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Summertime—and Time for a Relationship Checkup

“Ever since happiness found your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.”

–Hafiz of Persia

Whether at a beach, mountain, or lake, a vacation stroll with your significant other is a fine time to check the health of your relationships. Memorize these three precepts and use them as an aid in making any necessary mid-relationship corrections. They are based on the “equilibrium model of relationship maintenance” developed by Sandra Murray and her team at the University of Buffalo, State University of New York, and reported on recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Think of these three rules, or maxims, as Hafiz chasing you towards a greater sense of well-being.

  • The rule of mutual non-aggression. Two of Dr. Murray’s relationship rules are based on familiar ideas. This non-aggression rule dates back to the Confucian concept of jen, and it is known today by many as the Losada ratio. I call it the PEE:NEE ratio—the ratio of positive emotional events to negative emotional events. LosadaAs a rough guideline—knowing that individual situations differ—initiate five positive emotional events for every negative. A pat on the back, an “atta boy/girl,” an appreciative smile, a thank-you very much, and an “I’m proud of you for this accomplishment,” for every angry outburst or discounting remark. See more at page 213 in my book on Happiness. It is also similar to the human relations exercise called IALAC, for “I am loveable and capable.” That exercise begins with a name tag, a bit of which is torn off for every negative emotional event that makes the wearer feel a bit less loveable and capable. It offers immediate, if negative, feedback to one’s partner.
  • The rule of mutual dependence. Another familiar construct, the mutual dependence rule is similar to John Thibaut and Harold Kelley’s 1978 description of interdependence in their Interpersonal Relations: A Theory of Interdependence. Every relationship entails more enjoyable tasks and less enjoyable responsibilities, even self vs otheronerous ones. Yet, what is onerous to one member may be a joy to another—you may find weeding the garden soothing while your partner may find it distasteful. According to interdependence theory, both partners feel that neither has a greater share of distasteful tasks, nor a greater portion of blissful tasks. One way to establish balance is to make a list of all tasks that the relationship must perform, whether pleasant or unpleasant: grocery shopping, meal planning, cooking, washing dishes, doing laundry, running errands, writing letters to family, paying bills, reading to kids, bathing kids, and the list goes on. A different list would be written for work partners.
  • The rule of goal support. While not an earth-shakingly new suggestion, this rule seems to me something ofgoal puzzle added value that Dr. Murray has brought to relationship management. Simple but powerful, it assumes that each partner has goals. These goals could be simple and short term, like getting errands done before 4 p.m. on Saturday in order to get in a set of tennis before dark, or more complex and long term, like completing a college degree or writing a book. Goal support means being aware of your partner’s goals and not doing anything that would interfere with progress towards those goals, including making light of their goals.

 So, as you two walk a path, consider these three questions:

  1. Positivity: How are we doing on our balance of positive emotional events to negative ones? What do we each need to do more of or less of in order for the balance to be in good shape?
  2. Chores: How are we doing on our balance of more pleasing versus less pleasing chores? Is one of us getting off light? Is one of us getting more of the drudgery?
  3. Goals: How are we doing on supporting each other’s goals? Are there any goals that you feel I don’t respect, or that I in some way make it more difficult for you to make progress on and achieve?

The purpose: To maintain equilibrium in the relationship.

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  1. August 7, 2015 at 8:49 am

    I have re-entered the world of your blog, thanks to visiting your FB page on the occasion of thy birth. I have forwarded to our dear friend in Berkeley who is a life coach. Good stuff, mononcle.

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