This week we’re learning how to strengthen our longterm relationships and marriages with help from psychologist Eli Finkel. Eli is a professor at Northwestern University and director of Northwestern’s Relationships and Motivation Lab. He’s also the author of the bestselling book The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work.
Listen to hear Eli discuss how marriage has been viewed in the United States over time and how that has brought us to the very high expectations that we have for the institution today, the psychological tricks we can use to reframe our thinking during an argument, and why his research-backed “lovehacks” are a great first step to improving your relationship.
Highlights from this week’s episode
From the Eli Finkel interview
On how to avoid the fundamental attribution error with your partner:
[T]he reality is that the extent to which we are hurt or angry by our partner’s behaviour is immensely determined by the way we interpret it. And so if our partner has done something disrespectful, let’s say she told a story at a dinner party that we thought had been a secret and it sort of embarrassed us, we have a broad range, broad latitude for how we get to interpret what she did. And so when I say making external attributions for negative behaviours, we can say it’s something about her, like my partner is just an incredibly inconsiderate person and she’s always been like this, and I’m just profoundly disappointed that that’s somebody that’s so important in my life, is just such a lousy person in this way. Or we could say she’d been drinking and she probably didn’t realise that that this was so personal to me…It’s just, can we look more generously at what our partner did? And so this external attribution for negative behaviour is that exact example of trying to interpret the negative things that our partner did as being more temporary, as being not really about a personality flaw in the individual, rather something maybe more situational or circumstantial.
On not relying on your partner to be your go-to for everything:
I’ve been a little bit disconcerted by how many high-level psychological and emotional needs we have thrown on this one relationship. It used to be that people hung out in same-sex crowds that felt like your partner wasn’t supposed to be your best friend. And certainly the idea of a soulmate didn’t really exist, not as we think about it. Now, the idea that you’re supposed to help me grow and live an authentic existence like these are humongous asks. And so, yes, one of the things I talk about in the book is a constellation of ways that we can be strategic about what we’re asking of the relationship and also what we’re not asking about the relationship. And yes, one of the key ideas in there is, you know, is it the case that every time you complain about work, your partner gets really turned off and stops paying attention to you? Maybe that’s something you don’t need from this one person. Maybe there’s somebody else that you can bitch about work to, that will actually be more receptive and frankly, enjoy the conversation more than your spouse.
On why it’s worth trying some “lovehacks”:
I know that a lot of people are saying, ‘Don’t ask so much. Asking so much is bad.’ That’s false. If you’re not asking for much, you’re unlikely to get it. And so there’s a lot to be said for having high expectations of your relationship. The problem is when you have expectations that the marriage can’t meet and yes, that is setting yourself up for disappointment…And the reason why I’m so excited about the lovehack idea is there might be periods of our life where there’s young kids at home or there’s a cancer diagnosis or there’s incredible stress at work where we don’t have the bandwidth to invest in the relationship to do these date nights, to have regular sex, to do all the things that are that are on average beneficial for the relationship, but we’re not ready yet to let go of our aspirations. It’s like, how can we keep things strong in the really sort of intense periods where we’re not able to invest as much as we want in the relationship, but we’re not ready to let go of our aspirations? And that’s where lovehacks have their major power, is we can, without exerting too much time or energy, sustain a reasonably high level of marital quality until we’re able to do the heavy investments that.
To hear more of Eli’s brilliant insights into relationship science and how to help your marriage, we highly recommend listening to the full episode.