There is a lot of talk about mindset these days. People talk about cultivating a positive mindset for goals they want to achieve, such as sport and work but what mindset is needed for a happy, fulfilling relationship?
I often speak to clients about having a ‘relational mindset’. A relational mindset means taking the view that the relationship and its health are at the forefront of our minds. This means that when we have a rupture with our partner (a disagreement or a cross word, for example), our priority is on repairing and getting back to connection. This is regardless of whether we feel we were right and they were wrong.
This doesn’t mean we give up what we are trying to say or get across to our partner, as conflict is healthy in relationships. However, for the sake of a healthy relationship, we ensure the conflict stays respectful and if it gets heated, we take breaks in the conversation.
Relationship researcher and psychologist John Gottman refers to partners ‘accepting influence’ from each other. This means that even if partners don’t agree on something, they still make an attempt to move towards the other, by saying something like ‘I can see why you’d feel that way’. This is cultivating a relational mindset, ie. it’s for the good of the relationship – sending a message to the other that they are important and considered.
Sometimes in therapy, I have observed that clients need to shift from ‘me’ to ‘we’ so they can truly embrace a relational mindset in the relationship. For example, Joe and Sally are engaged in continual clashes about how to parent their daughter Toby, where both of them feel frustrated and disheartened about having their point of view heard by the other. In fact, the arguing is starting to erode their connection; but both feel they are right (an individual or ‘me’ perspective).
Adopting a relational mindset would help them to understand that their connection is more important than who is perceived as right or wrong (a team or ‘we’ perspective); because the health and safety of their relationship is a priority – and they can choose to be intentional about this every day.
I have touched on other issues such as perpetual conflict, rupture and repair and other things that tend to erode relationship connection, in this article – so if you’d like to know more, don’t hesitate to get in touch!