the Pygmalion Effect (based on the play by George Bernard Shaw), which has shown that people tend to rise to the expectations you have of them. This line of research has found, for example, that when teachers and bosses were told that particular individuals (who were picked at random) were talented or gifted, those people tended to thrive relative to their peers.
So, what does this have to do with relationships? The researchers found that the identified individuals were actually flourishing because the teachers and bosses were being more patient, taking more time with them, and investing more in their learning, based on their increased expectations of the other person's potential. In other words, they were showing up differently and behaving more supportively when they thought the student or employee had something special.
To apply this to your relationship, think about the expectations you have of your partner, and whether you look at him or her in a positive light. Then, reflect on how those expectations affect how you interact with him or her. Are there changes you could make to better cultivate the relationship? Commit to bringing your best self to the table as a partner, and see what happens.
3. Do I disengage in my relationship?
Recent research has shown that mind-reading and withdrawal are two forms of disengagement that can interfere with relationships. Expecting your partner to be a mind-reader gets in the way of solving conflicts, as important concerns may never get addressed, leading to unresolved anger and resentment. Further, the researchers argued that withdrawing (or shutting down) during conflict is even more harmful for relationships because it creates distance. Again, this can get in the way of addressing important matters, leading to lower relationship satisfaction.
If you find yourself withdrawing or expecting your partner to be a mind-reader, work to develop more constructive communication skills. This will allow important issues to get on the table and increase the odds that you can work things out.
4. What is my ratio of positive to negative interactions with my partner?
John Gottman is a renowned couples therapist who is so in-tune with relationships that in one study, he was able to predict with 94% accuracy which couples would divorce. And, one consistent finding in his research is that the most stable and happy couples have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions, whereas unstable relationships have a much lower ratio.
Does this mean you should aim for no conflict whatsoever? Well, aside from that being pretty unlikely, Gottman points out that "negative" interactions can actually be beneficial, in that they can cause greater understanding and the opportunity to come to agreement about behaviors that are having an unwanted impact. However, being positive and supportive (even during conflicts) is critically important for the relationship to thrive.
Take stock of your relationship and notice if your interactions are much more positive than negative. If there is some room for improvement, decide along with your partner, to be intentional about increasing acts of positivity, kindness and compassion.
Finally, as you contemplate improving your relationship, consider this quote by the poet, Rumi, "Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself."
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