Your relationship may be better than you think, find the knot

What you need to know:

Before you give up, take matters into your own hands and try a little harder

There is an old saying, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” In other words, before you give up, take matters into your own hands and try a little harder.

As a psychology researcher, Gary Lewandowski believes this adage applies to relationships, too. Before you let go, look for the “knots” that might save you from accidentally letting a great relationship slip from your grasp. Relationship science suggests that the problem is that people tend to overemphasise the negative and underappreciate the positive when looking at their romantic partners.

If you could build the perfect relationship, what would it look like? Perhaps more importantly, how does your current relationship stack up? Expectations for today’s relationships are higher than ever. Now that relationships are a choice, mediocrity is not acceptable. It is all or nothing, and no one wants to settle.

The secret to avoiding settling seems simple; have high standards and demand only the very best. Researchers refer to people who are pickier than others and always want the absolute best possible option as maximisers. Their counterparts are satisficers; those satisfied once quality surpasses a minimum threshold of acceptability. For them, “good enough” is perfectly fine. As long as their relationship exceeds their predetermined benchmarks for “high quality,” satisficers are content.


Maximiser personalities will tend to exhaust all options and explore many possibilities to secure a flawless partner. You might think that sounds ideal, even noble, almost like common sense. But there are hidden downsides. Call it the myth of maximisation, because the research reveals that maximisers report more regret and depression and feel threatened by others whom they perceive as doing better. Maximisers also experience lower self-esteem and less optimism, happiness and life satisfaction. And they prefer reversible decisions or outcomes that are not absolute or final.

See the problem? In long-term relationships, people tend to prefer more of a “‘til death do us part” approach rather than a “‘til I find something better” tactic. Overall, the implication for your relationship is clear; the continuous pursuit of perfection could be fine for a car, but in your relationship, it may result in failing to recognise the truly great relationship that is right in front of you for what it is. Impossibly high standards can make an excellent relationship seem average.

Negativity bias

You may also undervalue your relationship by being too quick to identify imperfections, notice the negatives and find problems. Blame what psychologists call the negativity bias, which is a tendency to pay attention to the bad or negative aspects of an experience.

In other words, when your relationship is going well, it does not register. You take it for granted. But problems? They capture your attention. The bickering, insensitive comments, forgotten chores, the messes and the inconveniences – all stand out because they deviate from the easily overlooked happy status quo.

This tendency is so pronounced that when a relationship does not have any major issues, research suggests that people inflate small problems into bigger ones. Rather than be thankful for the relative calm, people manufacture problems where none previously existed. You could be your own worst enemy without even realising it.

Time to recalibrate

The key is separating the critical from the inconsequential to distinguish minor issues from real problems. Identifying the true deal breakers will allow you to save your energy for real problems, and allow the minor stuff to simply fade away.

Data from a representative sample of more than 5,000 Americans, ranging in age from 21 to over 76, identified the top 10 relationship deal breakers to disheveled or unclean appearance, lazy, too needy, lacking a sense of humour, living more than three hours away, bad sex, lacks self-confidence, too much TV/video games, low sex drive and stubborn.

Beyond that list, certain annoyances can become deal breakers in otherwise generally healthy relationships. And if your partner disrespects, hurts or abuses you, those are behaviors that shouldn’t be ignored and should rightly end your relationship.

In a follow-up study, researchers asked participants to consider both deal breakers and dealmakers, that is, especially appealing qualities. When determining whether a relationship was viable, it turned out the deal breakers carried more weight. The negativity bias strikes again. The fact that people tend to focus more on the breakers than the makers is further evidence that we are not giving some aspects of our relationship enough credit.

To help you better appreciate your partner’s good qualities, consider the qualities individuals find most desirable in a marriage partner.

What have you been missing in your relationship? Surely there are boxes that your partner checks that you have neglected to notice. Start giving credit where credit is due.

Appreciate your partner

Some studies suggest you should give your partner even more credit than they might deserve. Instead of being realistic, give your partner the benefit of the doubt, with an overly generous appraisal. Would you be lying to yourself? Sure, a little bit. However, research shows that these types of positive illusions help the relationship by decreasing conflict while increasing satisfaction, love and trust.

Holding overly optimistic views of your partner convinces you of their value, which reflects well on you; you are the one who has such a great partner, after all. Your rose-coloured opinions also make your partner feel good and give them a good reputation to live up to. They will not want to let you down so they’ll try to fulfill your positive prophecy. All of which benefits your relationship.

It is time to stop being overly critical of your relationship. Instead, find the knots; the parts of your relationship you have been taking for granted that will help you hold on. If you know where to look and what to appreciate, you may just realise there are a lot more reasons to happily hold onto your relationship than you thought.

Brutal honesty is necessary

When you are at such a difficult crossroads in your romantic relationship, being brutally honest is necessary to decide whether giving up on a relationship is the right decision.

You and your partner can try to resist falling back on those false narratives such as “she never” and “he always.” Jumping to conclusions, putting your boyfriend or girlfriend in a box, or drawing assumptions isn’t going to help.

Brutal honesty is the way to clarity.

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