If we were to ask you who has been the biggest influence in your life, career, success, etc., we bet you’d think of either someone you look up to (a major player in your field or a teacher or mentor that made an impact) or someone in your family (father, grandmother, aunt). But what about the person that sleeps next to you every night? What about the person that kisses you goodnight, the one you’ve decided to share your life with? How much do you allow them to influence you on a day-to-day basis? Or better yet, what are you doing to influence them in a positive way on a day-to-day basis? It’s too easy to underestimate the influence you can have on your partner, or even worse, the influence they have on you. Only once we recognize just how much of an effect we can have on one another can we begin to make conscious efforts to become positive influences in each other’s lives.
According to The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman, P.H.D., this all comes down to how strong your friendship is. If you fail to continue cultivating and maintaining this friendship, Gottman warns that “over time, irritation, resentment, and anger build…” and the relationship eventually ends up in a place he calls “negative sentiment override.” In this state, both partners read into negative undertones of everyday situations, thereby expecting the worst from one another: a simple request to do the dishes feels like an attack; a short moment of forgetfulness feels like an intentional disregard for your needs; a tiny suggestion feels like a criticism. Imagine the negative impact this cycle can have, should it be allowed to continue. Over time, not only will the quality of the relationship suffer, but the quality of your day to day lives becomes filled with negativity.
So, how can we avoid finding ourselves in this perpetual state of negative influence? Easy. We simply practice patience and forgiveness with one another. We know, easier said than done. But here’s a guiding light: writer and success mentor, Michael Hyatt lays this out for us in three very simple steps in his blog post, How to Become Your Spouse’s Best Friend:
Step 1. Make a List of What You Would Want in a Best Friend
I.e. Someone to affirm my best qualities, give me the benefit of the doubt
Step 2. Now become that person for your partner
Step 3. Keep sowing the seeds.
Writer Emily Esfahani Smith says it best in her article, Masters of Love, “There’s a great deal of evidence showing the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves, which leads to upward spirals of love and generosity in a relationship.” Now that’s a kind of compounding interest we can believe in! Not only will you be making your loved one feel better, but you’re helping yourself to receive more love and kindness in return, making the both of you live longer, more loving lives. A Harvard study published in the New York Times suggests that one of the most important predictors of whether or not you live a long and happy life is the strength of your relationships with family, friends and spouses.
The bottom line is that all of the little ways in which you can influence your partner and your partner influences you can quickly add up to make a pretty large impact on your daily life. The more you can strive to be each other's source of inspiration day in and day out, the more positive influence you’ll receive in return. After all, as Gottman suggests, the purpose of marriage is to “support each other’s hopes and aspirations and build a sense of purpose into their lives together.”
If you’re interested in learning more about how to cultivate fondness, admiration and deep friendship with your partner, read our blog about how learning to dance together can strengthen your bond.