5 Ways to Find and Keep Relationships Thriving with a Growth Mindset
Are you doing what the 91% of successful marriages, friendships, & partnerships practice?
“Trevor… I’m not coming back with you,” she said. Her voice was flat, and it came through my ears into my brain like a distant song. I was half-asleep, but I immediately turned to look at her.
Something was wrong.
Her eyes lacked their typical glow of green. She laid stoically on her side, her beautiful face and body curled into the blankets that she always managed to slide away from me as we slept.
“What?” I asked quietly, as something dropped in my chest. “What did you say?”
“I’m not coming with you.”
“What — why?”
But it was too late, I had already lost her, and way before this moment.
Six years of love, friendship, travel, memories, and a relationship ended later that year. I didn’t see any silver lining, didn’t see anything gained. But the truth is, my failures as a partner started a new path of growth for me.
And this path of learning started after I lost her.
My own heartbreak started a voracious question asking journey about what made successful relationships, friendships, and marriages thrive; it also made me dive into what real love was, how it felt, and what I could do to sustain it if I actually found it again.
1. IS TRUE LOVE BS?
Is pure love science, data, brain chemistry, or is it intuition, feeling, and emotion?
If marriage and relationship researchers can predict within 91% accuracy if you are going to stay married or in a relationship, where do we stand?
How do we know what side of science fence we are on? How do we know if we are meeting the right people, friends, or partners to create an intuitive environment that thrives, grows, feels good, and adapts to change?
Not to get all sappy, but let’s say true love is compatibility between spouses or lovers that have a robust and lasting affection, attraction, and admiration, yet are also in a passionate, honest, growing, and fulfilling relationship.
Imagine you could take a test before you got married and could figure out with 91% accuracy if your marriage would work in the future, would you do it?
I would, I don’t want to go through the suffering again, sorry fam.
Now I watch, observe, and ask questions to my closest friends that are in healthy, thriving partnerships and marriages. I ask questions and compare it to what I know about *Gottman’s principles of success.
“What makes your marriage work?” I ask. “How do you guys find ways to connect and flourish while the other half of our society crashes and burns?”
“How do you guys handle conflict?”
These successful marriages I respect the most — the ones that handle conflict and keep a sense of humor, stay away from contempt, build families or time for one another, negative criticism, or bad interactions, or stonewalling when the shit hits the fan.
Because the shit is going to hit the fan, people.
So the real question is how do you find true love or get back to practicing it in your current marriage or relationship?
2. 86% IS THE MAGIC NUMBER
What AND who will get me to want to respond to a partner 86% of the time or more?
As a professional point guard, I shot free throws at around 86%. Shooting that accurately took a lot of work.
Science can’t help you find a partner, but it can tell you with greater accuracy what your relationships, marriages, or friendships need to grow.
What we actually need and love in a partner, whether it’s their mind, their friendship, their body, their humor, their kindness, their spontaneity, or their intelligence is formed from the foundation of genuinely loving to be around them.
John Gottman, who has studied relationships and marriage for 42 years, found in a six-year study of newlyweds that those who were still married responded to each other 86% of the time, while those that got divorced only turned towards each other’s bids 33% of the time.
What does Gottman call these responses to each other?
Simple interactions that leave you feeling better, not worse. A fun talk. A good laugh. Eye contact. Intimate sex. A ritual like connecting at dinner, or hugging/kissing before you go to work, or texting each other funny GIF’s all day.
Okay, Gottman’s data tells me I need to be present and mindful more often with the people I love, this in turn means I need to practice letting go of the bad habits that lower my chances of turning towards the people I love.
What are some of the lowest hanging fruit of my bad habits?
All the simple distractions, all the technologies that take me away from more positive interactions (like this computer). I need to create or block off times where I put down the cell phones, shut the computer screens, turn off the TVs, and take deep breaths, so I can talk, listen, and connect more.
3. KNOW WHAT TRUE LOVE IS, TO YOU.
Gottman’s data can’t introduce me to what type of woman I need. His data can’t turn on my attraction switch. His research can’t give me the butterflies one feels when they fall in love.
This is the hardest part of being single as you get older, realizing what you need in a relationship is more important than the initial attraction you have; knowing who can influence you to overcome struggle, interact more, laugh more, share more, appreciate them more, and trust the growth process, more.
This is where I stumble in my dating life because I’m scared of answering a question most single men will never admit to asking:
Will I be alone for the rest of my life because I have too high of standards for myself, and the women I date?
Maybe scared isn’t the right word — I’m scared I will feel nostalgic the rest of my life about wanting what a growing relationship offers; all the things that come with genuinely knowing someone from the inside out and how they make life more fun, affectionate, growth-oriented, intimate, and fulfilling.
“Couples who are demanding in their marriage are more likely to have deeply satisfying unions than those who lower their expectations.” ~ John M. Gottman
Maybe you can help me answer some of my questions:
Should we lower our standards and raise our dating average or should we stay single and hold out until we align with what we think true love represents for us?
Is it possible that having too high of standards causes unwanted nostalgia for emotional intimacy, physical touch, and growing friendship, attraction, and relationship?
Is it natural to ask these questions right up until the point you realize you’ve met your possible true love partner, so all of these points are moot?
What should one appreciate and look for first, friendship or attraction?
If I truly want to appreciate and love someone (as much as I try to enjoy and appreciate myself), what should I be doing to ensure I align with the right women?
4. TRUE LOVE REQUIRES PRACTICE AND A FOCUS ON GROWTH OVER HAPPINESS
Wait, I thought I was always supposed to be happy.
Damn — #4 changes things.
But seriously, I thought relationships would be more straightforward. Easier. But to succeed in over our passions, crafts, jobs, careers, startups, art, or endeavors in life, we have to focus on growth, so why would it be any different in an even bigger undertaking?
To build a successful, healthy, thriving relationship, friendship, or marriage, you will have to practice and focus on growth, not happiness.
And what does that mean?
Practicing success could come down to your awareness of simple math.
Gottman says, “… In marriage, couples are always making what I call ‘bids’ for each other’s attention, affection, humor, or support. Bids can be as minor as asking for a back rub or as significant as seeking help in carrying the burden when an aging parent is ill. The partner responds to each bid either by turning toward the spouse or turning away. A tendency to turn toward your partner is the basis of trust, emotional connection, passion, and satisfying sex life. Comical as it may sound, romance is strengthened in the supermarket aisle when your partner asks, ‘Are we out of butter?’ and you answer, ‘I don’t know. Let me go get some just in case,’ instead of shrugging apathetically. It grows when you know your spouse is having a bad day at work and you take a few seconds out of your schedule to send him an encouraging text. In all of these instances, partners are making a choice to turn toward rather than away.”
And you need to do this with a ratio of 5:1, by just focusing on practicing five times the good bids to the one bad bid.
Gottman’s blog says, “The point of marriage is not happiness. The point of marriage is growth.”
Well, that’s how I feel about my dating life — rarely am I happy in it, but I’m growing all over the place. Learning how I piss people off, how I assume things that aren’t true, watching my patterns of introversion, and understanding how frustrated or angry I get when another date crashes and burns.
Realizing how fickle attraction is.
I want to take 100% responsibility for being single and finding someone that truly fits me, but I also want to find someone that respects the notion of growth over happiness. This is why I write and share my thoughts as I try to figure out why my frog mind just keeps jumping from lily pad to lily pad with nothing to show for it.
I remind myself, stick with the 5:1 ratio to succeed.
The good news is I have amazing friendships that help me grow. The bad news is the moment you think you may have someone that fits the attraction and friendship true love shoe, the clock strikes midnight, and they either don’t like you or vice versa.
5. DON’T LET FEAR OR BAD HABITS RUIN YOUR TRUE LOVE CHANCES
My fears of being alone or my nostalgia of wanting what I used to have isn’t coming from a sad, depressed, dejected, “I need a woman” to be in a happy place. I’m grateful for my life. I’m lucky, to have grown through the suffering of rebuilding my career and love life after 14 years of professional sports.
I continuously try to practice good habits of living grateful, weird, and happy, but what am I missing?
But how do I know what negative loops, behaviors, habits, and thought patterns I’ve entrenched myself in as I get older? Do I criticize, use contempt, stonewall, or turn defensive against friends, family, and co-workers?
Is it too late to change if I do?
The cliche, “As you get older, you get stuck in your ways,” scares me.
Because I do want to try and work at love again. I don’t want to roll over in a relationship and not understand why someone would leave on a moment notice.
“I often think that if fitness buffs spent just 10 percent of their weekly workout time — say, twenty minutes a day — working on their marriage instead of their bodies, they would get three times the health benefits they derive from exercise class or the treadmill.” ~ John M. Gottman
Wanting to appreciate someone or something means to recognize their full worth. Something that appreciates rises in value or price. By practicing connection, by cherishing a woman, taking care of a classic car, a bottle of vintage wine, spending time playing with my dog Bear, connecting with my family, and my friends, I give it room to appreciate and grow.
FIND TRUE LOVE IN AUTHENTICITY, PRACTICE, AND SCIENCE
You may think true love is BS. The truth is, true love is whatever you make it. Whatever you need to live a growth mindset type life. If you don’t want to grow, then call a spade a spade, and admit you aren’t looking for anything real, thriving, or lasting. Be authentic, be honest, and know growth takes effort, in anything.
I don’t want to get into a relationship, fall in love, and fail again. I want something that cultivates my mind, body, and soul. 86% of the time, thriving couples connect when they try to connect. By knowing the data, you can start to analyze your behavior and modify it. Like in basketball, if you aren’t hitting 86% of your free throw shots, you aren’t practicing enough. No one is stopping you from nurturing fondness and admiration.
No one is stopping your from practicing positive interactions, so be present, and trust the process!
Remember, 5:1 bids positive to negative. Turn towards each other instead of away and remember that your fears, negativity, self-limiting beliefs, and patterns will bite you in the ass. If you find yourself blaming, complaining, criticizing (why do you always forget the umbrella you dimwit), stonewalling, attacking, or defending your position without allowing influence or compromise, then maybe it’s time to get some help reflect on who you are becoming.
If you don’t know where to start, write a list of what you love about yourself, what you love in someone a friend or your partner and start appreciating their best qualities one by one. Knowing what to focus on, how to grow, and where to turn when the maze of love gets complicated starts on with your internal mindset.
Thank you for reading this far! I actually do like writing to people like you, and yes, thank you mom for reading too.
Please join my overseas pro athlete life in helping find all the ways to help you to find personal and athletic growth the fastest: HERE.
An American Coach in Belgium: Quarantine in the Time of COVID-19
I am a professional American basketball coach in Coronavirus self-quarantine in Belgium. This is my story…
5 Self-Awareness Tools That Will Change Your 2019
How a pro athlete practices willpower to change how you grow and define your own success
The Stoic Life: Run Towards Failures and Live a Simpler Life
My pro sports blog on living through failure, uncertainty, and remaining Stoic through it all.
What It Felt Like to Guard Stephon Marbury
For one free-agent rookie, it was like trying to cage The Hulk when he’s turned green
3 Things You Need to Do Every Day to Rock in Life, Sports, Writing, and Startups in 2020
Hi. I’m Trevor, a world-class sports and motivation writer (okay, not really world-class, but I believe in the process…
Thanks for literally taking the most precious time out of your day to read the thoughts of my pro athlete and coaching life… :)
- The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work A Practical Guide BY JOHN M. GOTTMAN & NAN SILVER · HARMONY © 1999 · 271 PAGES