One of the myths I frequently see about relationships is that they shouldn’t require effort. There’s a line of thinking out there that if the relationship is mean to be then things will just work out. And if things don’t work out? Well then it was never true love.
It doesn’t seem to matter that absolutely every psychologist/counselor/relationship expert has debunked that myth; the line of thinking still seems to persist.
For anyone who already has the mindset that love should not require effort, I realize that I won’t sway you. But for anyone who knows at least on some level that relationships require effort, hopefully this will be a gentle reminder.
Talent vs. Effort
In all aspects of life, everyone has some degree of talent. But we also have within us the capacity to learn. No matter what your level of talent is, you can develop it and improve on it. We all know this.
Did we come into the world walking, and talking? No, those are clearly normal parts of cognitive development.
What about more complex things, like math? In math there’s a reason that we start with addition and subtraction and them move onto more complex concepts. They are foundational concepts.
In our school years, we all have certain subjects that come more naturally to us than others. These are subjects that we have some sort of aptitude, or talent for. But we can still learn the others, and the key to developing any skill is effort.
The Genetic Lottery
I don’t think anyone will disagree that effort is important, but there is a belief that effort will only get you so far. This is something that becomes clearly apparent in the world of sports. If you look at professional or Olympic athletes, these are largely people that won the genetic lottery. Depending on the sport, athletes have some combination of size, speed and agility that can be breathtaking. Often when you look at athletes, it seems clear that they have a natural talent for their chosen sport. And that’s true.
One thing that is less readily apparent is just how much effort they have expended to get to the level they are at. At the top levels, EVERYONE has natural talent. Even at that level, the key differentiator between the good and the great is still effort.
There are countless cautionary tales in sports of people who have all the talent in the world, but they don’t work hard, or they have a bad attitude and a sense of entitlement. When players believe that talent is enough, they generally don’t last long. The truly great athletes are the ones who combine a natural aptitude with incredible work ethic. Effort is the key.
Effort without talent is a depressing situation. But talent without effort is a tragedy.
Some developmental psychologists believe that talent is actually somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Having an aptitude for something causes us to enjoy it more (everyone likes seeing success). That enjoyment in turn causes us to put in more effort, developing the “talent” even further.
On the converse, a lack of immediate success can result in frustration and a reduction in effort. And this reduction in effort reinforces the lack of success.
The real key is effort, and a belief in the ability to improve. That’s not to say anyone can do anything. Even if I started at a young age, I likely would never have been an Olympic athlete. But no matter what I choose to try, if I put in consistent effort I will be better at it tomorrow then I am today.
Effort in Relationships
If we can accept that effort can result in improvements, then I have to ask why we would believe that relationships should be any different? Doesn’t it stand to reason that as good or bad as a relationship is, it can always improve? And that improvement is dependent on effort?
Think back to the early days of your relationship. Maybe one person was the primary pursuer, but a relationship requires both people to put in effort. That effort likely involved making time for each other, and spending it together. And during that time as the relationship developed, probably both people did “the little things” to show the other that they cared, and were interested in continuing to grow the relationship. All of those “little things” are effort. They are showing interest in both the relationship and the other person.
Long term relationships are hard. That early level of effort isn’t sustainable. And unfortunately, all too often “life” takes over people start putting in a minimal amount of effort on the relationship.
I think part of this is human nature. When things get difficult, it can seem like it’s “not worth the effort”. But the irony is, in relationships it is likely the lack of effort that was a major contributor to things getting hard in the first place.
Practice Makes Perfect
Not all relationships are meant to be, and sometimes it definitely is better for people to go their separate ways. But for anyone who believes that if it falls apart then it “wasn’t meant to be”, I ask you to go back to the Mike Ditka quote from above.
“Effort without talent is a depressing situation. But talent without effort is a tragedy.” Your “talent” as a couple is whatever brought you together in the first place. You have at least some degree of talent, or you wouldn’t be together. The question is, what sort of effort do you put in to continue to nurture that talent?
Effort needs to be sustained, and continuous. It’s not something you do once in a while, or just when you feel like it. When people say “it just wasn’t meant to be”, they may be right. But I think that line is often simply a rationalization for a lack of effort.
One mistake people make when they hear “effort” is they think “work”. Work has a negative connotation to it. In some ways they are the same thing, and the main differentiator is your mental approach to it. If you see potential value, it’s effort. If you don’t, it’s work.
Anything of value in life is worth fighting for. Personally, I would rather make some mistakes fighting for something I believe in than lose something of value due to simple apathy.
In relationships, effort should be the most important thing. No matter how things are going, effort shows that someone cares. So if you want to see growth in your relationship focus on effort and not just results. As long as the effort is there, results will come in time.