In case you haven’t noticed, relationships can be trying. They can try our patience, our strength, our commitment and the limits of our capacity for understanding. They can also challenge our belief that when people really love each other, differences are easily and effortlessly dissolved or resolved. Many people believe that “all you need is love”, and if you have enough of it, you’re pretty much assured that “everything’s gonna be all right.”
Well, sometimes, maybe, but not necessarily. It is a great theory, supported by lots of movies, fairy tales, TV commercials, and cultural myths. The problem is that the theory doesn’t always translate so well into reality. And it doesn’t take one important factor into account: Loving another person doesn’t just bring out the best in us, but it can also expose the worst, like those shadowy aspects of our personality (and yes, we all have at least some of them), like being possessive, obsessive, critical, overly-analytical, judgmental, sentimental, feeling superior or inferior, or a compulsive, impulsive tendency to rhyme, to name just a few. Phew!
Of course, we usually try to conceal what we consider our less than ideal characteristics when we’re in the throes of new romance, but over time, they have tendency to reveal themselves. When we’ve past through the early stages of infatuation and have begun to see the rest of what we are each bringing to the relationship, things can get really interesting, and that’s where the need for grit comes in.
It’s easy and delightful to be in love with someone when our vision is clouded by infatuation, but it’s when the veils are lifted from our eyes that the real work begins.
Much of that work has to do with dealing with differences. Not just the differences that inevitably occur between people who are attracted to each other, but the differences between who we each thought we were getting and who that person actually is.
Not that the whole rest of the picture isn’t pretty; some undiscovered parts (hopefully) are, but then there are the “surprises”. And it’s the way that we deal with those surprises that will determine whether or not we will make it to the higher levels of love that are available in long-term partnerships.
If we fail to effectively meet these inevitable differences when they eventually arise, they can become ordeals or even deal-breakers. Dealing with personality differences, spending habits, child-rearing philosophies, household responsibilities, sexual issues, or any of the many concerns that couples routinely find themselves addressing can challenge even the most dedicated lovers.
The presence of challenges in relationships can deplete our energies or can invigorate us, depending upon how we respond to them. If we view them as opportunities to learn, grow, and deepen our connection, the result will be one of invigoration. If we view them as punitive ordeals that we have been forced to undergo, the outcome will likely be one of resentment and even misery.
Relationships are not for the faint of heart. They often require us to cultivate a wide range of traits and qualities that we may otherwise may not have been sufficiently motivated to develop, not the least of which is “grit”. Webster defines “grit” as: “indomitable spirit; resourceful courage and daring in the face of difficulty.”
Most of those who have chosen the path of committed partnership can relate to the need courage and daring in relationship. It takes an experience as powerful as love, to motivate us to mobilize the drive to pursue the quest for indomitable spirit.
According to Martin Seligman, a leading expert in the field of Positive Psychology, grit is “the combination of high persistence and high passion towards the fulfillment of an objective.” Malcolm Gladwell, the best-selling author of the groundbreaking book, Outliers speaks about this quality in his commentaries of highly accomplished individuals who have demonstrated true grit in their commitment to the fulfillment of their vision. He asserts in the book that the achievement of an exceptionally high level of excellence in one’s chosen field requires at a minimum, 10,000 hours of practice, or about 20 hours a week for ten years. This applies to artists, athletes, musicians, inventors, businesspersons, chess players, astronomers, mathematicians, or anyone who is possessed by a thirst for mastery in any arena. Grit doesn’t guarantee that you will achieve greatness, but it does make it possible. Without it, the chances are slim to none.
Another field that grit applies to is that of relationships. Those who are committed to creating a blue ribbon partnership might not be “working on their relationship” 20 hours a week, but they will be spending a lot of time and energy embodying practices that enhance and promote self-development and life-long learning. In so doing they will increase the likelihood of bringing an already healed, fulfilled, mature, and grateful self into all of the domains of their lives.
Of course, relationships are not Olympic events, and successful relationships don’t need to be of world-class caliber. There’s nothing wrong with having a “good” partnership. Lots of couples would consider it a great blessing to be able to simply not argue too much and to get along well with each other. But for those of us who are possessed by a hunger to experience a profound and sustaining love, the bar is necessarily higher.
If you are one of those people who has a burning desire to create and experience a truly optimal relationship, you’ll want to check out our next blog. In it, we offer eight essential steps that promote the development of true grit.
In the meantime, put some detail into your picture of what that relationship would look and feel like and put it in writing. Get specific. Then identify the personal qualities, such as courage, vulnerability, compassion, patience, perseverance, and acceptance, for example, that you are committed to strengthening to support your commitment. Getting clear about your vision is an important first step.
For the remaining steps, stay tuned!