The Science of a Deeply-Connected Marriage | Eli Finkel

Eli J. FinkelThe science is crystal clear, deep, genuine, healthy and enduring relationships are at the center of a well-lived life. But, so often, it’s the long-term intimate partnerships that we take most for granted or give least attentiveness to. Just assuming they’ll keep on keeping on. Until they don’t. So how DO you keep your relationship with someone you hope to be a life partner not just alive, but truly rich and flourishing and nourishing and joyful? Especially over a period of years or, if you’re fortunate enough, decades? What’s the secret to maintaining passion and connection throughout the years? That’s where we’re headed in this eye-opening conversation with professor Eli Finkel, as we dive deep into the world of romantic relationships.

Eli is the author of the bestselling book The All-Or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work. As a professor at Northwestern University, with appointments in the psychology department and the Kellogg School of Management, he’s dedicated his career to studying romantic relationships. As director of Northwestern’s Relationships and Motivation Lab (RAMLAB), he has published over 160 scientific papers and has been featured as a Guest Essayist for The New York Times. A survey of his peers identified him as the most influential relationship scientist in the 21st century, and the Economist declared him “one of the leading lights in the realm of relationship psychology.”

In this provocative and insightful conversation, we explore how couples can strengthen their bond and rekindle the flames of passion through shared novel experiences. Drawing from research and personal insights, Eli highlights the importance of going beyond traditional date nights and delving into the extraordinary. You’ll discover:

  1. The surprising impact of engaging in exciting, out-of-the-ordinary activities on relationship satisfaction and passion.
  2. How to distinguish between activities that foster closeness and those that reignite desire.
  3. The unexpected benefits of breaking out of routines and embracing new challenges together.

And, lots more. During our conversation, we delve into the intricacies of maintaining passion in long-term relationships, discussing the importance of novelty, and exploring the potential benefits of breaking out of routines in the aftermath of the pandemic. Eli shares valuable insights on how couples can be deliberate about rebooting their relationships and resetting priorities, all while creating meaningful connections and lasting memories.

You can find Eli at: Website | Twitter

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photo credit: Joshua Miller

Transcripts: Transcripts of our episodes are made available as soon as possible. They are not fully edited for grammar or spelling.

[00:00:00] What can we as individuals do to try to make our marriages better? And one of them is basically things like attribution. So your partner does a thing and you don’t like it. It’s sort of up to you to say like, what did it mean? I mean, events happen. I’m not denying that facts exist, but they don’t interpret themselves.

We interpret events, we interpret facts, and I find that a little bit nerve-wracking because it can sound blaming of the people who are not having success. Another way of thinking about it that I like every bit as much is how empowering is that? Like we have a huge amount of ability to shape things for better.

So the science is crystal clear, deep, genuine, healthy, and enduring relationships. They’re at the center of a life well lived, but so often it’s those long-term, intimate partnerships that we take most for granted or give the least attentiveness to just kind of assuming they’ll keep on keeping on until they don’t.

So how do you keep your relationships with someone you hope to be a life partner, not just [00:01:00]alive, but truly rich and flourishing, and nourishing and joyful, especially over a period of years, or if you’re fortunate enough decades, maybe even your entire life. What’s the secret to maintaining passion and connection throughout the years?

That is where we’re headed in this eye-opening conversation with Professor Eli Finkle as we dive into the world of romantic relationships. So Eli is the author of the Best-Selling Book, the All or Nothing Marriage, how the Best Marriages Work. And as a professor at Northwestern University with appointments in the psychology department and Kellogg School of Management, he’s dedicated his career to studying romantic relationships.

As the Director of Northwestern’s Relationships and Motivation Lab, he has published over 160 scientific papers, has been featured as a guest SAS for the New York Times, and a survey of his peers identified him as the most influential relationship scientist in the 21st century. And the economist declared him one of the leading lights in the realm of relationship psychology.

And in today’s provocative [00:02:00] and insightful conversation, we explore how couples can strengthen their bond and rekindle the flames of passion Through shared novel experiences drawing from research and personal insights, Eli highlights the importance of going beyond traditional things like Dayton Knighton delving into the extraordinary, you’ll discover things like the surprising impact of engaging in exciting, out of the ordinary activities on relationship satisfaction and passion.

How to distinguish between activities that foster closeness and those that reignite desire. And the unexpected benefits of breaking out of routines and embracing new challenges together. And so much more. Eli shares really valuable and new insights on how couples can be deliberate about rebooting their relationships and resetting prior.

All Rod, creating meaningful connections and lasting memories, and he shares this really fascinating take on the profound way that marriages have changed over the last few generations and our expectations have changed around them. So excited to share this conversation [00:03:00] with you. I’m Jonathan Fields, and this is Good Life Project.

Just super excited to dive in with you. You know, like just actually, uh, celebrated my Twentie fifth anniversary last year. Been together with my wife for 30 years. I’m deeply fascinated by what keeps human beings in the dance together over a long window of time, whether it’s personal, whether it’s marriage, whether it’s long-term partnering, which I think is becoming more common these days, or even business relationships.

I think there’s so much interesting overlap there. But maybe let’s take a little bit of a step back in time and create a, a bit of historical context for what we’re even talking about here, because a lot of your work has focused on this really sort of like interesting evolution of marriage or partnering, describing these three different eras or eons.

Let’s take a little bit of a step back in time and walk me through sort of this progression a bit. Yeah. I think it’s hard for us today to realize that our assumptions about what marriage is are [00:04:00] so strongly. Situated in our cultural and historical moment. So even just in the US I find one tool that’s useful for thinking about how different things are is to go back a couple centuries and think about the moment when Abraham Lincoln was born.

So this is 1809, a couple hundred years ago, and he was born into a one-room dirt floor log cabin. Uh, he had an older sibling, but one additional kid came along, died in childbirth. Uh, his mother died when he was still nine years old and his only remaining sibling died when Abe was still a teenager while she was giving birth to her own stillborn child.

And, you know, as a bit of a tale of, whoa, it’s sort of an interesting backstory on perhaps the greatest American of all time, but for me it’s a telescope into what was life like, or at least an empathy induction into what was life like back there before you just sort of strolled by target to pick up the stuff that you needed.

And. In an era like that, if you were alive, when life was [00:05:00] precarious like this and, and the unit of economic production was the individual household, and literally marriage was about food, clothing, and shelter, not to mention the creating of candles for light, and this is what family life was, what would you look for in a partner?

Well, sure you would love to love your partner and, and feel a deep sense of meaning and purpose. And if the sex was good, all the better, but the demands the for psychological fulfill. Were luxuries. They, they weren’t necessities and nobody stood at the altar and said, you know, you’re my soulmate or, or you complete me.

You’re my best friend. Um, and it was like that really until the industrial revolution. Um, so starting around 1850 and then for over a century really reaching its peak around 1950, you get the second wave. So if that first wave was the pragmatic era that’s really about basic, um, physical needs, then you get this era that’s really, this ideology of marriage is about love.

This is the essence of what it’s about. And, and we, television came around at the right time to canonize this for us and. Leave it to Beaver Father knows best, [00:06:00] the breadwinner homemaker, love-based vision of marriage, which for a long time people aspired to and was a, you know, was thought of basically as a recipe for heaven on earth.

And love was primary again, marriage was about other things. Of course, uh, reproduction, a sacrament before God. Good way to raise children. Like it was about many other things in economic arrangement. But the ideology, the talk about marriage was that it was about, , and that is still the case. But what was wild is that starting around the 1960s, call it something like 65, you get what all of us know is this vast cultural upheaval.

And even though people had aspired to this breadwinner homemaker love-based vision of marriage, they ended up finding it pretty stifling the gender roles, the strictness of the ideas. And if it had been the truth that men are assertive by nature but not nurturant, and women are nurturant by nature but not assertive, then maybe it would’ve worked just fine.

But it turns out that men felt stifled in their roles. Women especially felt stifled in their roles. And you get this vision of marriage [00:07:00] that shifts again. So love stays important, but it’s not enough. And these days, in this third era where we still are, you wouldn’t be shocked if a friend said to you like, I love him.

He’s a good man and a good father and very reliable. But I feel stagnant in this life and I don’t have that much. Passion, and I’m not gonna live the remaining 30 or 40 years of my life feeling that way. I need to have a more rich and fulfilling and frankly, authentic sort of existence. And so we can call this third era the, the self-expressive era, and there are certainly pros and cons of these changes.

Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting because the first era that you described, let’s assume that that was there for maybe centuries, um, if not, you know, like human history before that. Then the second era was love-based. It seems like that was a relatively short moment in the history of long-term partnering.

This was like, you know, like 10, 25th years, something like that. Before we flip into self-expression, self-actualization is really the paradigm that really anchors the relationship. I’m curious whether you have a [00:08:00] central, like what actually happened that made that more of a blip on the radar than what seems to be longer, more sustained.

You know, it was a blip. That’s right. But it wasn’t a blip in people’s aspirations. Mm-hmm. So, e even if you go back to Jane Austin, so we’re talking, you know, England, and we’re talking 1810s, basically 18 teens. You have the roots of this, right? That’s like, wouldn’t it be amazing if you could marry for love?

Now, there’s no assumption in those books that like, that’s a reasonable option for lots of people. It, it’s like, An aspiration that people hoped might happen, but they realized that everything was based around marriage and you couldn’t necessarily indulge in a love-based marriage. So the ideology had been there for a long time.

The the vision, I don’t want to cheapen it by calling it an ideology, the vision that, how amazing would it be if we could marry for love that that had been around at least since the late 17 hundreds? Mind you, not always. Right. So just as a brief aside, in in the Middle Ages, so courtly love, for example, you know, very much believe in romantic passion, but not with your wife, you [00:09:00] sicko, right?

Like that was, you know, meant for totally adulterous, right? And that was an ideal, anyway, the, the love-based era in the modern sense of it really started in the late 17 hundreds. And you’re right, that really, there was a brief period of time when it dominated the scene before people started saying love isn’t, isn’t.

And I think the reason why that is, is that the particular version of a love-based marriage was this breadwinner homemaker thing. And it turns out that is a luxury because we have this vision probably because of when TV came in, that there was traditional marriage and that’s just what it was in perpetuity.

Like the fifties thing was just what it always was. It never was . Um, Stephanie Koontz, the terrific historian, has a book called The Way, we Never Were. She says like, leave It To Beaver. Wasn’t a documentary. And the reason why I think it really came to prominence in that era was after World War ii. There had been a generation of Americans that had dealt with a lot of upheaval.

So 1929 was the market crash. You then just had the Great Depression, which ran right into World War ii where lots of young men were killed [00:10:00] and just a lot of upheaval and uncertainty. And then you had this period of time where America really for the first time was the hegemon, was the dominant superpower and right.

And the rate of economic growth and the extent to which it was shared up and down, the socioeconomic hierarchy was like unprecedented, really anywhere. And so there was a period of time, call it 1945 to 1975, where like an 18 year old boy could graduate high school and get a union card and kind of support a family of five.

And that made it possible for us to have the, the vision that people had long hoped for. And then they got it. And they thought on average, look, some people loved it, but on average they. This actually isn’t fulfilling in the way we’d hoped. And that corresponded with, of course, Betty Fredan and the, the Feminine Mystique and the Vietnam War protests and the Civil Rights Movement.

And, and it basically what we think of now as traditional marriage was a, an aspiration people had for a long time. Finally, in the fifties and the early sixties, Americans. Large swaths of Americans were able to get it. [00:11:00] And when they got it, how did they feel about it? Not that great. Yeah, I mean, that makes sense because what you’re describing also, you know, when we talk about the late sixties, it’s funny as literally as we’re having this conversation last night, I was watching this documentary on Laurel Canyon in the sixties and seventies, like the music scene, like folk and the birds, and like all this incredible music that came out of that.

But they were also describing more broadly how it started out as this very sort of like a bubble type of thing. And then all of a sudden, you know, like Vietnam War and it started to become very political and people started to actually expand their horizons and really reexamine life. And that model that you were describing in the, you know, like forties, fifties, and sixties, if it ever existed, which like you said, you know, it existed on tv, but whether it was real in people’s lives, it feels like that blew up so quickly and sometimes so violently.

And along with that, you know, You have a re-examining of race in the country. You have re-examining of, of poverty and money and it seems like it all fed into this moment that [00:12:00] you are describing, which really also led to just a wholesale re-imagining of what it means to be in a relationship with somebody for, you know, like potentially life or a really long time.

Yeah, I mean, for me, you know, one of the dominant inte. Threads that had primed the pump, if you will, for people to have a, an alternative vision. To build an alternative vision. Once society went through that upheaval that we call the sixties, really sort of 64, 65, up into the seventies, uh, you know, in Vietnam and, and that stuff.

But, um, the. Movement that I think was really relevant here was humanistic psychology. Hmm. And, you know, the, this sort of first wave of psychology might have been like Freudian and the psychodynamic stuff. And then we had the behaviorists who thought you shouldn’t even look into the mind. And it’s really just about conditioning and reward, you know, responding to rewards and punishment and so forth.

And then starting really in the thirties and the forties, you get this humanistic psychology movement. The famous names in this movement are people like Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow. And the idea is that [00:13:00] there is a, a vision of a profound life, of a deeply meaningful, purposeful life. That’s not the way Freud talked, and it certainly isn’t the way the behaviorists talked, but there’s a new lexicon that enters, again, mostly in the egghead communities, like the mm-hmm.

you know, academic communities and so forth. But in the forties and fifties, there’s like a, a root of this stuff leads into the beats a little bit. And then by the sixties there was a lit, there was a, enough people familiar with these ideas, these ideas that there’s like a deep. Rich, authentic, true to self, sort of life, self actualized sort of life that we could aspire to.

That one, you got the cultural upheaval associated with, you know, Vietnam and, and all those things. And again, when we talk about the, um, second wave feminism of the sixties and we talk about the civil rights movement, these are movements that are really about authenticity. They’re about the profound.

Purpose of the individual, the individual’s, a ability to build his, her their own personal existence. And it’s hard for us to tell a [00:14:00] story like that about what our society is and what we value while treating women or or racial minorities as second class citizens. Why telling gay people they’re not allowed to marry.

Like it ends up being something where the mainstream tilted left on some of these issues and sort of inevitably led to a lot of the cultural upheaval that we’re still feeling. , you use that word, um, authenticity also, which I think is really interesting because if you think about that, you know, like that second era, the love-based era, you’d like to think that a love-based era would’ve been something deeply like steeped in authenticity and deep connection, and really like, how can you not love someone unless you genuinely, deeply know them?

And yet that’s not really the way that you describe it. It’s almost the, the exact opposite. Like it’s more about surface level. There’s a certain structure that makes us feel good. It’s almost like you, you don’t know somebody as well as you. Well, that last thing you said is exactly right. I wouldn’t say that the love-based era was, was inauthentic.

Okay. Um, I think that love was real. It was, it was probably closer to cherishing across a [00:15:00]divide though. Hmm. Right. That is, men were supposed to be men and women were supposed to be women. Of course, you got some variation within the man category and the woman category, but in general, you were supposed. To relate to some extent as gender paragons, and that’s still true to some extent, but that’s a, a significant amount of what we’ve revolted against since the 1960s and up until the present day.

Is that, is that that’s not sufficiently authentic to the individual, that that doesn’t take the individual as unique entity so much as, like I said, avatar of a gender and the word authenticity is particularly, Interesting here, which is authenticity is like, are you the author of your own self, of your own life?

That’s sort of what authenticity is, is that there’s a self here, that there’s who I really am and can I build a life that is true to my own purpose and meaning, and that just isn’t really what the love-based marriage was about. And even [00:16:00] though most of us don’t talk exactly this way, although some of us do, um, you know, you make me wanna be a better man.

Like, there’s stuff like that. But that’s a lot of the cultural d n a in the vision that we have these days for, for trying to build an authentic connection. And if you’ll indulge me, let me make one of the comment on this here, which is, it’s related to the diminishing role of religion in God. Mm-hmm. Um, in American life and Western.

More generally, because, you know, it used to be, or let’s, let’s say it this way, among highly religious people, there’s a purpose laid out for you in the Holy Book, right? It’s like, what sort of life are you supposed to live? Like? It’s really laid out for you by an omniscient and omnipotent and benevolent entity insofar as you do things like, a lot of people say they, you know, don’t adhere to any sort of standardized religion, or maybe they say they’re atheist or agnostic, or something like, Well then where do those rules come from?

The purposeful, the meaningful life. They’re like, what a well-lived life is. Science can’t really tell us. Right? These are [00:17:00] moral and sorts of theo theological sorts of questions. And one of the things that you get with the declining role of religion and God in American society or Western society more generally is.

is that the individual becomes the value base. That is instead of looking to a holy book for insight into what it is that I’m supposed to do to live a purposeful life. Now authenticity for many of us is sufficient. This is true to who I am. Why am I getting a divorce? Well, because I don’t feel authentic in this marriage anymore, and among large swaths of American society these days, you know, we say fair enough, like what can you do?

If it’s not really true to yourself, then of course you have to change it again. People didn’t think that way in 1800 or 1950, but lots of us, whether we admit it or not, think that way circa 2023. Yeah, I mean, it’s such a sea. It’s interesting to think of the word authenticity. I never really framed it that way as like the author of your life, cuz that’s functionally what we’re all looking for.

That sense of both [00:18:00] let me exist as I am, like fully and also have a sense of agency around that. Um, like I can lead with that and make, and, and I can choose around that and the constraints of that. You know, like that love-based era, it was stifling the way you’re describing it, like it doesn’t mean it was devoid of love.

That’s right. Um, but the container in which it existed and the assumptions that, you know, like this is how life will be if we build it this way, kind of blew up. It imploded when people started realizing, but no , right? Like, this isn’t enough for me. It also, it, it feels like part of what you’re describing is a switch from a value around peace and pleasure to meaning and transcendence.

Mm-hmm. . Does that make sense? Yes. So this comes up a little bit in my book in the context of why. , even though I have some reservations about the changes that we’ve had, these changes that we’ve been talking about, this emphasis on authenticity and personal growth, I’m ultimately [00:19:00] more positive about it than negative and certainly more positive about it than much of the social commentary.

And I think the issue is basically like ever since marriage started changing, like you can go back a couple hundred years ago and you’ve gotten commentators typically toward the conservative end of whatever their, their cultural moment was saying something like, If marriage is about friendship, if marriage is about pleasure, if marriage is about love, well what sustains it?

When the pleasure goes away, the love goes away, the friendship goes away. Like, shouldn’t the institution be more stable than that? Shouldn’t it be based on something not so fickle? And shouldn’t it be based ultimately on commitment on a, either a sacrament before God or a sacrament before your family? Or, or, or just a commitment to live a life like this and not to divorce if things don’t feel good anymore.

Right? To trivialize it a little bit, but that has been a lot of the social commentary, and honestly, I find it credible. I find that like I take seriously these social commentaries that’s like, what is marriage? If it doesn’t involve a commitment beyond, like the love still where it was [00:20:00] when I said I do, and so therefore we’re together.

But if it’s not, then it fades. And, and I think, again, I, I wouldn’t say I, I totally agree with the critique, but I find the critique valuable and worth taking seriously. But there’s another way of thinking about it, and this is where I really credit the humanistic psychologists, which is that there’s a way of thinking about like a self-oriented life that is about happiness and pleasure.

And I do think most of the critiques sort of assume that. It’s like, well, why would I deal with inconvenience because that’s not pleasurable and therefore divorce. I think the vision that grew mostly in the 1960s and has continued again with variation to develop, um, up to the present day is more based on meaning and purpose.

Hmm. I think the commentaries, the critiques, I think are entirely valid. If the contrast is between, you know, on one side, marital commitment on the other side, like pleasure and joy. , I totally agree. That like, how can you sustain that? Like if, if you no longer have joy, then the, the marriage goes, I totally agree.

But what if [00:21:00] instead of it being like pleasure and joy, it’s like meaning and purpose that is by whatever sort of authentic standard you’ve set up of like what a good, meaningful, purposeful life is. You’re gonna try to achieve that, including through your marriage. But let’s just say, and I think most of us do think this, that for those of us who marry, we think part of a good, meaningful, purposeful life is building and sustaining a long-term marriage.

And then the fundamental incompatibility between this like self-oriented thing and marital stability goes away, right? You no longer have an inherent tension, right? Because you can now have, this is hard. This is difficult. I don’t even love you very much right now, but still just for these self reasons, self-expression, self-actualization, authenticity, reasons you say, I value the merit.

This is a big part of who I am and I want to build a stable family for my children. And now there’s no longer an inherent tension between marital stability and these self-oriented things because it’s not about pleasure. It’s about meaning and purpose. And insofar as it’s about meaning and purpose, one of the ways that many [00:22:00] of us think about meaning and purpose is through working through the hard times together, taking opportunities to grow from these challenges.

And what we’ve seen really, like basically marriage exploded. It basically failed on moss from like 1965 to 1980. The divorce rate, the likelihood of divorce went from something like 25% to 50% between, again, a 15 year period. Marriage is just failed in a massive way Since 1980, the divorce rates have come down.

At the national level, and they’ve come down a lot among the college educated. Now that’s maybe a separate topic than the one we’ll talk about today, but what we’re seeing is that since the 1980s, we seem to have settled in to a new way of thinking about, about marriage that isn’t really about the explosion of divorce circa 1975 when things were about pleasure to a deeper type of self-oriented marriage.

That’s about authenticity, fulfillment, and inherent commitment and dedication to something larger than ourselves. And that seems to be [00:23:00] working significantly across the population, perhaps, especially these days among the college educated. Yeah, I mean, it, it’s really interesting and you’re right, that isn’t a really fascinating and maybe a, a sidebar that we’ll have if we, if we can circle around to it.

But, um, you know, cause what you’re describing also is if you look at the research that’s emerged from positive psychology since the late nineties, like, and this phrase has been repeated in so many different contexts, and like he, the hedonic treadmill, speaking about how, when. The focus is pleasure or happiness.

We tend to habituate both up and down like a horrible circumstance. We habituate back to a baseline. A you win a hundred million in the lottery, somehow you habituate back down to that same level, you know, baseline pleasure or happiness you had before. So it kind of makes sense that if that was, you know, the standard for a window of time and then everyone starts habituating back to the way they were before, it’s just not a sustainable way to build something long term.

Like if you’re gonna invest effort and energy [00:24:00] in something, you know, as a relationship over a period of decades or in your entire life, and you keep sort of like reverting to this baseline of wherever you started, which for some people is fantastic and others not so fantastic, it seems like a very fragile way to actually sustain this thing.

Yeah, and it’s why, I mean, you’ve mentioned the, the sort of positive psych scholarly literature. Of course this has gone mainstream in significant ways, but a lot of that stuff. Is about things like gratitude is about altering the way that we think about things to savor better, not to necessarily drink better wine or see better films or or shows, but how can we.

Engage more deeply with the experiences of life. How can we acknowledge and appreciate that? Of course, life has negative things in it. Of course, these things require work and effort and that we play a crucial role in helping to build, uh, their, the extent to which we feel. Fulfilled or unfulfilled with our lives.[00:25:00]

And, and that is, I think, a pretty, it’s not the full story, but it is a, is a pretty large part of the story about how people can build productive, meaningful, happy lives despite this hedonic treadmill problem of like, the effect of pleasure does tend to diminish over time, but not so with meaning and purpose.

Yeah. And I mean, if you ask somebody, if they’re going through a horrible moment in their life and ask them like, are you happy? Like, they’re gonna like laugh at you or hit you or just like close you out of the room. Right? But if they’re going through a really challenging moment in their life and you ask them, like, do you have a sense of meaning right now?

They will very likely, maybe, maybe not, but at least meaning is accessible through difficult times, whereas happiness may not be. So as you’re describing, if that’s the thing that you’re shooting for, that you’re like, if that’s the standard. Yeah. And no matter what comes your way, it’s something that we can all hold.

Which also I like. I wonder if that, if that diminishes potentially the, the potential for a sense of futility in a relationship because you know that even if you’re struggling with another person right now, if the [00:26:00] larger context is like there’s a lot of meaning in the struggle or in the, the general context or the circumstance of this, and that’s what you really value.

You know, you can still work to get back to a place of being happy and pleasure, but there’s still like this fabric of something worthy that’s accessible to you through that. Does that make. Yeah, I agree strongly with that. Now, in fairness, there are circumstances under which it’s easier to have a good marriage and circumstances under which it’s harder if there’s plenty of resources to, you know, pay the babysitter and pay the, the house cleaner and take the romantic vacations.

And like, it is easier than if you’re chronically figuring out like how to work the three jobs and, and get the kids on three buses to, you know, daycare or school or something. So there’s no doubt that our objective circumstances also really matter. But yeah, you are totally right that we have a, a lot of autonomy and power to make sense of our circumstances in ways that are likely to make our relationships a little bit [00:27:00] better and likely to make or likely to make our relationships a little bit worse.

All right, so it’s come up twice now. So let’s just go there. This notion of who is, you know, so we’re kind of like, we’ve moved into the self-expressive marriage phase, right? And that’s kind of what we’re deepening into and, and what we’ve just kind of dipped into a little bit is, is this actually available to everybody?

And if you are really struggling financially, if you are under-resourced, if you come, is this just a paradigm which is there for the privileged or is this something that really anyone can tap into? In some level it’s available to everybody, but it’s harder for some. And you know, one of the, the ideas I develop in the book are the metaphor, um, that I, I built a lot of the ideas about in the book is, Many of your listeners, of course, will be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and they might have recognized it in some of the things we were talking about earlier.

So the, you know, the first wave of marriage was really about the needs, lower down the hierarchy, physiological and safety needs. And then in the middle era, the love-based era, it was toward the middle of Maslow’s hierarchy in [00:28:00] terms of love and belonging. And then these days it’s toward the top of Maslow’s hierarchy.

Uh, things like, you know, self-expression and authenticity and so forth. And I find it useful to think of Maslow’s hierarchy, not in that triangle that many of us had have in our heads, but like as a mountain. And that building a, an effective marriage is a little bit like mountain climbing. And so, We can look to the top of the mountain if we want.

The book does not tell people how to build their marriage. There’s many ways that you could build an effective marriage if you really wanna shoot for the marriages that are available these days that didn’t used to be available. We now have like, whoa, we can achieve like self-expression and authenticity through marriage.

Like that’s kind of amazing. And so there’s a level of connection that’s available today that was largely out of reach in areas where people weren’t even trying. But do you have like the equipment, have you built the skills, do you have the resources? And, and I talk a little bit about this idea that like the oxygen gets thinner as you go up a big mountain.

And I think this is really where things like social class or insufficient resources, insufficient time together really work [00:29:00] their adverse effects. So the cultural ideals about the optimal marriage, those seem to exist up and down the, um, social class hierarchy across the social class spectrum, let’s say.

Uh, that is if you ask people who don’t have a college degree or even on welfare versus people who do have a college degree and are even well to do. How important it is that we understand each other’s hopes and needs and so forth. There are no differences. This ideal of what a good marriage is seems to be pretty robust across, you know, the socioeconomic spectrum, but the ability to achieve it is difficult.

And, and another way of saying that is like, it’s a whole lot easier for people with resources to bring the supplemental oxygen up there and just enjoy the, enjoy the view up there in the, the very top of the mountain where self-expression resides. You know, you spend some money to make sure that you have the time and emotional resources and the things that you fight about, like who’s cleaning the toilets?

You can pay your way out of those fights and it just makes everything easier. Yeah. It’s the type of thing where it’s sort of like, you know, the, it’s not really a conversation about like, well, how can we change? [00:30:00] It is, it sounds like this is a reality, at least from your observations. And the bigger question is not how do we change this in the context of marriage, but how do we change the larger social structures so that we have more equity so that people have more like, so that some of the things that would stop us from putting on the oxygen mask, like at the, you know, like the top, you know, four and five rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy are available to more people.

Yeah. Again, uh, one of the issues with me is, the answer I’m gonna give you here is both , um, and actually among my fellow lefties, you, you sometimes get a story that I, that I also find kind of of depressing, which is that, well, how could anybody have a good marriage if you’re poor? Right? That it’s all social structure, it’s all your economic circumstances.

And I find that offensive. I find that paternal and borderline offensive, like poor people too can work on themselves and work on their marriage and be happy. And so the, the emphasis on. Social class, which I think is crucial, becomes excessive when we deny the individual [00:31:00] and the individual couples the ability to make their lives better.

So the, the answer to your question is yes, and I certainly think more marriages would succeed and divorces would be lower, especially among the, the, you know, the people with less education. For example, lower income. If we had social resources, if our society were structured to make poverty less scary, less oppressive, you know, that you have to take, again, three buses to work at the Starbucks to make only enough money, barely to make ends meet.

I think things would be a lot better in relationships would be better. That said, I’m not denying anybody the responsibility for doing what they can to make their own life and their own, uh, marriages as strong as. And both responsibility and also possibility. Like the opportunity Yes. Like that that, that’s right.

Acknowledging that we all have some level of agency going back to that word again. That’s right. And like, what a time to be alive. It’s like some of what I’m saying may sound kind of depressing. It’s like, well, like we’re asking so much and you know, I, I haven’t talked about it here, but like, the amount of time we’re spending with our [00:32:00] spouse, at least alone with our spouse is lower than in the past.

Mainly because we’ve gotten so intensive about our childcare. Like so much more intensive about time with our children. How cool is it that we live in an era of marriage that has a bunch of options and one of the options is shooting for the top of Mount Maslow that we can look up there to the top and say like, boy, there’s a summit there.

That I don’t think people in earlier eras had even been aware existed. Like, have we developed the equipment? Have we built the tools? Do we want to go up there at least for a while? And then when we’re like overwhelmed because there’s a, a newborn or because there’s a cancer diagnosis, like, whoa, let’s descend back to base camp for a while.

Lower some of those expectations for a while, and then regroup for the next ascent. Like I think that’s how the best marriages are, are working these days is, is their expectations are very, very high, but also very flexible. And they realize like you can’t have high expectations all the time. And can we calibrate our expectations to what our circumstances can actually deliver now?

And like. I’m psyched that I get to live in [00:33:00] this era. Yeah. If meaning is, you know, the bullseye, then that allows you to calibrate up and down and still experience it. You know, it’s like you don’t have to leave that thing, which quote keeps us together, which are both aspiring toward, we don’t have to leave it behind.

You know, if struggles drops into our life or if not even struggle, you just said, um, and, and you write about this and talk about this, and you’re like, you have a. Every parent knows . That changes things in profound ways. And sometimes as you describe in the book, like you have to have the ability to descend down and know that that’s actually available to you.

And that’s, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the marriage. It doesn’t mean we no longer love each other. It doesn’t mean, you know, that sex is annihilated from the relationship from this moment on just for a while. right means that you’re adjusting like to whatever’s going on. Um, it’s interesting also cuz in, in especially in this particular context, I know, and, and you write about, you kind of use your own, um, relationship as a laboratory and you write about it and you share about your own experience, like during that particular season of kind of descending down [00:34:00] in as a way of still making everything.

Yeah, it was, yeah. Even now I sort of like some emotion. Thinking back it, it was a hard adjustment for us, mainly for me. You know, I guess I would say, if I’m seeking some sympathy from your listeners who don’t have kids and are thinking about having kids, I, I guess I would say like, where are you gonna find the 30 hours a week?

Like, what are you gonna cut from your life once you have your first kid, and it’s gonna be a lot of stuff you like. and now there’s gonna be like a lot of the stuff it’s replaced with is, you know, laundry and diapering and, and those things aren’t necessarily that fun, but depending on the temperament of your kid, you might have a lot of things that like involve irrational screaming and, you know, maybe not only, maybe not only from your kid , some of it might be from you or at least from me.

Um, but you said something interesting a minute ago that I hadn’t thought of that I think you. Unlocked from my thinking that had never occurred to me before, which is the way I talk about like the dissent, right? That that is like, things are amazing and we’re traveling to [00:35:00] Europe and we’re, yeah, having lots of sex and just like grooving on each other in this profound way and learning about each other and living an authentic life together.

And then whatever happens, again for many of, for many of us, it’s the first kid, but for whatever reason, the abundance, the, uh, ability to hang out there at the summit goes away. And almost nobody will ever just hang out at the summit forever. All of us are gonna have to descend sometimes. And the way I’ve always talked about that is, you know, what a bummer.

Like that’s a bummer, but it’s good that it’s available and like, hang out at base camp as long as you need to. And that, that’s a good way of lowering your expectations to avoid disappointment. But the way you characterized it a few minutes ago was fascinating for me because you said like, in a way, if you’re thinking about meaning and purpose, isn’t that all part.

Isn’t it all like, Hey, we’re entering a new stage here and how’s it gonna play out? I don’t know, but we’re in it together and we are going to make sure that we’re not expecting so much that we’re chronically fighting and disappointed, and that isn’t necessarily like the disappointing part of the relationship.

That may well be part of the whole, meaning, [00:36:00] purpose, connection, part of the relationship, and I’ll make the next summit even more ple. I mean, it’s interesting to me also kind of gone deep down the rabbit hole with meaning some of the research that’s evolved around it over the last, really two decades.

And, and it is fascinating and it really kind of tracks the way that you describe the evolution of marriage as well. It’s really become this e you know, elevated thing in no small part because I think we have the luxury to center it more than we did when it was all about keeping the, you know, the family safe, putting a roof over the head and food on the table.

It’s, we’re in a different moment, but being there, you know, is also astonishingly powerful. And then I also reflect on things, you know, like Victor Frankl’s like famous piece, you know, like man search for meaning the, the most horrific circumstance you could ever live through. . And yet, you know, upon reflection, that becomes not only a source of personal meaning to keep him going, but it becomes an entire field of therapy, logo therapy that then says, let’s center this.

Because it makes a difference. Because when you’re going through these really hard moments, [00:37:00] and now we’re talking in the context of with somebody else, it still gives you something to say, but we are checking this box and that box really, really matters to us. Yeah. I, if I remember correctly, um, Franco built a lot of his thinking around the Nietzsche observation.

Yeah. That a person who has a. Why to live can endure almost any how. Right? Forget the exact, do you might remember it. Do you remember the exact lines? I think that’s pretty much the quote. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And look, again, I don’t wanna be unsympathetic, I don’t wanna blame people for their hardships. Uh, lots of people really will struggle with their marriages and their personal lives, many for very, very legitimate reasons.

So I, I don’t wanna rest a hundred percent of the responsibility for, you know, marital success at the feet of the individual and the couple. But there’s a lot of room for us to interpret things in ways that will make the marriage worse or make the marriage better. And actually, even at the very practical, like, you know, last part of my book is very, very practical.

And even at the level of like, well, okay, so this framework for thinking about marriage is, is correct. Like, [00:38:00] what can we as individuals do to try to make our marriages better? And, and we talk about a bunch of stuff, but one of them is, is basically things like attribution. So your partner does a thing and you don’t like it.

It’s sort of up to you to say like, what did it mean? I mean, events happen. I’m not denying that facts exist, but they don’t interpret themselves. We interpret events, we interpret facts, and what does it mean that my partner showed up late for the third straight time? It’s not costless to give the benefit of the doubt every time there is some risk that you’ll make yourself a doormat, but the extent to which we feel distress about it and that the relationship will suffer is heavily determined by the way we interpret the events that we’re experiencing.

And I find that a little bit nerve-wracking because it, it can be sort of sound blaming of the people who are not having success. Another way of thinking about it that I like every bit as much is how empowering is that? Like we have a huge amount of ability to shape things for. , and I think it is incredibly empowering and you share a whole bunch of like different [00:39:00] things.

Okay. Like, here’s something to explore, here’s something to explore. And that attribution, I think was fascinatingly. Is it external? Is it internal? Internal for the good stuff. Maybe external for the stuff that doesn’t sit quite right with us. Right. But it, it feels to me that. For literally everything that you offer, whether it’s gratitude exercises or understanding attribution differently, there’s a metas skill and that metas skill is awareness.

Metas skill is the ability to actually zoom the lens out. It’s not just the ability to focus your attention in a particular moment in time, but it’s the ability to actually notice where your attention is being focused. What is your inner chatter? What is the external chatter? What is the moment in the circumstance?

Give us. And while we’ve moved into this phase where like we’ve now been given this amazing opportunity to explore the self-expressive, the meaning driven part of relationships, we’re also in a moment in sort of like human history where we are so fragmented and so distracted and the pace at which we live is bizarre for sort of like, you know, like human flourishing, [00:40:00] that the ability to actually get metal like that, I feel like it’s almost been annihilated for most people’s lives.

Right. The pace of life has indeed picked up. This started with the Industrial Revolution. Uh, well, to some degree it started with the agricultural revolution, but you were still working by like the sequencing of the sun. , like the sun comes up, you get up and there are chores that you do in the me in the morning, and there are chores you do in the springtime.

But that’s really different from right now and then, and then with mechanization and electric lighting and literally like working by the clock. I mean, that, that, we don’t think about that ever. But that was a monumental change to the everyday life of humans and especially with the 24 hour factory system that, that emerged, um, you know, a little bit into the industrial revolution and things just got faster and faster.

And the amount of information that’s available to us at any given moment is, I mean, staggering in the literal sense. Like if we really tried to take in the bombardment coming at us, we would be, we would be crippled. And so we have to engage in [00:41:00] some sort of triage. How are we gonna figure out what to attend to?

And it’s hard, especially because often, you know, we’re with, we’re at home with our like spouse or significant other. Our spouse doesn’t like, you know, vibrate against our lake. Well, that sounds dirtier than I meant, but our, our spouse is not, you know, a phone that like dings at us. There’s a new email that just arrived.

There’s a new tweet that someone just responded to your tweets or whatever it is. And that is deeply fragmenting. And so all of us need to figure out how can I be present? And sort of the essence of an authentic life is living. With presence, how can I simultaneously live in the real world and take advantage of these incredible opportunities to learn about the world?

I mean, I, I like Twitter, or at least I have liked it until fairly recently and I like email. Like, these are all great things, but how can we make it so that there’s real time for real connection with our partner? Like when we’re out to dinner, is our phone on the table or is it that like, no, there were 90 straight minutes there when neither one of us looked at a phone.

It’s like a big deal, but it wasn’t like a [00:42:00] self-control challenge that people faced even 20 years ago. Um, much less than 1800. Right. It was just, you were just sort of there in the moment and now we have to work at it. Um, and it’s complicated again by the, you know, ideology of child rearing where it used to be like, like open the door and the.

Go out and there’s changes that have happened in the society and so forth. But now parents, uh, certainly in the US and especially among the college educated are, are spending an immense amount of very dedicated time taking care of their children. And I won’t object. I, I think it has many pros alongside some cons, but one of the most significant cons is there’s less and less time for the spouses, for example.

To have time just to the two of them. And, you know, if you’re planning for the long-term wellbeing of your children, maybe taking a few minutes away from the kids now to really cultivate the relationship, the say, you know, with your spouse is probably a good investment in the long run. If the only thing you care about is your kids’ wellbeing.

Because sustaining a, a deeply meaningful connection with your spouse is a monumentally great [00:43:00] thing for your kids, not only for the stability it affords, but also for the model that it gives them of what a, a good loving, connective relationship looks like. Yeah. And that’s just what was spinning in my head.

It’s, it’s like, you know, like they’re watching every move you make and it doesn’t matter what you say, you know, every parent knows. It’s like they’re watching every move and it’s all about like how you behave. What are you modeling for them? That is the, you know, the ultimate lesson. Little did we realize that early eighties police song was really about your children being stalkers,

I like it. Within the model of the, the self-expressed marriage also. I mean there are, there’s some amazing things, but it occurs to me also, and you write about this, that if we are each individually going for our own authentic full self-expression, and if we look at the merit as potentially a vehicle, a mechanism to help support that, I need to actually go and do the things so I can really figure out who I am and be that person in the world and, and so does my partner, that over time [00:44:00] they’re going to have to be sacrifices that are made for one person to support the other person going for the full expression, the full discovery and expression of their identity.

And that while it can sometimes be like, fantastic, and I’m so excited, I’m there to support you. There are also gonna be moments where doing that is going to meanif. Your own pursuit of your own exploration of identity expression. That alone has gotta, like, be, be an interesting point of potential, both friction and growth within a relationship.

That’s right. And it is not actually a fully solvable problem. Mm-hmm. It is an inherent part of living a deeply meaningful life, of building a deeply meaningful relationship. That it will not be the case that always you can live totally in accord with your authentic and preferred existence and your partner can do the same.

And so this, this, figuring out like how we’re gonna do that, people often use the word compromise. I, I teach negotiation here at the business [00:45:00] school at Kellogg. And I don’t love thinking in terms of compromise. I like thinking in terms of more. NBA speak, like win-win, you know, situations, and it’s true. You don’t have to split the difference on these things, but there is no doubt that some amount of compromise is required.

And it’s interesting, like this movie hasn’t aged well because of the uncomfortable age difference between the, the. Protagonist and because Woody Allen has become a compromised figure for apparently very legitimate reasons, but the movie Manhattan has something very interesting. So this again, was long considered one of the, the great films up until, um, up until recently.

And he is 42 and he is dating a 17 year old. This is again, part of what’s uncomfortable what, but what’s interesting about it for the present purpose is she has this great opportunity to study abroad, um, like a really once in a lifetime opportunity to study abroad. And he just is totally encouraging her to do that and says, oh, it’s gonna be amazing.

Uh, you gotta go. You can’t miss an opportunity like that. But she’s in love with him and doesn’t really want to go and he breaks up with [00:46:00] her. And, and what’s interesting about it is then later. In the movie, he discovers how much he loves her. Like he doesn’t really know that he thinks it’s sort of like a fling and then is like, no, she’s really important to me.

And what happens at the end, he races, literally runs through Manhattan to get to her house and she’s about to get into the cab to go to the airport and he says, I don’t think you ought to go to London. And the idea is when we really love, when we really care the willingness we have to support our partners goals, especially if those goals won’t necessarily cultivate the relationship, um, our willingness tends to decline because supporting the relationship and keeping the stability of the relationship makes us a little selfish.

We’re willing to make sacrifices too, but we’re gonna require sacrifices from our partner, or at least try to require sacrifices from our partner in ways that if we were a little less committed, we might be like, sure. Like go ahead and if it splits us up, what’s the difference? And, and this is the, one of the major tensions of loving, of really deeply loving someone is can we love them and also try to afford their personal growth in ways [00:47:00] that may be compromising for the marriage.

And look, I’m not even sure what the right balance is there. I I don’t wanna hold it up like the ideal person. Has infinite grace for their partner taking opportunities that might risk the relationship. I don’t know what the right trade off is there, but the reality is all of us are gonna deal with the fact that you can’t have perfect symbiosis on these things.

You can’t. Maximize the ability to support your partner in all ways, and the ability to make sure your partner doesn’t do anything that could be dangerous for your relationship. We all have to figure out what our comfort level is in tho in those situations. Yeah, I mean, it, it is a really interesting and complex, I don’t even call it a problem, just reality.

Uh, yeah, like certainly just this type of relationship. I’ve spent some time exploring Buddhism and this also for me, the thing that pops into my head when I think about this is the notion of non grasping. Like, and this is. , while you wouldn’t call it an aspiration because it’s really, you’re not supposed to desire or aspire certain states, but you know, it is, you’re working towards, you know, being able to sort of like [00:48:00] achieve a, a, an experience or a state of non gasping.

And that applies not just to stuff, but to people. Mm-hmm. . And this is one of the same way that you’re sort of, you know, teeing up here. Like there’s no clear, easy answer right here. I’ve struggled with this exact same concept and Buddhism around people that I deeply love, um, because in theory, You should feel completely fine if they vanish from your life

And because your contentment, your sense of meaning, your sense of being this, you know, should come from the inside out, not from, you know, it should be intra not in tur. Yeah. And maybe I’m misinterpreting that and, and I’ve got plenty of friends who, who are Buddhist, who are listening to this may correct me down the road, but that’s always been my reading of it and I struggle with that for the same reasons that we’re describing the context of this.

Whether it’s, you know, a partner or whether it’s a child. I cannot imagine the notion of loving them less on a level where it just doesn’t matter if they need to go off and do their thing and they’re no longer in my life. . You see some similar in the stoic tradition in ancient Greece. Mm-hmm. , you see some of these ideas, and [00:49:00] I struggle with them in the, in the way that you’ve described, struggling with them.

I don’t know if it’s just I’m excessively American or something , but I love goals. Like I, I love wanting and craving and aspiring, and maybe this is sort of related to the marriage stuff we’re talking about too, is that there really are meaningful individual differences on these things. And, you know, working together in, in light of the fact that that people differ on these things is, is one of the challenges, but, but also opportunities of a deep, long-term connection.

Yeah. I wanna drop into a couple of things that you talk about. You described this experience of the all in marriage, meaning like when, if you’re gonna say yes to this whole experience, it’s not like I’m gonna dabble in this . You know, if you really want to, to build something truly beautiful and exquisite and sustained, it’s gonna take work sustained.

Forever. So you gotta be all in on it. So some of the things that you explore being all in on you, we talked a little bit about them, you know, like attribution, really understanding. And it’s interesting also cuz some of the research I’ve seen says, you know, like when we. Look at [00:50:00] somebody who’s done something we consider to be wrong.

We think of them often as like, well, that’s a bad person, but when we do the exact same thing, I’m a good person who’s just done a bad thing. Yeah. I made a bad choice. Yeah. And I wonder like the research that I’ve seen is, is more in the context of others who we’re not closely connected with, or even potentially strangers.

You see this in politics all the time, right. But I wonder if that same thing unfolds within the context of very close relationships, like a. In brief, yes. The story’s a little bit more interesting than it is with strangers because it will depend on whether there’s, there’s like a competing interest between us and our spouse.

So sometimes we, you know, give our spouse full credit and, and that’s easy for us to do, but when there’s some amount of tension or awkwardness, we show those same self-serving tendencies. So if you ask people, you know, you ask, let’s imagine a, a number of heterosexual couples. You ask the man, what percentage of the housework do you do?

You ask the woman, what percentage of the housework do you do? And lo and behold, on average, that’s over a hundred percent, right? There’s, they’re doing more than 100% of the housework collectively and [00:51:00] down the list. It’s hard, especially when we’re having conflict to be magnanimous and to feel like, while the other person’s perspective is fair enough.

The issue that you raised here is, is so fundamental. I put some time into trying to investigate like is there anything we can do as sort of relationships, researchers or also as individuals to try to figure out how do we deal with this problem, this problem being that we tend to have myopic or self-serving, uh, experiences like when we’re having a fight with our con with our spouse, for example.

And, and we ran one study where we recruited 120 couples from the Chicago and Evanston area, and we had them write every four months for two years about the biggest fight they’d had in their marriage. Four month period. And in the second year, we randomly assigned people to, uh, either to be in an experimental condition, an intervention, or in the control condition and in the intervention condition, we dealt with exactly this issue.

So if one of the major problems in marriage is that when we’re fighting, it’s really hard for us to get a broader perspective, that it’s really easy for us to see what, why what we did [00:52:00] is reasonable, what the other side did, what our spouse did was not reasonable. And so what we did in this intervention is we had people write about the conflict from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for everybody.

And they wrote three times in the second year for of the second year of the study for for 21 minutes in total. And we found that that really helped that relative to people who were in the, you know, in the neutral condition. They didn’t do this additional writing task. The people who had tried to think specifically about their conflicts from the perspective of a neutral third party, who wants the best for everybody?

Were more satisfied. Um, they actually, they were more trusting. They actually had a little bit hotter marriage. There was a statistically significant effect on passion in the relationship. And, and so there are things we can do, right? There are things that we can do to orient our thinking. That was 21 minutes over the course of a year of labor.

and the marriages were, were reliably better in that condition than they were in the control condition. That’s fascinating to me, the structure of the experiment too, that you ask them to put themselves in a place of a third person rather than the other person in the relationship. Yeah, because [00:53:00] I would’ve thought like that would be the go-to.

Well, like, because that’s gonna trigger empathy, but actually like the third person is the thing that actually makes a big difference. That’s fascinating. , in fairness, your idea is just as compelling and just as plausible. We didn’t include that condition. We were focusing on an idea called self distancing, right?

Mm-hmm. , that is, I’ve talked about myopia, the, the sort of tunnel vision we get when we feel like, no, I’m right, . And so we were trying to focus on this concept of like, what if you stepped away, you know, not some omniscient person, but just somebody who wants the best for everybody. How would they think about it?

And once you do that, it’s pretty easy to be like, all right, fair enough. I probably overreacted, I was a little defensive. And you start to realize like, well, she also probably had reasons for feeling as frustrated with me as she was. And it, it’s, it’s that third party perspective that does that. I think it is plausible that, that your hypothesis also would’ve received empirical support had we tested it.

That is trying to adopt your partner’s perspective. I sort of like this, this third party thing, but they’re both really interesting. Yeah. There’s actually something elegant about the [00:54:00] third party thing to me because I, I wonder if trying to adopt the other person’s perspective is gonna feel too forced, whereas it might feel a bit more neutral, might easier to step into, you know, a neutral observer issue.

Then the partner who you may be not be feeling great feelings towards, like at that particular moment time. So it’s fascinating. One of the other things that you talk about, which is something that I’m trying to do more of in my relationship, and I think a lot of with stress, with pace, with a lot of bandwidth constraints for a lot of people and complexity in their lives, the notion of celebrating together or savoring tends to go out the window, and yet when you intentionally bring it back in, it seems so simple like this couldn’t really make a big difference.

I found that it really does. And, and this is one of the things that you speak about, an offer up as well. Yeah. This is something that, you know, relationships, researchers, Shelly Gable at uc, Santa Barbara and others have, have really unpacked over the last 20 years. There there’s like, you know, tons of research for many decades on this idea of social support, which always was assumed to be important when [00:55:00] somebody’s suffering going through a hard time.

So they wanted to ask, well, what about like savoring when things go well? And it looks like it’s every bit as important on average as supporting each other when things go badly. And I think it’s intuitive for some people and less intuitive for others. But if you were to think at a. At a modest level, like a, like a threshold of like, what’s a good event?

Like what’s something worth celebrating? It could be that, you know, you worked on a project and it’s completed. It doesn’t have to be like, well, you finally got your job, your first job, or a major promotion. What if, I don’t know, five to 10 times a year, there was something that that just exceeded wherever you had the threshold that was like, you know what?

This is large, and get the wine, whatever it is for you to be like, kudos to you. I know you worked at that and this is an amazing opportunity for you, and I just wanted to say how excited I am for you. And it is solo cost. It’s like a pleasure. But what we often do, I don’t want to be too critical, mainly because I’m looking at myself here is like, yeah, yeah, okay, I’m almost done with this email.

And then [00:56:00] like, okay, cool. That’s interesting. But of course the inbox is still open right here. And it’s like, okay, cool. And then the phone buzzes and it’s like, oh, I’m really, that’s great baby. Nice work. And then you’re ba it’s like, no, shut it all down. Take a moment, half an hour and say, Let’s raise a glass to this one.

Like I’m, I’m aware it’s not the biggest thing that’s ever happened. It’s not gonna be a life changer in the whole trajectory of our existence, but that this is something worth taking a moment to savor. Oh my goodness. I, it’s a big deal. Yeah. I think it’s so much bigger than a lot of us really imagine. I think sometimes we wait for those things, like, we’re kind of like, well, it’s not here yet.

It’s not here. Yes. Right. But also like the notion of, well, what if you literally built a structure around like a recurring moment where you agree to sit down and literally just surface? . In any one month period, there’s gonna be something that’s worth celebrating or reflecting on or savoring together.

Yeah. Like even if it’s tiny, it doesn’t have to be a big thing. I was thinking about, um, as you’re describing that somebody who I know had created this structure in his marriage called life dinners or once a month goes out and they sit down, they have a nice [00:57:00] dinner, they share a bottle of wine, and they talk about their life and they exchange a tiny gift.

You know, it’s a moment to just, if nothing has even happened, it’s a moment to savor the fact that they’re together, that they love each other, and that they’ve actually created this space for each other. And that alone in like the world that we live in, is something to celebrate. So it’s, it’s not even that we have to wait for these things to drop, like we can just simply create moments to acknowledge the fact that they have.

Yeah. I mean, even just you listening to that sort of makes my eyes a little wet. It’s just beautiful. And, and it’s not that hard. And here you don’t have to be a rich person. It doesn’t have to be a bottle of wine in a nice restaurant. Like it could be, it could be outside. Like there’s ways that almost all of us.

Even those of us really struggling, again, I don’t wanna say a hundred percent of us, almost all of us could add something like this, and the difference on average will be notable in a beneficial way. Yeah. The one other thing I wanted to explore also with you is this notion that you talk about, which is novelty, you know, novel, exciting activity, like doing something that [00:58:00] literally just breaks the pattern.

We all just fall into a rhythm, you know, without even realizing that we’re in this thing and there’s something kind of magical about just breaking that even for a hot minute. Mm-hmm. that sparks something, not just individually, but collectively. Yeah. I mean, ideally for a very hot minute, one of the things that has been interesting to me as I’ve looked into this is like how many divorces aren’t really about.

Fighting or infidelity. They’re, they’re like, we grew apart and fair enough, I’m not saying those people shouldn’t divorce, but it’s often a story of, of boredom. It’s often a story of like, we didn’t really have enough nutrients. We didn’t invest enough in making sure that we grew together and, and had novel experiences together.

And, and so, you know, social psychologists like, you know, art Aaron and others have done work on the importance of, of novelty. And one of the things that I find interesting about it, and I, and I touch on this also in the book is, is that people like me, um, both, you know, social scientists, but also just generally people who comment on relationships [00:59:00] have talked forever about date nights.

And on average, they’re right. On average, like adding a date night is, is a good thing. The way you’ve talked about it is a particularly good version of a date night. But what’s interesting is we’re getting to the point, the field, the sort of social science of this is getting to the point where we can talk a little bit about like which sorts of date nights for which sorts of connection.

And one of the studies that I find interesting, it was led by a, a researcher named Amy Muse in Toronto, who randomly assign people either to a no intervention condit. or to a condition where they engaged in comfortable activities together. So they listed whatever they find comfortable, reruns of Seinfeld, whatever it is, or to a third condition where they did novel and exciting things.

So they, these could have been, you know, ballroom dancing. I think somebody listed like shucking oysters, like I, whatever it was. And what was interesting to me about it is they had two measures that they were interested in. And turns out that relative to the no intervention people, if you looked at, at one of the measures, which was closeness, like how connected do we feel?

Turns out both of those interventions are effective. Right? [01:00:00] Turns out that making time together to watch more, you know, Netflix, because we’ve made a point of doing it together, makes us feel closer. Ballroom dancing also makes us feel closer. But if you wanna look at hotness, I mean, you know, you talked about a, a hot minute.

If you’re looking at like sexual desire, sexual passion, the like sein. Version doesn’t do it. That is the doing sort of nice, pleasurable routine things together is nice. It does make us feel close. It doesn’t spark passion. What sparks passion is things that are outside of our every day that we do deliberately because they’re unusual and atypical.

And again, my guess is that many couples could look in the last year and say, we did that Zero. Yeah. And especially, I mean, if you look at the last couple of years , um, well, fair enough. I yeah, we clearly it’s an outlier. Yeah. Um, for a lot of folks. But I wonder if, you know, the last three years for a lot of folks, and I’m just thinking about like personally now, like have developed a rhythm based on an assumed set of constraints and like fear and concern literally for life and limb.

And then when you’re doing [01:01:00] this for three years, I wonder how hard it is to then, like, as the world starts to shift, as there’s, you know, like more of an emergence and a feeling of safety and I’m going out in the world, I wonder how easy it is to break a pattern that has been a sacred agreement between, you know, like two people or entire families for.

Three years where like breaking of that agreement was potentially devastating outcomes. Like as we all step into sort of like this, you know, we’re emerging into like the, the next phase. I wonder how it will be as we all try and like look back and say, have we fallen into just this hyper routinized relationship pattern?

And literally we kind of have to rewire our sense of safety and security in order to break that pattern, both to live , you know, to redevelop our social, you know, like communities, but also within the relationship too. And I wonder how hard it is compared to sort of like just at any given moment before the last three years to actually make those shifts.

I think I feel mostly [01:02:00] hopeful. I, I mean, I’m speculating beyond the data. I find your question fascinating. To some degree, I think the transition has happened. Uh, there’s no doubt that some people are still being very cautious, but it’s nothing like what it was a year ago. Um, so I think a lot of people have made this transition, but not everybody.

And pe some people for very good reasons are, are being very, very careful still. You’re talking about sort of the covid and Yeah. Yeah. Masking over. Yeah. So two things I’ll say. One is, There’s a lot of stuff to do that isn’t like covid threatening, right? Like I’m looking out at like Michigan right now, and that happens to be a gorgeous view, but I don’t know, are you a family that like, has taken walks together?

Are you a couple that has taken walks? Like I think a lot of people set those patterns and they’ve been really good. I mean, is that a novel and exciting activity? I don’t know if it’s a novel and if people view it as like an opportunity and like then we went to this, this uh, you know, local park nearby and this other one and, you know, we did it to try to enjoy the, the lights around Christmas time.

Like I think there’s lots of ways we can do these things with without worrying about it. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, I’m like really hopeful about this breaking out of the pandemic. It’s gonna [01:03:00] be a while before we know what the implications are for long-term relationships, but this is an amazing opportunity to break out of routines.

Right. So I, I think you’re right in a way to frame the issue of like, because we’ve been shut down and there’s been like literally life and death circumstances surrounding those decisions. Is it gonna be hard for us to break out of that routine? And I think that is a very reasonable way to look at it.

There’s another way to look at it, and I’m optimistic that, that this is gonna be, I’m hopeful that this is gonna be the more widespread one, which is that we got a reboot. Like how cool is that? Like we’ve been married for, I don’t know, 19 years and then we had these two years and now we’re like break or two or three years and now we’re sort of breaking back out and entering the world again.

What is it that we really. You know, what are the things that we actually missed? What were the routine things that we were doing that, like, you know, what didn’t miss at all once we were stuck at home? And if people are deliberate about that, like what an opportunity, I, I understand that it came at the cost of mass death and pain and economic anguish.

And, but at this point, especially if the virus continues to recede and if, if we can sort of keep [01:04:00] the, the immunocompromised among us safe, What an opportunity to reboot and reset what the priorities are and what we’re gonna try to do from here on out. Yeah, and it’s fascinating cuz I think we saw, you know, we saw this wholesale existential reexamination of careers over, you know, the great resignation and which the great regret for some people and Yeah, yeah.

By quitting and all this, all the different stuff and like, you know, like the highest quitting rate in, in many, many, many, many years. So people really are reexamining like the connection between meaning and work. And we also saw a lot of relationships blow up and people were sort of like cohabitating without the ability to actually separate and realizing n it’s not working anymore.

Or like there were bad situations that really like yes. Needed to end. And I wonder if folks who. In long-term relationships who have moved through this time, who still very much wanna be together and feel very comfortable together. I wonder if like, that group of people will take this same experience as the same level of [01:05:00] reexamination and reset rather than just, oh, like we kind of get to go back to the way things were, um, without actually taking the time out and say, who are we each individually and what do we want from this thing together?

Mm-hmm. . But I agree with you. I think it is an incredibly opportune moment to actually do that. You know, to sort of like really reflect and say like, let’s see what kind of magic we can create, like, or sustain or continue to build or grow or build into this thing. And I am hopeful as well. I’m excited.

Like I said, I, we saw it happen in work. We saw it happen in some relationships that were struggling before, uh, you know, became an incubator. Um, now I’m, I think it’s gonna be really fascinating. As a moment for people to reexamine, how do we take this and really just use it as an inciting incident for something even more magical.

I liked it. It feels like a good place for us to come full circle in our conversation as well, in this container of Good Life project. If I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up? I guess I’m traditional in some ways. I find my work to [01:06:00] be very, very fulfilling. I’m very, very happy in my marriage these days, even though I had a hard adjustment to parenting, I’m, I’m happy with that, and even though I don’t have a traditional religious.

Worldview. I feel like there’s a, a value system that’s meaningful for me, and I try to build a life that aligns with it. And so insofar as I’m able to do those things and insofar as my kids are happy and I’m enjoying work and my wife is happy, That’s kind of it. Uh, I will say with the caveat that, you know, it’s nice to have health and enough resources to be able to live a, a comfortable existence, but I don’t know.

I think that’s the best I got. . Thank you. Hey, before you leave, if you’d love this episode, safe bet. You’ll also love the conversation we had with. Julian John Gottman about Love and Marriage. You’ll find a link to their episode in the show notes. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project in your [01:07:00] favorite listening app.

And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did, since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor, a seven second favor, and share it maybe on social or by text or by email, even just with one person. Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you wanna help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better.

Together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen. Then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations, and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields. Signing off for Good Life Project.

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