Category: Psychology Cognition
ALAIN de BOTTON: We marry the wrong person because we fail to focus on excellence in resolving conflict
Alain de Botton has written an extremely insightful article at the NYT on why we marry the wrong person.
What do we traditionally look for: During a perfectly romantic date, we propose marriage as an attempt to bottle up romance forever. Or we act Machiavellian, seeking to find someone for strategic advantages. There’s nothing bad about any of this, but it leaves out a critically important area of concern.
Alain de Botton urges that we not overlook that we are all dysfunctional, and that dysfunction often is left unexplored until after the vows are uttered.
We seem normal only to those who don’t know us very well. In a wiser, more self-aware society than our own, a standard question on any early dinner date would be: “And how are you crazy?” Perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us or can relax only when we are working; perhaps we’re tricky about intimacy after sex or clam up in response to humiliation. Nobody’s perfect. The problem is that before marriage, we rarely delve into our complexities. Whenever casual relationships threaten to reveal our flaws, we blame our partners and call it a day. As for our friends, they don’t care enough to do the hard work of enlightening us. One of the privileges of being on our own is therefore the sincere impression that we are really quite easy to live with.
For instance, we tend to seek those things that traditionally make us happy, but many of those things are things from our dysfunctional childhoods:
What we really seek is familiarity — which may well complicate any plans we might have had for happiness. We are looking to recreate, within our adult relationships, the feelings we knew so well in childhood. The love most of us will have tasted early on was often confused with other, more destructive dynamics: feelings of wanting to help an adult who was out of control, of being deprived of a parent’s warmth or scared of his anger, of not feeling secure enough to communicate our wishes. How logical, then, that we should as grown-ups find ourselves rejecting certain candidates for marriage not because they are wrong but because they are too right — too balanced, mature, understanding and reliable — given that in our hearts, such rightness feels foreign. We marry the wrong people because we don’t associate being loved with feeling happy.
Mark Johnson (of “Metaphors we live By,” written with George Lakoff) gave this excellent talk destroying the notion that meaning is something ethereal and disembodied. Instead, the body is the yardstick for meaning. This talk turns much of traditional epistemology upside down.
Johnson opens the talk with a Billy Collins talk titled “Purity.”
Eric Barker has summarized research on many self-improvement topics, and peppered his summaries with links to the actual research. I’ve taken much of his work to heart and felt like I have become a better person because of it.
His latest post is on self-esteem/confidence, an counter-intuitive topic. In the following excerpt, he points out the danger of artificially boosting self-esteem:
But you’ve read plenty of stuff on these here interwebz about raising self-esteem, right? And that must work. And that must be good. Right? Wrong.
California set up a task force and gave it $250,000 a year to raise children’s self-esteem. They expected this to boost grades and reduce bullying, crime, teen pregnancy and drug abuse. Guess what?
It was a total failure in almost every category.
Reports on the efficacy of California’s self-esteem initiative, for instance, suggest that it was a total failure. Hardly any of the program’s hoped-for outcomes were achieved. Research shows self-esteem doesn’t cause all those good things. It’s just a side effect of success. So artificially boosting it doesn’t work.
In one influential review of the self-esteem literature, it was concluded that high self-esteem actually did not improve academic achievement or job performance or leadership skills or prevent children from smoking, drinking, taking drugs, and engaging in early sex. If anything, high self-esteem appears to be the consequence rather than the cause of healthy behaviors.
Actually, let me amend that. It is good at raising something: narcissism. So trying to increase self-esteem doesn’t help people succeed but it can turn them into jerks.
Barker also offers suggestions of what we need instead of artificially boosted self-esteem:
Instead, focus on forgiving yourself when you’re not. [cites to the work of Kristin Neff is a professor at the University of Texas at Austin]:
Self-compassion is not about a judgment or evaluation of self-worth; it’s not about deciding whether or not we’re a good or bad person; it’s just about treating oneself kindly. Treating oneself like one would treat a good friend, with warmth and care and understanding. When self-esteem deserts us, which is when we fail and we make a mistake, self-compassion steps in. Self-compassion recognizes that it’s natural and normal to fail and to make mistakes, and that we’re worthy of kindness even though we’ve done something we regret or didn’t perform as well as we wanted to.
Eric Barker offer immense amounts of research in easily digested forms. His latest topic is on how to make love last – Lots of links to research and related topics.
You’re A Terrible Mind Reader: Stop assuming you know why they did something wrong. You don’t. Want the answer? Ask.
Rose-Colored Glasses Are Good: If you’re going to try to read minds, assume the best. Otherwise, why the heck are you with this person?
No Unspoken Rules: They can’t read minds either. Stop thinking “it’s obvious.” If it was obvious, you would not have this problem.
Symbolic Meanings Confuse People: To you “being late” means “you don’t love me.” To them “being late” means “being late.” Clarify your interpretation or they’ll think you’re insane.
Eric Barker drew an interesting and compelling analogy. “Let’s see what parenting experts and hostage negotiators can teach us, and how it can make for a more peaceful, happier home.”
This article at Psychology Today suggests that today’s children are damaged by their parents’ helicoptering:
In previous posts . . . I have described the dramatic decline, over the past few decades, in children’s opportunities to play, explore, and pursue their own interests away from adults. Among the consequences, I have argued, are well-documented increases in anxiety and depression and decreases in the sense of control of their own lives. We have raised a generation of young people who have not been given the opportunity to learn how to solve their own problems. They have not been given the opportunity to get into trouble and find their own way out, to experience failure and realize they can survive it, to be called bad names by others and learn how to respond without adult intervention. So now, here’s what we have. Young people,18 years and older, going to college still unable or unwilling to take responsibility for themselves, still feeling that if a problem arises they need an adult to solve it.
Consider whether we are capable of learning basic moral lessons. This in a reenactment of the Millgram experiment by the BBC. This video drives home the terrible things that human beings are capable of doing, even when not coerced, where they are merely requested to do these terrible things by an apparent authority figure. Massively unsettling.
A good friend of mine named Tom was an excellent parent – his son was a really cool kid. When I was about to adopt my first child I asked him what advice he had for raising children. He said, “Listen to them. Listen actively. Everything else will follow from that.”
After having raised two children, I find that to be excellent advice. Eric Barker has published a post on the power of listening. He calls it, “How To Be Loved By Everyone: 6 Powerful Secrets,” which is not a good title, because I consider it self destructive to try to be loved by everyone. But I agree with the content of the post, which centers on improving relationships by active listening. Here are Barker’s take-aways:
Be a detective. You need to be interested. The best way to do that is to play detective and be curious.
How little can you say? Ask questions. Paraphrase to make sure you understand. Past that, just shut up.
Can you summarize to their approval? If you paraphrase what they said and they reply, “Exactly” — you win.
Don’t try to fix them.
Be Socrates. Help them find their own solution. People remember their own ideas best.
Monitor body language. Eye contact and open postures are good. Touch their elbow to help create a bond.
Review the common mistakes we all make. And then don’t do them.
Listen and people will listen back. In fact, they’ll do more than that. They will come to trust and love you.
He ends with this quote by David Augsburger:
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”