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One of the main ideas of relationship is to help your partner become their best self- and for them to help you with that same project.  By definition, it’s a project that will involve some level of psychological risk.

On road trips we listen to podcasts, and by chance last week’s variety featured a whole slew of stuff on psychological safety in teams.  This is an idea described in the book Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg, which I was reading this weekend, and was originally identified by the Google People Operations.

I’ve been wanting to write about this idea for a little while as relates to romantic relationships, but wasn’t quite sure what the catchphrase would be. Psychological safety works.  At the simplest level, unhappy and problematic relationships are psychologically unsafe.

Really: why on earth would you compete with, distrust, disdain, be skeptical or overly critical of your partner?

Moreover, why wouldn’t you do everything in your power to make them feel strong, attractive, safe, and smart?  It can be as simple as saying those words aloud everyday.

Relationships only work well if you and your partner are able to continually reinforce each other’s uniqueness and brilliance, and support emergent new interests, ideas, and change.

So, I can’t take credit for this idea.  Somehow Daniel was smart enough to figure it out on his own, before we got together, and all I had to learn to do was mirror it.

Growing up in emotionally-reserved New England, this sort of ongoing praise seems new-agey and helicopter-parenty. In a romantic relationship, it feels like a vulnerability: what if the sentiment is not returned?

But stable relationships start from an agreement, unspoken or explicit: we will support and reinforce one another, through thick and thin. It’s easier to do than one might think, and well worth it.

Whenever I’m anxious about whether the projects I’m pursuing are too weird, non-sensical, or flighty, I ask Daniel.  He reads my notes and says, “Very clear thoughts, eloquently expressed. Not gobbledegook at all.”

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Posted by:brook delorme

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