The best way to minimize relationship problems is to avoid them in the first place.
Also: the best way to avoid getting shot is avoiding bullets.
But if everything’s amazing, prevention isn’t a priority. We’ve got oodles of other things to do, from Netflix to dance parties to staring at the wall to, gosh, I don’t know, disco curling.
Therein the eternal conundrum of humanity!
Lots of people will pay to find the person of their dreams. eHarmony, Match, Tinder, Zoosk, Bumble, you name it–dozens of dating/relationship sites are making bank on those of us hungry for a late night disco curling partner.
But to keep the person of our dreams? Dozens of apps aim at preventing relationship implosions, but none has reached hallowed verb status–as in “I Ubered to work” or “Tindered a date.” Daily relationship maintenance is not a problem most people think needs solving…until we screw it up.
In one of those random lightning strikes the universe sometimes indulges us with, a few years back I had an impromptu BBQ dinner with former Chicago Bulls guard–and current assistant General Manager–Randy Brown. Randy’s most famous for subbing for Michael Jordan six minutes a game back in the 90s and running around like a banshee on the court. I peppered him with questions about working with MJ and learning from Phil Jackson and, of course, running a professional basketball organization. He had dump-truck loads of interesting stories, but the shining story I remember is when he said that the young players who’d faced adversity always did the best in the pros.
Randy had dump-truck loads of interesting stories, but the shining story I remember is when he said that the young players who’d faced adversity always did the best in the pros.
They’d overcome serious obstacles, like tough childhoods with no money and absentee parents. So they appreciated how fragile life in the NBA was and never took anything for granted, from free shoes (Jordans, natch) to a sparkling gym to all the Gatorade you can drink.
They hustled. They showed up early and left late. They didn’t give up.
They learned the hard way. They did the maintenance.
Too much of the time, you have to screw up or come from a hard place to truly understand the value of prevention.
David Brooks hits on this point in what’s otherwise an inglorious Hillary Clinton hitjob: “The mistakes just have to be made.”
Behavioral scientists are crafting fascinating strategies to lure ourselves into pre-emptive maintenance without the agony of a personal implosion. Education, resetting social norms, finding a support team–it all moves the needle. We’ve helped billions lose weight, floss regularly, get mammograms, buckle their seatbelts, be less rude. We can gamify better behavior, the same way Priuses and Nest thermostats award us fake leaves to reward ecofriendly driving and cooling–though that assumes we know what better behavior is.
But all that was hard. And it took decades and heaps of money.
Let’s not underestimate how massive this challenge is. Changing the culture of relationships from cruise control to active prevention is like moving an active volcano across a shark-infested ocean. And undertaking that shift personally is like hitting the update button on our personality–no walk in the park.
But nothing awesome is easy. And the beautiful results–ridiculously amazing relationships–are so, so worth it.