Remember mindsets from the previous post? Growth mindsets are when you see yourself as a work in progress and believe that you can learn new skills and improve your abilities. Fixed mindsets are when you believe that you are either smart or not and that your abilities are basically unchangeable (Dweck 2006). As you might imagine, looking at the world and people as fixed versus capable of learning significantly affects the way you view relationships.
People with fixed mindsets believe that their partner’s behaviors and characteristics are set in stone and that the relationship’s qualities are fixed, either good or bad. If their partner isn’t affectionate, then he won’t ever be affectionate because that’s just the way he is.
There’s little use in pointing out that you would like more affection or that he is not as loving as he could be. They also see themselves in the same way. A person with a fixed mindset might say, “I’m grumpy in the mornings and I’ll snap if you try to talk with me. That’s just the way I am. Nothing is going to change that.”
People with a growth mindset believe that their partners and their relationships can develop over time and can change. In this view, communication leads to problem solving and new ways of interacting.
Dweck says that people with a fixed mindset would want a mate who would put them on a pedestal and make them feel perfect as they are. They would want someone who would boost their ego and never challenge them. Saying anything negative about them would likely mean that the other person doesn’t really love them, because they have to be perfect as they are or the relationship can’t work. Any criticism would be threatening to the relationship, a signal that the spouse doesn’t love them.
Someone with a growth mindset would want someone who helps them grow and improve and encourage them to learn new things.
Because people with fixed mindsets feel rejected and humiliated when a loved one breaks up with them, they tend to be focused on revenge. They are the ones who say if they had to choose, they’d rather be miserable than have their ex be happy. That’s because they tend to see the break up as meaning they aren’t good enough and never will be. They may see themselves as being unable to keep a relationship. Or they may see themselves as labeled “divorced” forever. What might look like negative thinking may really be a belief that people cannot change their behavior and habits.
When someone has negative core beliefs about themselves, they discount or ignore information that doesn’t fit their negative beliefs. Statements that aren’t consistent with the way they feel about themselves can be upsetting. If a person has a fixed mind-set and a negative self-view, then they would be likely to choose a mate who sees them as unchangeable and unworthy. Someone who confirmed their view of themselves.
People with fixed mindsets believe that a good relationship shouldn’t require work. They believe couples should be like one, and able to know what the other needs and wants. They tend to believe they must agree on most topics. Talking about even minor differences results in fixed mindset couples feeling hostile and threatened. People with a growth mindset don’t expect magic, they believe that differences are expected. They see creating lasting relationships as requiring that they work through or accept those differences.
Blaming often happens when people have a fixed mindset. Every problem that occurs is a sign of failure and not being good enough. This is critical when you believe those are set, permanent qualities. For it to not be you, it must be the other person. Someone must be at fault if the relationship doesn’t work. It’s easy to get into a competition as to who is at fault, who is the permanently flawed person.
People with a fixed mindset are more likely to bully others, to judge themselves as superior and others as inferior. People who feel victimized may also have a set mindset. A growth mindset goes with not judging others, believing that people can change and that their behavior reflects more about them than a judgment of others. A growth mindset would seem to create hope.
A growth mindset facilitates healthy relationships and can be developed. Becoming aware of a fixed mindset is the first step. Sometimes people aren’t aware of how they are viewing the world and themselves. Maybe there are ways a fixed mindset protects you and knowing those reasons, plus the costs of having that world view, could help you decide what is best for you.
Noticing that change is possible and beginning to risk making small changes would be the next step. One small change can lead to belief and hope and even bigger changes that could add joy to your life.
Dweck, Carol. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006.