With hours on airplanes and in airports last week I was able to finish a hard to put down book titled “Flourish” by Martin Seligman, PhD. I have read several of Dr. Seligman’s books on the subject of optimism, happiness, character strengths and innate virtues including his books “Learned Optimism” and “Authentic Happiness” (both of which I recommend). Over and over in multiple studies he continues to prove that attitude and belief shape our lives more than we imagine. Here’s one example noted in “Flourish”:
Sandra Murray, professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, has done an extraordinary set of studies on good marriage. She carefully measures what you think about your spouse: house handsome, how kind, how funny, how devoted and how smart he is. She poses the very same questions about your spouse to your closest friends, and she derives a discrepancy score: if you think more of your spouse than your friend do, the discrepancy is positive. If you are a “realist” and you are more pessimistic about him than your friends, the discrepancy is negative. The strength of the marriage is directly a function of how positive the discrepancy is. Spouses with very strong benign illusions about their mates have much better marriages. The mechanism is likely that your spouse knows about your illusions, and he tries to live up to them. Optimism helps love, Pessimism hurts.
So how do you like “them apples”? I found those words to be informative and bittersweet. Today I realize readily that my attitude and thinking has a great deal to do with the outcome of things. The bittersweet comes from acknowledging within each of two marriages my pessimistic thoughts about my wife were a sizeable factor in the eventual end of those unions. I have no specific idea why the crazy compulsion of wondering if there was someone better out there for me remained so consistently pervasive. Each time I loved and was loved within one of these meaningful long term relationships, my thinking was part of their undermining. Yes, there were other factors, ones that on their own might surely have caused the demise of the marriages, but my thinking was certainly fuel on the fire.
There is a line of thinking that goes something like “why do people allow what is known to be met with contempt, while holding the unknown with desire and admiration?” Stated a different way; “why does someone new look more attractive than one that is known?” Certainly this is human nature, but why is that? (That’s subject for a future blog).
In the lore of love and tales of romance, initial attraction and love at first sight are scattered consistently. That imagining combined with some physical, shall we say hormonal, attraction seem to me to be factors in people wondering if there is more outside marriage. Real life counters such thinking. An important part of a compatible relationship is ensuring that each partner’s values coincide, and to learn that takes time, discussion, observation, and interpersonal interaction, not an initial impression based on superficial cues, says James C. Piers, Ph.D., professor and program director of social work, at Hope College in Holland,MI.
From an article attributed to Match.com called “The New Rules of Attraction”: You can check off the attributes you want—appearance, background, education, career, salary—but unless you’re building your lover in a lab, you’re missing out. Of course, you should have standards and not settle for a two-pack-a-day smoker who doesn’t want kids when you’re allergic to smoke and eager to start a family. But settling for nothing less than perfection is unrealistic. “Wish lists are a classic recipe for unsuccessful dating,” says Fleming. “They’re too limiting and don’t allow for chemistry, which is more intangible and valuable.” Try to be flexible, especially when it comes to physical or material attributes like someone’s height, salary, or hair color. After all, just because someone’s 6’2”, blonde, or makes six figures doesn’t mean he or she will make you happy, so do yourself a favor and treat your ideal-mate wish list as just one factor in deciding who’s right for you. So “what glitters is not always gold”.
One of my issues (of the past hopefully) has been a lengthy “wish list” that I am now doubtful anyone could ever fit into. I have mellowed and been able to sort down to the “must haves” that make my future prospects more realistic for a lasting relationship. No, I won’t settle for less that those items in a partner that I must have. That simply is good caretaking of my self, but I no longer search for near perfection.
The single factor that did the most in helping me see past bad habits, irritating behavior and bothersome traits in others was to begin to come to grips (at least somewhat) with my own imperfections. It still amazes me how gaining clearer view of one’s self allows a person to more accurately see others. When kindness and understanding is self-applied it is easier to use that insight in one’s view of others. I am very grateful for the knowledge I have today that was learned the hard way. Mistakes are made worthy when wisdom is gained from them.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.