If you really want to change your behavior, you can.

Mindset matters

Do you nod your head in agreement with this statement, or do you shake your head and say no way, I am who I am, take it or leave it? Note, this is not a pop quiz, and there is no right or wrong answer, although it might be affecting your relationship if the answer was an emphatic shake.   

Fixed or growth mindset, what is the difference and why it matters in relationships.

Once upon a time, it was thought that our ability to change stopped once we reached adulthood. That there was nothing you could do to change fixed patterns of behaviour. A leopard cannot change its spots was an adage frequently uttered whenever someone repeatedly showed behaviours that were not conducive to a happy marriage. It was just how it was, and the partner ‘wronged’ either had to accept their behaviour or leave. A change in behaviour was an exception to the rule, not commonplace.  

Fortunately, we know better now thanks to the discovery of neuroplasticity, the ability for the brain to form new pathways. Change is possible, but only if you are willing to commit to the change, which is where the notion of having a fixed mindset or a growth mindset becomes an important factor in creating a healthy relationship.

Having a fixed mindset is defined as being when you believe that a relationship either works or it doesn’t. It was meant to be, and if not, then it wasn’t. When faced with a challenge, you apply solutions that you already know. If that doesn’t work, you claim to have given it a shot and walk away.  

However, if you possess a growth mindset, you are open to change and discovering new ways of doing things. You see your relationship as a journey that may need a course correction from time to time which involves changing your behaviour. Your relationship is not perfect – yet.

Both mindsets are not set in stone, however, and it is not uncommon for someone with a fixed mindset to discover that change is possible or for someone with a growth mindset to get stuck on a new concept and stick to what they know. Mindset becomes an issue in a relationship when one person is primarily a fixed mindset, and the other possesses a growth mindset. They will grow increasingly frustrated with the other’s inability to see where they are coming from and the prognosis for long term happiness with each other is poor.

However, it does not spell the end of the relationship if the person with the fixed mindset is willing to try new behaviours. And the one with the growth mindset is prepared to ‘walk at a slower pace’ and acknowledge that change is difficult for their partner to undertake.

Steps to including a growth mindset in your relationship

Changing behaviour is not easy, but there are things you can both do to make it easier as you both grow into a new phase of your relationship – that of working together as a team and overcoming setbacks when they occur.

1. It takes time

Laying down new pathways in the brain (changing behaviour) is not easy, and it can be tempting to quit when you feel it is taking too long or make mistakes along the way. Remember, no one starts life with the ability to walk as soon as they discover what their legs are for. You have to learn to crawl first, but eventually, putting one leg in front of the other becomes so easy we can even do it in our sleep.

2. Acknowledge your strengths

When learning a new skill, it is important to focus on the successes and not the mistakes you make along the way. Staying positive and focusing on the desired outcome makes it easier to stick to making a change.  Be sure to take time to acknowledge what you are already good at also. 

3. Look for a little good every day

Take a little time every day to acknowledge what is good about your relationship and what brought you together in the first place. Being thankful for finding each other in a world of uncertainty will help keep your bond strong during tough times.

4. Care for yourself as well as your partner

Sometimes our worst enemy is the voice in our head that tells us we are not worth it. Whenever it squawks negativity, ask yourself would I talk to my loved one like this? Hopefully, the answer is no, of course not. Life is much easier when you like who you are too. 

5. Set meaningful goals

Setting a goal with your partner that you will both benefit from encourages teamwork (and you are a team) and helps keep you motivated to change the behaviour stopping you from achieving what you want in life. Remain optimistic that life will improve and communicate often about how close you are to achieving your goals. Be each other’s most fantastic teammate, cheerleader and coach.

6. A setback is not a failure

Using the learning to walk analogy again, you will have fallen over thousands of times before you got the hang of it, but I bet you never gave up and thought, crawling isn’t so bad, or I won’t ever be able to do this. On some unconscious level, we knew that if the big tall giants around us could do it, so could we and kept going. Just because you experience a setback, it is not a reason to stop.

7. Flip the script

Often the language we use can set us up for failure. For example, the word challenge elicits some degree of difficulty, requiring a lot of effort to complete—the word opportunity, on the other hand, evokes images of positivity and reward. Instead of thinking of a new behaviour as a challenge to adopt, consider it an opportunity to live a happier life.

Leopards and spots

Changing a leopard’s spots can seem like an impossible task, and for an actual leopard, it is. But, thanks to the discovery of neuroplasticity, we now know that this analogy is no longer an accurate way to describe behavior in humans. We also know that possessing a growth mindset is more conducive to maintaining a long-term and happy relationship. If you are unsure what kind of mindset you have or are not satisfied with where your relationship is heading, book an appointment today to discuss. I have the experience and knowledge to help you create a relationship that will stand the test of time and grow as you do.      


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Ann Jay

Ann Jay is a Wellington Relationship Counselor who provides marriage counselling, couple's counselling, and relationship coaching for couples and women either in a relationship or single. Her goal is to help people create healthy, loving and fulfilling relationships and experience the love they deserve.