by Tiffany Park (Guest Blogger)
If you’ve seen “Enchanted” or “Shrek,” you’re familiar with the comical nod toward the unrealistic “happily ever after” mentality that riddles our favorite fairy tales and fables. A damsel in distress longingly awaits “true love’s kiss” that will save her from a life of misery, magically commencing the perfect, romantic life she’s always dreamed of. But we seldom see what happens to the couple after their joyful union. Too often, the beginning of a beautiful relationship is the end of the story. But in reality, their journey together is only in its infancy.
In our most cherished relationships—especially those with a spouse or significant other—we often hear phrases like “soulmate,” “meant to be,” or “fate.” There’s nothing initially wrong with this sentiment—until two people change drastically over the years, and fail to sense that “spark” anymore. After that, they either quit or keep going. You’ve likely known someone to jump from relationship to relationship, only for it to end in a mess of “not meant to be.” Conversely, you’ve probably seen couples who stick together through thick and thin, through bumps and mountains along the journey for years on end. What is it that keeps a couple going past the point of “sparks” and “fate”? Of course, there are plenty of factors that play into the difference between these cases. But the main difference? A growth mindset about the relationship.
Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., author of Mindset, the Psychology of Success, is known for her extensive research and expertise on the subject of mindset. The Power of Positivity quotes her as saying, “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits… They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” These mindsets are often talked about in the context of children’s education, but they are just as applicable to adult education in the school of life, specifically in getting along with other people. (In fact, Derek Beres of Big Think begs the question of why thriving and communicating in relationships is seldom addressed in formal school among the plethora of other subjects young people are immersed in.)
So how do we apply the concept of growth mindset to relationships? Dweck sums it up nicely: “Just as there are no great achievements without setbacks, there are no great relationships without conflicts and problems along the way.” She further informs us through Mindset Online that it means you not only believe in your own ability to change and grow, but also in that of your partner and the relationship itself.
Let’s review some of the mental shifts you can make to foster a growth mindset in your own relationship.
Turn Around Common Mindset Blunders:
Fixed mindset: If you have to work at it, it wasn’t meant to be.
Growth mindset: No relationship will work without both parties making significant effort. But that dedication and commitment to one another only strengthens the relationship, brings you closer together, and makes it all that much more rewarding.
Fixed mindset: Problems indicate character flaws.
Growth mindset: The fact that you have problems in your relationship is normal, and is not a sign that there’s something wrong with you or your partner. Remember that issues will always arise. Use them as a “vehicle for developing greater understanding and intimacy.”
Fixed mindset: A relationship will solve your problems and make you “happily ever after.”
Growth mindset: Of course, relationships make life more fulfilling, meaningful, and rewarding. We need each other. Many would agree that they are much happier being married to their best friend than being single. But it’s not the other person’s job to make you happy—that’s your responsibility. When you strive to be the best version of yourself on your own, then come together with your loved one, you will have that much more of yourself to give to the relationship, and your happiness together will increase a hundred fold. This video by Will Smith conveys this idea.
Fixed mindset: Holding onto grudges from past incidents.
Growth mindset: Forgive and let go of baggage and bitterness—as you move from one relationship to the next, and as you move from one problem to the next in the same relationship—so you can be fully engaged as you move forward.
Fixed mindset: Playing the blame game.
Growth Mindset: On the Power of Positivity, Dweck is quoted as saying, “If something goes wrong, who’s to blame? Am I the deficient, bad person, or are you the deficient, bad person? Every relationship has its ups and downs, so when you’re having a down, does this mean the relationship is inherently bad vs. good? In a fixed mindset, we’re always judging. Who’s good? Who’s bad? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who’s to blame? Is the relationship good or bad? This is not the optimal way to be. Instead, in a growth mindset, you understand that if you face and discuss an issue, then the relationship can get even stronger.”
Fixed mindset: A tendency to jump to conclusions and become angry because you believe your partner acted a certain way just to get at you.
Growth mindset: Approach bothersome behaviors with an attitude of curiosity. Kevin Horsley, author of Unlimited Memory: How to Use Advanced Learning Strategies to Learn Faster, Remember More and and be More Productive, said, “Thinking you know everything there is to know about something [or someone] is really not a useful place to be because it prevents you from learning anything new.” Seek to understand the other party. Ask yourself “I wonder why they’ve developed such-and-such a habit?” or “…why they reacted that way?” You’ll begin to realize that their actions are rarely out of malice, and more frequently out of fear, habit, or even love. When you take this perspective, you’ll learn to develop empathy and give the benefit of the doubt toward the person you love.
Fixed mindset: Change is scary and should be avoided.
Growth mindset: Be open to the changes life brings. Love your partner unconditionally, even when you change, they change, or your life together changes. Appreciate all your various seasons and colors that emerge over the years. Love them through their past, present, and future.
Entrepreneur and author Dale Partridge recently posted this on social media: “Men are so worried that marriage will leave them with ‘only one woman’ for the rest of their lives. That’s simply not true. I fell in love with a 19-year-old rock climber, married a 20-year-old animal lover, started a family with a 24-year-old mother, then built a farm with a 25-year-old homemaker, and today I’m married to a 27-year-old woman of wisdom.
“If your mind is healthy, you’ll never get tired of ‘one woman.’ You’ll actually become overwhelmed with how many beautiful versions of her you get to marry over the years.
“To see her grow from where she was, and me grow from where I was, we’ve already seen a few versions of ourselves, and I want to make sure people don’t miss that.”
The moral of the story is there’s actually nothing wrong with the idea of “happily ever after.” Just remember that in real life, the best happily ever afters come with ups and downs, happies and sads, mistakes and forgiveness, commitment and effort, a growth mindset and love.