Valentine’s Day Mindset

Beliefs about romantic love.

February 10, 2019

When my husband and I were dating, I told him that love was like a watercolor painting.

“Once it’s ruined,” I said, “you can’t fix it.”

I explained that one wrong stroke in a watercolor was tragic because, when applying pigment to white paper, you can’t lighten what’s already dark.

“And that’s how relationships work,” I said.

But Jason was skeptical. Why wasn’t love, he wondered, more like an oil painting? Why can’t you rework a section of your relationship that isn’t turning out so well, layering on the paint as thickly as needed, to make it more beautiful?

Recently, psychologists have begun to study mindsets about romantic love. Mindsets are beliefs about fundamental aspects of human nature. You can, for example, hold a growth mindset about intelligence, believing that it’s possible to get smarter with effort and opportunity. Or you can hold a fixed mindset about intelligence, believing that increasing your IQ is impossible.

Likewise, you may or may not believe that declines in romantic passion typically do not reverse and once a relationship has become stagnant, it will likely remain that way.

It turns out that believing you can recover passion when a relationship is faltering increases the likelihood that your commitment will endure. And, in fact, there are strategies that enhance the quality of long-term relationships. For example, you can learn to rethink heated arguments from a neutral third-party perspective. And you can proactively schedule time each week for just the two of you to have fun.

Next month, Jason and I will celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary. Over the course of our marriage, I changed my mind and decided that Jason was right: love is more like painting with oils than with watercolors. Fights I never thought we’d be able to forgive each other for, we did. Compromises I never thought possible, we negotiated. The title of soul mate is earned.

Don’t assume that your theories about the way world works are necessarily true. They may not be.

Do take a moment to ask whether Valentine’s Day would be a lot more fun, and a lot less stressful, if you adopted a growth mindset about love.

With grit and gratitude,

About the author

Angela Duckworth is a co-founder of Character Lab, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and the author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.