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Relationships are a petri dish for personal growth
A counselor once told me, “Laura, marriage is simply a petri dish for personal growth.” What in the world is a petri dish? Let’s take a little journey back to elementary or middle school science. At some point, you were instructed to go out and swab various surfaces to collect samples of bacteria…maybe door knobs, the handle on your refrigerator, or everyone’s favorite, your toilet seat. Then you wipe the swab in the shallow, round petri dish, sit back and watch. Some things turn pretty colors, and some have interesting smells. Some grow slowly over time, while others multiply and take over.
That’s a petri dish. It’s a controlled environment where you can add something and witness the impact. Does the thing you add spread like wildfire and consume everything in sight? Does it wither and die? Is there a combination of elements you can add that creates an environment where the microorganisms nourish one another and thrive?
When I was first introduced to the concept of a relationship being like a petri dish, I was knee-deep in the doubt and denial stage of my marriage, and what was growing in our petri dish was not pretty. We had been married for five years, and we had two young children. We bounced between having the same arguments over and over and over, and avoided everything…each other, intimacy, sex, the conversations we knew we needed to have, etc.
Hearing my counselor’s words, two things crossed my mind. First was, “once again, things that could have been brought to my attention YESTERDAY!” In case you aren’t familiar with The Wedding Singer, Adam Sandler’s character, Robbie, says this to the woman he was supposed to marry, Linda. Linda ditched him at the altar and then showed up later that day to tell him everything she had been questioning about him and their relationship. I wanted to say it to my counselor with the same intensity as Adam Sandler. Viewing marriage as the greatest window into yourself, and therefore an incredible opportunity for personal growth, is a great perspective…and I wish I would have thoughtfully considered that BEFORE getting married. I wish I would have had the awareness to find out my partner’s perspective on personal growth and how it applies to marriage. But I didn’t, so here I was, trying to figure out the next best step forward.
The second thing that went through my mind was realizing that something within me and our marriage needed to shift. And the overwhelming part, I had no idea where to begin. It was the word “simply” that got me. I thought, “could it be that simple…that easy? Have I made marriage out to be so much more complex, and is THAT the trouble?” Maybe. But the reality was more profound than that. We were fundamentally not on the same page. We had two very different perspectives on personal growth. I couldn’t even imagine how to work together to start viewing our marriage as an opportunity for growth. And I had no idea about the best combination of microorganisms for our petri dish. I was frustrated. I was angry. And I was starting to feel hopeless. Nothing about this stage of marriage felt simple.
I am a jump-in-and-get-things-done kind of person, and I knew enough to know that the only thing I could control was myself. So I dove in. I was determined to find the right books to “fix” myself and my marriage. I didn’t realize that the starting point was more foundational than that. I missed the juicy beauty of that statement. What I heard was “fix” because up to that point that’s what I thought growth was. But “fix” and “grow” are two very different things.
I know now that unless you and your partner start with a growth mindset, the best resources…books, online courses, counselors, etc…will never work. Not because they are ineffective. There are incredible resources for relationships, and we are committed to capturing all of them in the Thrive Catalog for your access and application. But the information in every resource available will fall on deaf ears until you and your partner: 1 – agree on the importance of a growth mindset, 2 – commit to moving toward the Ignite stage of the Growth Mindset Journey together, and 3 – are clear and aligned on the personal and relationship areas where growth needs to be focused.
Benefits of a Growth Mindset
So let’s start with the end in mind. What exactly are the benefits of a growth mindset in a relationship?
- A growth mindset allows you to view your weaknesses as areas for improvement. Because let’s just call a spade a spade…none of us can look at every area of how we show up with our partner and yell, “nailed it!” We all have elements of our identity that we can label as weaknesses. They are part of the bigger picture that makes up you. But they do not define who you are. Viewing them in this manner allows you to work together to understand one another, discuss areas for growth, and feel loved and supported through the process. As opposed to feeling criticized and not good enough, which is common with a fixed mindset.
- A growth mindset leads to a marriage that is flexible and adaptable. If you’ve been married longer than a hot second, you know that things change. People change. Life throws curve balls. And for a variety of reasons, sometimes things turn out differently than we expected. Sometimes, despite our very best effort to discuss how we will be on the same page with ____, when ____actually happens or appears in our life, we deal with it differently than expected, and the possibility for conflict…or growth…presents itself. A fixed mindset is based on fear and resists change, so when one of life’s curveballs comes our way, we feel threatened and our fight, flight, or freeze response is triggered. Our partner becomes our enemy, as opposed to our ally. On the other hand, a growth mindset is motivated by a need to learn. A growth mindset allows you to embrace change and adapt through all the seasons. As your life evolves – buying a home, changing jobs, having children, becoming empty nesters, etc. – a growth mindset allows you to work together as a couple to navigate the changes.
- A growth mindset says, “I learn and grow through the process.” By focusing on the process, you create the space to embrace both success and failure. You will do or try things in your marriage that don’t work. Maybe you try a new parenting technique that doesn’t seem to work for one or both parents or your child. A fixed mindset will tell you that when you fail…you are a failure. So if a new parenting technique doesn’t work, a fixed mindset will say that the technique is a failure and that you are a failure as a parent. As a result, you are less likely to try new parenting techniques to avoid being a failure. A growth mindset, however, says failure is part of the process. It is something to learn from so that you can try something different and succeed. If the parenting technique does not work, regroup as a couple, do research or read a new book together, and try something new. When you learn and grow continuously, you will succeed.
Developing a Growth Mindset
Start by developing an understanding. Where are you and your partner individually on the Growth Mindset Journey? Embrace where you are. It is not good or bad, it just is. Reflect on your past to gain understanding. Not to blame or judge, but simply to see how you got to where you are at this moment. Take some time with this step to ensure you understand your starting point.
Create a vision. What would you and your partner like this area of your life to look like? Why is aligning to grow together crucial to you? Maybe you want to know that you’re a team and you can count on one another. Perhaps you want to break the cycle of conflict. Together, determine what you want and why you want it.
Make a plan. How will you move from where you are to where you want to be, together? How will you and your partner support one another’s growth? How much time will you commit to daily? Who will you ask to help keep you accountable? What resources will you use? We encourage you to check out The Thrive Catalog to help select the best resources for your relationship. I recommend choosing the Growth filter to start. Be thoughtful about your plan. Create something you and your partner are committed to.
Put your plan into action. Start. Often perfectionism or fear of failure prevents us from taking the first step. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it won’t be perfect. In Step 5, you will reflect and adjust as needed, so if something doesn’t work, it isn’t necessarily a failure, it is simply part of the growth process. Today, start. Lean into the plan you crafted together.
Create a process for reflection. Reflection allows you to discuss what’s working and what successes you’re experiencing. It also allows you to discuss what’s not working and what elements need to be changed to help you better align with the vision you created. Determine how often you will come together to reflect and the intended goal of each reflection session.
Getting aligned on the Growth Mindset Journey may be a new concept. It will likely be your and your partner’s most challenging and rewarding path. And by being part of the Evimero Couples community, you’re surrounded by like-minded couples supporting your growth. If you haven’t done so, we invite you to join our newsletter for all the best content to help you build a thriving relationship
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