The phrase “the grass is greener where you water it” means that the more you work on your personal romantic relationships, the better they become.
However, properly watering the grass requires significant time and investment in your relationship.
Here are five ways to do this.
1. Build Trust
According to marriage counseling literature, trust is built in small interactions over time. Building trust requires consistent effort
Trust needs to be cultivated, it won’t happen on its own. Good ways to build trust include expressing appreciation for your partner, sharing your partner’s talents and strengths and expressing love to your partner regularly.
Trust is also built when partners think about each other’s perspective in the middle of an argument, and trust is also built when partners support each other in times of illness and stress.
What’s the big deal deal? Won’t this happen naturally?
No, you have to work at it. Not building trust is often associated with disinvestment in your relationship. There are a couple of things that happen when you start to disinvest.
First, you start to dwell on your partner’s flaws. This means you’ll start making “negative comparisons” and begin to think you can find a better partner. This often kicks off a process of not committing to the relationship, trashing your partner and focusing on resenting them rather than building gratitude.
Basically, if you’ve just started a relationship, but if you’re focused on your other options, you don’t really have the mental capacity or focus to invest in your relationship. Economist Dan Ariely summarizes this succinctly.
2. “Turning Towards” and Emotionally Connecting
Popularized by John and Julie Gottman, “turning towards” is the idea that partners try a number of small ways to connect emotionally. This is often done making by small comments, or reaching out for affection or touch. Couples that turn towards are more likely to stay together – something like 83% of couples who tune in emotionally stay together versus 33% of those who don’t (here).
It is important to recognize when your partner is trying to connect with you and respond favorably when they do. Reciprocating when your partner make a bid puts in you a positive feedback loop. You develop greater intimacy, friendship and trust.
3. Change How You Think About Your Partner
If you’re focused on the negative, you’ll miss at least 50% of your partner’s attempts to connect (here). When this happens, it is difficult to build trust.
Focus on your thoughts on having compassion and empathy, rather than focusing on negative thoughts about your partner. A good way to do this is by focusing on the things you appreciate about your partner – and telling them about it. For example, “You’re good with money”, “I’m proud of you for being thrifty”, “Thanks for making dinner” or “I really appreciate you renewing the car registration”.
4. Learn to Fight Smarter
There are a few ground rules you can implement which might help you have a constructive conversation:
1. Stay on the same team. Stay focused on your partners positive qualities. Also try to identify and focus on the positive qualities that you and your partner share, that will keep your mind on creating a shared story.
2. Stop if you get stressed out. During verbal altercations, couples often see their blood pressure increase, or their adrenaline spike. When this happens, you’re often not thinking clearly and you’re not going to be receptive to hearing what they have to say.
3. Focus on understanding, not selling them on a particular solution. If your partner feels heard and understood, they’ll be more likely to want to work with you.
4. Complain in a way that doesn’t blame your partner. Don’t criticize, do the following instead:
A. Focus on how you feel.
B. Talk about specific situations or behaviors.
C. State what you want as a positive need.
For example, “I’m upset that the house is messy, I would like you to please take out the trash.” works better than, “You’re lazy, you never take out the trash and the house is a mess“.
Generally, healthy couples are able to communicate by talking about how they feel and that they need in a positive manner. They’re also nice to each other and are clear about how their partner’s can help them.
5. Spend Time Investing In The Relationship
If you listen to a lot of marital or relationship self help you’ll start to see that nearly everyone recommends making time for your partner. This is because as an adult you need time to connect, explore and update your knowledge of your partner.
So, the main idea here is that your romantic relationship can improve if you work on it.
The Grass is Greener Where You Water It Financially Too
For dual income no kids couples, you aren’t just romantic partners, you’re also economic partners. In 1982, the Nobel prize winning economist Gary Becker argues that people marry partly because it makes economic sense. Married couples are able to pool their income, and have economies of scale that singles do not. So, being a DINK is an economic union as well as romantic one.
So, the grass is greener where you water it financially too.
Arguments about money are often not about dollars and cents. Instead, they are usually about basic philosophical concepts that underlie one’s sense of self. Usually the best way around this is to have a meaningful conversation with your partner that builds understanding about who they are and what their important values are.
Here are some questions to help facilitate this.
- What does money mean to you personally? What important values or meaning does it represent for you?
- What are your wishes, dreams and hopes around money?
- What are we making money for? What broader purpose does it serve?
- What gives your life meaning? How does money fit into that?
- How was money handled in your family growing up?
- What important events in your life affected how you feel about money?
- What is important about your personal history with money?
- What is your history or childhood experiences with money?
- What ethical values/beliefs inform how you think about money?
It can be hard to resolve conflict, compromise or build a stronger relationship unless you understand your partners views on money.
Other practical things that help:
- Be nice. Social science suggests successful relationships have a 20:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions during everyday conversations and a 5:1 ratio during difficult discussions.
- Creating a shared legacy can help create a new future for your money relationship. This could be a set of actions you want to take together, or it could be a shared goals or a shared vision for what you want your money to accomplish.
- Disclosing your assets, debts and cash flow help. Honestly and transparency usually help build trust.
- Small wins. Your conversations don’t have to be perfect, good enough is fine.
Also, you need to update your knowledge of your partner’s values regularly. People change, and their values change along with them.
For other great articles on couple’s finance, read these:
Couples, do you have any tips you’d add? Leave us a comment below.
Hat tip: John and Julie Gottman, as well as everyone Gottman Institute to the inspiration for this post.