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Too Good to Be True

November 8, 2011

In Social Intelligence, Daniel Goleman reports that the most secure, long lasting, and happy relationships have a 5-to-1 ratio of positive emotional exchanges versus negative ones.  On average, over time, for every interaction that leaves the participants feeling bad, there are five that leave them feeling good.

If the ratio is less than this, or even inverted (five bad experiences for every one good experience), the relationship is in trouble.  But what if it’s off in the other direction?  Can perfection ever be achieved?

When I read this finding it struck a cord with my recent experience.  Twice in a row I had managed to manifest into my life romantic relationships that seemed to surpass this ideal ratio, at least at first.  There were many differences, but what they had in common was that they both seemed too good to be true, until they blew up in my face.  In both instances, there was no conflict, no strife, no argument or disagreement of any kind…until one day out of the blue, BOOM, I’m locked out, blocked off, cut off from contact with no warning and barely any explanation.  Countless unspoken offences are given as an explanation.  In hindsight, a similar pattern was operating both times, beneath my conscious awareness: there were emotional upsets going on, but my partner was hiding them from me.  What I mistook for true love and utter devotion was actually a heartfelt but misguided attempt to conform to my expectations that ended up doing more harm than good.*  Both times I was emotionally devastated when the truth hit home.

My personal takeaway from these experiences has been to be wary of similar situations.   The research surveyed by Goleman also reveals that the “low road” neural mechanisms that operate rapidly and automatically, such as those involved when we intuitively sense other people’s emotions and interpret social situations, learn from experience.  So I hope to be aware and sensitive enough to avoid repeating the pattern.

When (if) we allow ourselves to get close to another person, we can expect friction.  Its apparent absence can be a warning sign of hidden emotions, and it’s the feelings that go unexpressed that can most threaten human relationships, much more than the ones that are aired and processed.

*Aren’t ladies always telling men to “Just be yourself”?  You’d think they’d remember that it applies to them too.

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