A Secret to Healthy Relationships

The best-selling book by Richard Carlson, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and It’s all Small Stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life” speaks directly to the value of living in mild preference. Those who don’t take on issues that are “small stuff” usually are much happier and in turn have healthier relationships.

A good example is arguments between couples. Couples who drop down the Mood Elevator to irritated or bothered easily and frequently have much rockier relationships. It is usually the result of one or both needing to have things their way – the right way. Our spouse can’t quite do exactly what we would like him or her to do. The feelings of irritation and bother in relationships is often over very small issues, but over time these can lead to much larger and more detrimental arguments- and in many instances this can lead to divorce.

What if there was a simple shift in mindset – perspective that would greatly decrease the amount of irritation and bother your partner causes you? This shift we call “living in mild preference” and is described in The Mood Elevator.

Living in Mild Preference does not mean that you need to become a doormat or that you won’t have your likes and dislikes, it just means that you are grounded in the fact that in the real world, stuff isn’t going to always go your way and not everything will be fair. There’s a saying that “expectations are down payments on resentments”, and this is why so many people walk around so irritated and angry almost every single day. They have deep-seated beliefs on how their life, their day, or even their meal should go.

When something doesn’t go your way, you don’t necessarily need to be happy about it, but you can feel your negative emotions and then let them pass like clouds in an otherwise sunny sky and then focus your energy in other, more positive directions. This also doesn’t mean you don’t have goals, ambitions, or an idea of how you would like something to turn out, it just means you have the ability to shift your perspective when a plan changes. An example of a perspective shift might be:

When you have thought of “I haven’t seen my spouse all day! I can’t believe the first thing he does when getting home from work is going straight on the couch and tuning out. Doesn’t he want to hear about my day?”

Instead shift it to: “He must have had a long day at work, I can catch up on that book I’ve been wanting to read for months! We’ll have plenty of time to talk about our day later tonight.”

You may notice, that after recalling an argument or potential argument with your spouse to a friend you realize that it isn’t a big deal. You may realize you said something you regretted or you wish you had just let it pass. Whenever you find yourself building with irritation when you’re with your spouse, take 5 seconds to pause- and ask yourself if this is something you’ll care about or even remember a year from now. The chances are, you won’t and you’ll save yourself (and probably your partner) a trip down the Mood Elevator by staying in Mild Preference.

If you really think about it in the grand scheme of things, almost everything that happens in our day can be considered “small stuff” and almost all bickering that occurs between couples is usually over very meaningless preferences. Of course, at times you’re going to want to express your opinion and let your voice be heard. But when it comes to Italian or Mexican food tonight, it doesn’t need to turn into World War 3.

About Larry Senn

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Dr. Larry Senn is the founder of Senn Delaney, the culture shaping unit of Heidrick & Struggles. He has been referred to in business journals as the father of corporate culture, based on his field research: the first systematic study ever conducted on the concept of corporate culture.

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