Our mindset influences how we view or perceive our abilities. A person with a growth mindset believes that intelligence can be developed or that abilities can be strengthened. Those with a fixed mindset, however, view intelligence or ability as stable or fixed. Research has shown that those with a growth mindset are more likely to persist with a task in the face of difficulty, are more motivated to engage with challenging tasks, and will often outperform those with fixed mindsets.
So, how does this apply to relationships? Research by C. Raymond Knee and colleagues has shown that people who hold growth beliefs are more tolerant when it comes to discrepancies between their actual partner and the idealized version they hold of them; they’re also more likely to acknowledge and accept the perceived shortcomings of their partners, work to improve them, and remain satisfied with the relationship.
Generalizing this a bit, those who hold a fixed mindset may believe that relationships either succeed or fail or work or don’t work – rather than see the potential for improvement. When a problem arises, they’re more likely to get anxious or throw in the towel altogether.
“Those who hold a fixed mindset may believe that relationships either succeed or fail or work or don’t work”
Let me tell you about a couple who recently moved in together, Jane and Sam. When integrating their lives, the couple hit a few bumps along the road. Jane, who had long viewed Sam as a neat and courteous partner, found out that the way in which she and Sam handled chores differed dramatically. Sam would often leave dishes to pile up in the sink and allow clothes to accumulate on the floor before doing the laundry.
In the above example, if Jane were to have a fixed mindset, she may be less tolerant of the difference between how she hoped Sam would be in the home, compared to how they are, and feel that the relationship simply won’t work. If Jane were to adopt a growth mindset, she would see the current challenges as something that can be worked on and try to create a system that works for the both of them during the move-in adjustment period.
Developing a growth mindset
Ask yourself: do you have a growth or fixed mindset? How about your partner? If you recognise that you have a fixed mindset, don’t worry – by noticing this and its effect on your partner, you are already on the path to adjusting.
You can develop a growth mindset in your relationship by enacting the following behaviours:
• Reframe your thoughts about difficulties faced. Challenge yourself to view setbacks in your relationship as helpful reminders to adjust your expectations. A disagreement about chores can prompt a healthy discussion about household responsibilities, for example.
• Externalize problems. Separate your partner from the problem at hand. In the example above, Jane should discuss the sink full of dishes, rather than attack Sam’s character.
• Acknowledge and celebrate growth. Recognize change within the relationship and share improvements with your partner. Validate the changes identified by your partner as well.
Being aware of, and adopting a growth mindset, can lead to a positive shift in your relationship, as well as overall growth.