Lasting–you mean longer than 8 days?

It must seem to readers that I am always blathering on (blathering? Is that a word?)  about lasting relationships……which of course I am, and why the site is called helpingrelationshipslast.com.  OK, fine.  But you may wonder how long I mean when I say lasting. Well,  I want relationships to last as long as they are satisfying for both partners.  I hope this site is helping make that happen, and in an ideal world, lasting would mean as long you both shall live….’til the end of time….forever and a day….’til the cows come home.  Pick whichever you like best.

And I would never argue that in one night, no matter how magical that night was, a couple could have the kind of meaningful interaction that I hope characterizes lasting relationships.  Not in one night,  nor even in seven nights.  I just read an article about the actor Dennis Hopper.  The article listed the names of the three women he been married to and then added that he also had been married to Michelle Phillips (of the band the Mamas and the Papas) for eight days.  He is quoted as saying “Seven of those days were pretty good. The eighth day was the bad one.”

So, I am sure that lasting needs to be longer than one night and longer than eight days.  No matter how good the first seven are.

About Alan Strathman

Alan has spent 24 years as a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri. He is the founder of HelpingRelationshipsLast.com and contributes content regularly through blog posts and e-books that communicates the findings of psychological research on relationships. If you would like more information about Alan, please visit alanstrathman.com.

Future Consequences and Lasting Relationships

Sometimes I think one day when I was absent from elementary school the teacher passed out the Life Instruction Manual. And since I was sick that day I didn’t get a copy and the teacher didn’t think to give me a copy when I returned to school. I think I know what would be Chapter 1 in the Life Instruction Manual.  If, of course, there were such a thing as a Life Instruction Manual.  I should point out that if the Life Instruction Manual was available in stores, I would go buy a copy.

Here is a sneak preview: Many of the decisions that we find difficult involve varying sets of consequences.  Some of those consequences we will experience immediately whereas others will not affect us for some time.  And often we are faced with a dilemma where we can choose an option that has very positive immediate benefits but more negative distant costs.  Or vice-versa: immediate costs but distant benefits.  And I believe resolving these kinds of dilemmas appropriately is as important a skill as any I can think of.

Of course the term lasting relationship is synonymous with long-term relationship.  And I bet each of you can think of things you did that you weren’t happy about but that contributed to the long-term health of your relationship. Sometimes we should live for the moment, and other times we should plan for the future.  But knowing when we should do one or the other is not always easy.

Stay tuned for a longer post on the importance of immediate and distant consequences in lasting relationships.

About Alan Strathman

Alan has spent 24 years as a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri. He is the founder of HelpingRelationshipsLast.com and contributes content regularly through blog posts and e-books that communicates the findings of psychological research on relationships. If you would like more information about Alan, please visit alanstrathman.com.

Trust and Lasting Relationships

trust /trʌst/

–noun

  1. reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.

If you ask Dictionary.com for the definition of trust, it gives you many results.  This is not surprising given that trust is a complex concept that underlies, perhaps, every relationship between two or more people. Trust is important in law, politics, business, friendships and, of course, lasting and healthy relationships.

When I think of trust in relationships two somewhat competing thoughts come to mind.  First, because it is such an integral part of a relationship, it is no wonder that violations of trust can have such serious consequences. Second, if it is such an integral part of a relationship, why do so many people seem willing to break it?

Certainly trust underlies many aspects of a lasting relationship.  We trust our partners not to blow our life savings on a yacht (oh, if only my life savings could buy a yacht); we trust them to deal with our children as we agreed to; and we trust them not to have secret relationships with others.  But what happens if our partner violates our trust? Is that the end of the relationship?  One strike and you’re out? In most instances, one violation of trust is unlikely to be the end of a relationship.  But if the relationship is going to continue there must be some process where trust is recovered.

In a recent article in the journal Psychological Science, Michael Haselhuhn and his colleagues identify one variable that plays a role in decisions to re-establish trust in a relationship–whether or not we believe that people can change.  They found that those who believe that character can change over time were more likely to re-establish trust following a violation than those who believe that character is fixed and unchangeable.

So, what do you believe? Other research has shown that this belief—that people can or cannot change their personal attributes and corresponding behavior—plays a large role in relationships.  And the issue isn’t really whether we can actually change—most psychologists agree that change is possible.  The issue really is our perception of the possibility of change.  Spend some time thinking about what you believe. Talk with your partner about their beliefs. Doing so can have at least two benefits. One is that discussing your beliefs will help you when you need to rely on them in a particular situation.  A second benefit is that just having substantive conversations like this can improve relationship satisfaction (see our post on this topic).

In case you are interested …..

Haselhuhn, M. P., Schweitzer, M. E., & Wood, A. M.(2010). How implicit beliefs influence trust recovery. Psychological Science, 21, 645-648.

About Alan Strathman

Alan has spent 24 years as a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri. He is the founder of HelpingRelationshipsLast.com and contributes content regularly through blog posts and e-books that communicates the findings of psychological research on relationships. If you would like more information about Alan, please visit alanstrathman.com.

Sustaining Healthy Relationships

Another newsflash! Research has shown that happy couples are more likely to provide social support to their partner and more likely to perceive receiving such support. But social support is one of those grand terms that can mean almost anything.

So, what exactly do we mean by social support?  For that we can look to an article by Laura Stafford and Daniel Canary from the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.  In this article Stafford and Canary described five types of supportive behavior:

a) assurances (for example, “Shows him/herself to be faithful to me” and “Implies our relationship has a future”)

b) positivity (for example,  “Acts cheerful and positive when with me” and “Tries to build up my self-esteem, including giving me compliments, etc”)

c) sharing tasks (for example, “Helps equally with tasks that need to be done” and “Shares in the joint responsibilities that face us”)

d) social network (for example, “Likes to spend time with our same friends” and “Focuses on common friends and affiliations”)

e) openness (for example, “Seeks to discuss the quality of our relationship” and “Encourages me to disclose my thoughts and feelings to him/her”).

Take a moment and think about these behaviors in your relationship.  Do you think your partner perceives you as assuring, positive and willing to share tasks?  Would they be able to come up with specific examples?  I ask about these three (a, b, c), in particular, because Stafford and Canary found that these three were strongly related to feelings of commitment and relationship satisfaction.  So, these are specific things partners can do to sustain their relationship.

I hope you can see a theme to some of the recent posts—being grateful, assuring, positive and willing to share tasks are specific actions each of you can take to sustain your relationship.  I recognize that sometimes these things are not all that easy to do, but making an effort will go a long way to keeping you together.

In case you are interested…..

Stafford, L., & Canary, D. J. (1991). Maintenance strategies and romantic relationship type, gender and relational characteristics. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 8, 217–242.

About Alan Strathman

Alan has spent 24 years as a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri. He is the founder of HelpingRelationshipsLast.com and contributes content regularly through blog posts and e-books that communicates the findings of psychological research on relationships. If you would like more information about Alan, please visit alanstrathman.com.

Gratitude and Lasting Relationships

NEWSFLASH!!!!  Expressing gratitude can help foster lasting relationships.  OK, so that’s hardly a newsflash.  No kidding, right?  Of course it does.  I am mentioning this because it gives me the chance to talk about the value of research in helping couples form satisfying and rewarding relationships.  One clear benefit of research is that it often discovers things that we would never have predicted.  Psychologists call these things counter-intuitive.

On June 5th we will have a longer blog post on gratitude (see it here). Recent research on gratitude shows that if I express gratitude to my partner, it is not just she that benefits.  Of course, if we express gratitude to someone, they typically appreciate it. But recent research shows that expressing gratitude also affects the person doing the expressing.  If I say thank you for a kind act, research suggests it influences the way I think about the relationship.

Expressing gratitude, in whatever form, changes the perception of the relationship.  Though this is a little simplistic it works something like this:  If I express gratitude, I hear myself do it, and the more I hear myself do it the more I come to think of my relationship as one that makes me feel grateful.  And feeling grateful about a relationship is likely to lead to greater satisfaction.

Stay tuned for a longer post on gratitude.

About Alan Strathman

Alan has spent 24 years as a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri. He is the founder of HelpingRelationshipsLast.com and contributes content regularly through blog posts and e-books that communicates the findings of psychological research on relationships. If you would like more information about Alan, please visit alanstrathman.com.

Small Talk and Lasting Relationships

Every now and then I hear someone make the following joke:  Everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.  And, I admit, I think it’s funny.  Talking about the weather is the quintessential example of small talk—that thing people do when they don’t know each other or have very little in common to discuss.  We can always rely on the weather, something in the news, or sports to get us through those awkward silences.

But a recent study by Matthias Mehl and his colleagues at the University of Arizona suggests that having more substantive conversations is associated with higher levels of happiness.  They defined small talk as “…uninvolved, banal conversation… (e.g., ‘What do you have there? Popcorn? Yummy!’)” (p. 539) and substantive conversation as “…involved conversation of a substantive nature…(e.g., ‘She fell in love with your dad? So, did they get divorced soon after?’)” (p. 539).  They found that happy people had twice as many substantive conversations and engaged in about one-third the amount of small talk than less happy people.

I am not so much interested in the study itself because it was not restricted to those in love relationships. But it does agree with much of the research on interpersonal relationships. Relationships last when couples have positive, meaningful interactions where they disclose information about themselves, offer support to their partners when they self-disclose, and discuss substantive issues.

The very simple take-home point is to make an effort to have more substantive discussions with your partner.  Will it solve all your relationship problems?  Of course not.  But it may be a path to the kind of interactions that happy couples have.

In case you are interested…..

Mehl, M. R., Vazire, S., Holleran, S. E., & Clark, C. S. (2010). Eavesdropping on happiness: Well-being is related to having less small talk and more substantive conversations.  Psychological Science, 21, 539-541.

About Alan Strathman

Alan has spent 24 years as a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri. He is the founder of HelpingRelationshipsLast.com and contributes content regularly through blog posts and e-books that communicates the findings of psychological research on relationships. If you would like more information about Alan, please visit alanstrathman.com.