Nothing you can do about it…or can you?

Somehow I found myself in a fascinating conversation last week with researchers at a major online dating site discussing the value of the User Manual in enhancing relationships. [Long story short: they claim to love the idea — more proper nouns soon.]

One of their research team raised a fascinating point referencing the implicit theories of relationships, which turns out to mean that we either see our relationships as destiny or as growth.

People who believe in destiny relationships think relationships are meant to be. With that mindset, I was always meant to wind up with Katia; every setback or U-turn or, gulp, previous marriage along the way was an inevitable part of an essential process that brought me to the only possible destiny.

People who believe in growth relationships believe we can cultivate our relationships. Things aren’t always perfect, but we can act to enhance it over time by changing ourselves and our approach. Improvement is always on the table.

These theories have fascinating repercussions. People who believe in destiny relationships are less likely to act to fix them or to slow an implosion. After all, if it was meant to be it was meant to be–and if it wasn’t, what’s the point in screwing with the whims of the universe? People in destiny relationships tend to flock to instant connections. They’re more likely to have one-night stands. They’re more likely to actively end relationships. And when they’re with their destined partner–it’s electric. One fascinating corollary is that destiny relationship folks are more likely to idealize their partner and thus gloss over problems and quell little doubts–which turns out to be essential for successful close relationships. (Here’s the academic paper.)

People who believe in growth relationships give relationships room to breathe and change. They might stick out a rocky road an extra year. They’re less likely to have one night stands, and more likely to take a slow build. They work on it, see therapists, read blogs like this one. Problems don’t faze them; they’re just another place to grow.

Throwing another spitball into the story, I mentioned this dichotomy yesterday to a friend and he said that he believed in destiny relationships–and that his destiny was to grow. Which may make the most sense of them all!

There’s a millenia-long after-dinner wine-fueled debate running about predestination, how much is supposed to happen to us and how much we can take matters into our own hands and blaze our way out of prison with nothing but a shank and bucket of pruno.

This isn’t that conversation. (Though invite me to dinner and I’ll bring the wine.)

Relationships are fundamentally a different animal. When we meet, most of us don’t want to force it. We want to be ourselves and be loved for that. Hence, the destiny of a good fit can make a lot of sense, rather than distorting our personalities into all sorts of triple knots just to cram a round peg into a square hole.

Once we’re escalating into a serious relationship, however, we’ve done our shopping. We’ve price checked, assessed features, done the test drive. Most of us know the partner’s a relatively good fit. And some of us even know our own flaws and shortcomings from previous relationships flops that could use a tune-up or even an overhaul. Pivoting to a growth mindset once we’ve bought in makes a lot of sense to me.

Make room, Myers-Briggs and Enneagrams: the implicit theories of relationships are fascinating stuff that can help us know ourselves better, bulk up our User Manuals–and make more relationships ridiculously amazing.

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