Hello everybody, welcome to episode 85 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. We’re gonna be revisiting our old friend relationships again today – our favorite friend, really. We’ve got a wonderful question about worrying in a relationship, in particular the desire for variety and if/when/how that can keep us from having good, long-standing relationships. Let’s check out today’s question…
QUESTION: “For the last few months, I’ve been dating a girl, the first girlfriend I’ve had in a few years. I really like her, but as time goes on, I’m getting nervous about the relationship. I want to keep being committed to this relationship but I know that I’m the type of person who just likes a lot of variety. To be clear, I’ve never been unfaithful to the few girls I have dated, but in other, smaller areas of life I definitely lean towards mixing things up a lot. I hope it’s not the same with this, but I’ve never dated anyone long enough to know if it might be. Any ideas about stopping thoughts of her not being good enough before they even start?”
Overthinking and Worrying in Relationships
Ok, there we have it. Before anyone gets up in arms about this, let’s not get on our high horses and remind ourselves that we all have urges for variety whether it be in or out of relationships. And the best way of relating to these urges is to be honest and communicative about them as this man is doing. These are the right questions to ask before things go awry, so I applaud you, sir, for sending in such a question.
That being said, you’re definitely thinking yourself into a hole here. Nothing unjust has happened yet, be it in this relationship or in one of your past relationships. And stressing in this way, while it may seem unavoidable sometimes, is only going to accelerate the friction. Today, however, we’ll try to find ways for you to naturally put your mind at ease.
Don't Shame Yourself for Feelings
I also want you do not shame yourself for these feelings. Seems to me you’re not necessarily shaming yourself, but are at least a bit suspicious, which is okay. Don’t turn that suspicion into shame.
We all have questions going into relationships about our own shortcomings and our abilities to work through them and be good partners. And when I say “all” that includes your girlfriend as well.
Whether or not you two have stumbled upon them in conversations yet, she too has her own worries about whether she’s good enough in one way or another. This is part of the dating game, especially for mindful partners.
What is NOT unique to the dating game or to you, however, is the need for variety. Like I said, we all have it. It may feel as though some have it more than others or at different times than others, but to put all of it into perspective I’d like to tell you about a psychological phenomenon known as the Goldilocks Effect, also referred to as the Goldilocks Principle.
The Goldilocks Effect
The Goldilocks Effect speaks to our innate desire to have certainty as well as uncertainty, common as well as uncommon, settlement as well as adventure. We have the desire to keep committed to things the way they are, things we know and can rely on, because it’s easier for us emotionally.
We don’t have to assess it as much, we already know we can trust it and it’s easier to feel content and committed in the face of things we trust. But we also have the desire for spontaneity; to shake things up, explore what’s out there and thus explore new ways of expressing less tapped parts of ourselves.
The Goldilocks Effect has been described as sort of an upside-down U shape. Things are best in the middle when there isn’t too much extreme on either side. And good news for you, the adventurous side of the upside-down U is exhibited most when it comes to things that have air on the side of less complexity AKA the “smaller areas of life” as you described them.
This means that you’re more likely to get sick of eating eating the same flavor of Ramen noodles all week than you are to get sick of dating the same person all week. Humans change, they have different things they say, different habits, different clothes. Beef-flavored Ramen noodles aren’t quite as thrilling.
Have a Honest, Healthy Discussion
So first of all, the fact that your craving for adventure has been limited to smaller things and not manifested in you going outside of your relationships just yet is good news. It’s right on par with the Goldilocks Effect and may never change. And if your life has had more of the smaller things thus far and less more complex things like the few relationships you’ve had, I could see why you think the need for adventure might permeate into them.
But don’t worry. Your partner, especially if she’s particularly interesting, has more tricks in her back pocket to keep you entertained with than the poor beef-flavored Ramen noodles.
Let’s play devil’s advocate, though. Say you do happen to be someone that naturally craves more change than others and that that holds true in all areas of life – relationships included. Express this to your girlfriend. Let her know this side of you, and while you’re at it, tell her what you learned about the Goldilocks Effect and how you’re probably overreacting just a tad.
If you two are a good match, it will likely turn into a healthy, honest discussion that’s free of judgment. It’ll also turn into a relationship that celebrates this part of you. It’s very easy for couples to balance these feelings in healthier ways than having affairs and getting into nightly screaming matches about how you’re holding each other back.
Whether it’s getting more creative with your intimacy, or taking a weekend trip to a new spot each month, or painting the house a new shade, or building something for the yard together, there are countless ways to keep things fresh in a relationship, and couples who say that there aren’t are probably couples that are in denial about their compatibility either at present or in the long term.
As Much Variety As You (And Your Partner) Like
Couples can maintain as much variety as they choose to.
Again, even if you’re more extreme in this regard than other people, the right girlfriend will be willing to meet you halfway on this and help come up with ways to keep things fresh between the two of you in a manner that still honors her needs and does not have a negative affect on her ability to be satisfied in the relationship.
Thank you sir for sending this question in. And thank you for your honestly. Yet another person asking the right questions in an effort to be the right partner. There is hope out there, everyone. Sure hope this episode helped you and anyone else out there that might be wondering about something similar.
As the newbies out there may or may not know, we encourage you to send us any questions you have about ways in which you might be struggling.
You can email your questions to us at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
That’s where we’ll take your questions and get to helping you out here on the show. That’s it for now, though, friends. Thanks for joining me in what I thought was a great episode. I hope you’ll stop in for the next one, too. I’ll talk to you then.