Life’s Most Persistent Question
Charlie: Like Guy Noir, many of us are still looking for the answer to life’s most persistent question. (If you don’t know who Guy Noir is, you can find out by listening to any Prairie Home Companion radio program). Then again, there are many who are still wondering what life’s most persistent question is. So like the famous game show “Jeopardy”, we’ll give you the answer first and then you try to figure out what the question is.
So, the answer is (drum roll) “Low maintenance, high performance”.
And no, we’re not talking about cars, although the question “What is it that you want in a great car?” wouldn’t be a bad answer. It’s just that that question is less persistent in the consciousness of most people than the answer that we have in mind. Think again. What else might we be referring to?
What else might be important besides your car? I know that for those of us of the male persuasion, this is a truly puzzling question, but to women, the answer may be more obvious. Hint: It has something to do with relationships.
If you’ve guessed “Your choice of a life partner”, congratulations, you’ve guessed correctly! And your prize is that you now get to guess the right question, which at this point is probably pretty obvious. If you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s “What should you look for in a potential partner in a committed partnership? (should you have made the choice to have one).
Although hundreds or perhaps thousands of blogs and books have been written that address and answer this question, we have reduced the answer to 4 words: “Low maintenance, high performance”. There is little doubt that the decision that we make in regard to choosing a life partner has a greater bearing on our future than just about any other life choice that we make, including those that have to do with income, education, where we live, who we vote for (or whether we choose to vote at all), where we work or even, (yes gentlemen), what kind of car we drive.
There is widespread agreement in nearly all of the literature on the subjects of happiness, positive psychology, well-being, and fulfillment, that one’s choice of a life-partner has a greater impact on our quality of life than any other choice that we make in our lifetime. Here are some of the books that confirm that assertion: Love and Survival by Dean Ornish, MD, Healthy at 100, by John Robbins, Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman, Ph, D, Happiness by Ed Diener, Stumbling on to Happiness, by Daniel Gilbert, The Geography of Bliss, by Daniel Gilbert, and Happier, by Ben Shahar, Ph. D.,
But books are not necessarily the ultimate authority in regard to concerns that are as subjective and personal as the degree of personal fulfillment that we experience in life. As most of us know from our own experience, both our highest and lowest points if life have involved other people, particularly those with whom we share the closest relationships. There is ultimately no other single factor that will give you a bigger bang for your buck and will have a more dramatic impact on your quality of life than whether or not you choose a life partner and with whom you share that partnership.
Research has revealed (“Relationship Health Benefits: 10 Reasons Why It’s Good For You To Have A Significant Other” Amanda L. Chan Managing Editor, Healthy Living Magazine) that people who share committed partnerships live longer, have a greater sense of security, better health, fewer hospitalizations, less depression, less mental illness of all types, higher lifetime earnings, and less stress. Based upon a study conducted by David Roelfs, happily married men live 8 to17 years longer than unmarried men and happily married women live 7-15 years longer than those who are unmarried. The caveat is that living in an unhappy relationship will diminish your quality of life, so it’s not simply a matter of whether or not you’re married, but whether or not you are in a mutually fulfilling partnership.
So if you are one of the people who has an interest in improving your overall quality of life and you are not currently in a fulfilling committed partnership and would like to create one with the right person, then the question you may be considering right about now is “How can I best improve my chances of identifying who that person might be?
Which brings us back to the theme of this blog. While we may know what “Low maintenance, high performance” means when it comes to cars, it may not be quite as clear to many of us when it comes to relationships. Sometimes we know when we’re in high maintenance relationship but we don’t always know how to or whether it’s even possible to lower the maintenance requirement and raise the performance level.
Defining terms here might be helpful. Low maintenance relationships are easy to maintain for one simple reason: both partners are holding themselves accountable for creating their own experience. This means that they are not expecting the other person to provide and sustain them with pleasurable feelings, nor do they blame the other person when they are not feeling the way that they want to.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the power to make sure that they never experience down times, agitation, or any other form of upset. Life sometimes hands us feelings or moods that we didn’t ask for and didn’t want, but there they are anyway. Low maintenance people understand that sometimes that’s just the way life is and it’s not always about changing your mood or getting someone else to change it. Sometimes it’s just about taking care of yourself while you’re experiencing whatever you’re experiencing, rather than looking to change things or get someone else to change things so that you feel better. Taking responsibility for your experience means that you follow the guidelines that remind you to accept what you cannot change, change what you can, and be discerning enough to know the difference between the two.
People who accept responsibility for maintaining their level of personal well-being are low maintenance because they don’t project that job onto others. They have needs but they hold themselves responsible for meeting them. “Neediness”, on the other hand has to do with making others responsible for meeting needs that are essentially yours.
As for the performance part, the dictionary defines performance as “the manner in which or the efficiency with which something reacts or fulfills its intended purpose.”
High performance has to do with the successful fulfillment of one’s stated intentions and purpose with efficiency.”
Low maintenance, high performance people create high performance, low maintenance relationships Keep in mind that while all relationships need to be maintained on an ongoing basis in order to thrive, there is a big difference between co-creating and providing maintenance for a healthy partnership and having to maintain and fulfill the expectations of another person who has assigned that job to you.
You’ve probably already guessed what the best way of attracting this kind of a person in your life. If you’ve guessed that the answer to that question is to “be one” you’re right.
They look to themselves to speak, act, and perform in ways in which their sense of well-being will be enhanced and do not make it the other person’s job to “make me feel good or to make sure that I don’t feel bad. They don’t blame their partner when they are unhappy but instead tend to look to themselves to identify the source of their experience and to put in corrections or make necessary adjustments when they are needed. Consequently, feelings of resentment, blame, vindictiveness, fear, anxiety, and insecurity come up infrequently, and when the do, they are accepted and processed responsibly, which could include expressing one’s feelings without blame or judgment and engaging in respectful dialogue.
Of course not all responsible interactions are without conflicts and difficulty but when there is a willingness to practice self-maintenance, rather than having the expectation of being maintained by others, interpersonal difficulties tend to be less stressful because the process of dealing with differences is generally more respectfully.
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Bloom, L. (2017). Life’s Most Persistent Question. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 12, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/relationship-skills/2017/10/lifes-most-persistent-question/