The Upside of Relationship Mistakes

The Upside of Relationship MistakesWhich is better? To avoid mistakes altogether, or to watch for your mistakes, expecting them on a daily basis?

The answer may surprise you.

Back in the 90’s, IBM built a computer called Deep Blue. It played chess. In 1997, it actually beat Garry Kasparov, a world champion. Unlike human players who rely on intuition, it worked by calculating thousands of potential moves every second. And, it was good enough to take down a human world champion.

In contrast, TD-Gammon is a computer program that plays another classic game–backgammon. But instead of being pre-programmed with an extensive knowledge-base, it’s programmed to simply learn from its mistakes. Each time it plays someone, it makes adjustments to its strategies based on what worked and what didn’t.

When Deep Blue was fired up for its now famous match against Kasparov, programmers had to use a crazy-complex cooling system just to keep the thing running. It takes a lot of power to shuffle through every possible move every second! TD-Gammon, on the other hand, becomes more efficient the more it plays. Like a person, it learns from its mistakes and becomes a better player over time.

So, which is better?

In theory, Deep Blue didn’t make mistakes, but it couldn’t learn, either. Said another way, it would never get any better. That’s true because mistakes, while painful, are how we grow.

Granted, making mistakes in a game is one thing. Making mistakes in a relationship is something else. Dating mistakes can be particularly painful. They have the potential to lead to very real set-backs, so the natural reaction is to work very, very hard to avoid them.

So hard that, like Deep Blue, you’re almost always on the verge of overheating.

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has spent the bulk of her career studying this very thing. She’s discovered that school children who don’t feel pressured to always be right tend to view learning as a growth process. And guess what? They’re far more likely to excel. Unlike kids who think their grades define their value, “growers” don’t hold back. Instead, they embrace risk, expecting to make mistakes along the way.

Do “growers” sometimes miss the mark? You bet. But, they understand that’s a part of life. It doesn’t mean they aren’t successful. It just means they have more to learn.

What an amazing approach to relationship that can be.

I’ll be candid. In dating, and in life, you’re going to make mistakes. I don’t care how smart you are. No one is perfect. Because mistakes are painful, a lot of people work very hard to avoid them. They shy away from risks because the idea of screwing up is just too much to bear.

But, they shortchange themselves.

You can’t grow without messing up from time to time. Mistakes, even in relationships, don’t mean you’re broken or flawed. They mean you’re human. The healthiest approach is to expect shortcomings. And when you fall short, don’t waste time and energy beating yourself up over it. Instead, resolve to learn from it.

Over time, that will make you a better partner, and a better person. Plus, you’ll be able to ditch the stress that comes with thinking you have to get everything right.

The next time you feel you’re mucking it up in your relationship, go easy on yourself. Give yourself and your partner permission to make mistakes. And when the inevitable mistake happens, humbly view it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Regardless of who caused the pain, look for the hidden gems of insight that emerge from every single new experience.


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21 thoughts on “The Upside of Relationship Mistakes

  1. Maggie said:

    I’m feeling better about myself…less relationship stress and more optimistict after reading this.

    Thank you James for another jewel!

    ~Maggie

  2. Victoria Fabling said:

    Well expressed James, and I also have noticed that those who need to be perfect have jaw issues, they grind teeth, jaw gets tighter, braces are necessary, and loosening up saves a lot on dental work 🙂

  3. fulness said:

    Thank u james for this info.

  4. Sherri said:

    I feel so much better. If we grow through all of our relationship mistakes, than I must be a sage.

    • Sherri said:

      “then”, not “than” (I hate it when I use poor grammar!)

  5. Diana said:

    This is great insight, but my question is what are you to do when you don’t know what mistakes you’ve made and he certainly wont tell you. He would rather walk away and give up than put the issues and mistakes on the table to be worked on.

    • James Bauer said:

      Diana, unfortunately, in this situation it is his mistakes, not yours, that are destroying the relationship. Hurt feelings, different desires, and natural frustrations with entwining two lives will always lead to snags in the relationship. But being unwilling to address them and work on them is a mistake he is making that has the power to veto any efforts you make. This is his mistake and you cannot correct it. Sorry. Find someone more insightful to go after. I wish there was a better answer, but that’s my perspective.

      James

  6. Kami said:

    What if he breaks his word and yesterday broke a promise? Should I count this as a growing learning experience for him and me and just expect it’ll get better?

    • James Bauer said:

      Kami,
      That depends a lot on how he is reacting to this. Is he apologetic? It also depends a lot on what his motivation was for deceiving you or failing to keep his word.

  7. Tangi Ruri Tolufitu said:

    Hi James Bauer,
    I have been married to my husband for 7years now we have one child and expecting one the way yes they both are my husbands kids but what im trying to say that my husband has been confiding more and more with his ex girlfriends and with other women than he is with me when I go and ask him why hes so comfortable talking and confiding with them and other women besides his family than he is to me and he just keeps saying that hes got nothing to say to me and why don’t I just be his wife and only his wife instead of trying to know what is always wrong with him but its like there’s always a mood change with him I ended up leaving him to sort it out but before I would always ask him if he’s okay does he talk about it now I just leave it for him to sort out but I went to snoop in his phone and he has been texting and calling his ex girlfriend the one that called him on the day he was getting married to me lately he has been close to her with texting and calling and it starts over again should I just leave it and let take it own course and just be prepared for what’s going to come up? Ive tried the other solution and he would just shut down and be defensive of the idea I have just come up and we will end up arguing I want to be able to be on the right page with him but its like he’s scared to let me in when we together but when we apart we can talk and have conversation without arguing what should I do? Ive tried listening to others but knowing that we got kids also that makes it even more hard to give up on what we got or if we still have it.

  8. ann said:

    Hello there,
    The third time I visited the man 300 miles away that wanted me to be his girl and move in with him after our 6 weeks talking everyday, having several friends in common – but had an eye surgery to i visit and helped nursed – but I was tired and got teary when I noticed a photo of him with his ex framed out… I felt worried that he was cruel or wondered if he was forgetful… he said he was forgetful.
    this past visit he wasn’t as affectionate and when I asked him about it said that…
    but he was the three visits before.
    he still calls me once or twice a day and it has been 2 and a half months.
    we haven’t had the relationship direction talk yet. and now I already feel hurt again…
    any kindly advice?
    I feel I’ve been too available due to his surgery etc.
    Now he isn’t making a date for our next LDR visit.
    Thanks!

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Ann. I would not say you have been “too available,” but maybe you have been doing too much of the pursuing. For a LDR to work, he’s going to have to pursue you as much as you pursue him. I suggest you let go of control, relax a bit about the direction of the relationship, and see if he steps up to show you he really wants more of what the two of you have been sharing.

      Also, you might benefit from getting some clarity about what you really need and want from the relationship? Does he even know? Do you know? Having a direction in mind is crucial. It helps you to know whether or not he is the right person to pursue a relationship with.

      James

  9. nekky said:

    Thank you James, very helpful.

  10. Adria said:

    This is a very powerful article … it’s so profound. This is like a bible.
    Thanks, James Bauer!
    Cheers!

  11. Patricia said:

    I enjoy reading your articles and they make a lot of sense to me, but when ever I get involved with a man, it always starts out like gangbusters, he wants to call all the time, get things moving very fast and no matter how I try to keep things balanced, and take things easy, I inevitably take my queue from him and begin to trust what he is saying and fall for it every time, only to experience his cooling off in a very short time. I wish I could break this pattern and let things take their natural course, without thinking that if I don’t give in to his needs and wants that I’ll still keep his interest anyway…Any suggestions…Patricia

    • James Bauer said:

      Hi Patricia. You ask a very broad question that cannot be easily answered without a lot of extra detail and background info. These patterns you have spoken of probably have something to do with the pace of the relationship, but there may be more than that. You might want to check in with one of our relationship coaches.

  12. Ashley said:

    I think it’s pretty rad that you send these emails. It’s very motivational and often presents a point of view that is over looked. It’s so easy to get caught on a simple situation and forget everything else. I don’t know if there’s any save in my situation (and unfortunately I can’t afford to do a one on one) but I’d just like to say thanks for providing these helpful words. An outside perspective is always the best, thanks James.

    • James Bauer said:

      I appreciate that, Ashley!

      James

  13. Judy said:

    This topic couldn’t have come at a better time!! I have been struggling with being a “perfect” partner and this has given me some growing room. I will be sure to share this with him as well, maybe take stress off him as well 🙂

    Thank you,
    J

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