I’ve been telling my friend she should propose to her boyfriend. There’s this terrible habit I have of encouraging people to get married. I’d quit doing it except that I have such a good track record! I can tell when people are going to be happy together, and the reason seems simple to me.
They boost each other.
This is more or less the opposite of the “Four Horsemen” indicators of divorce, two of which are criticism and contempt. It should be obvious that criticizing and insulting someone is not a great sign of contentment! Unfortunately, these behaviors are incredibly common, and the longer a couple are together, the more likely they are.
What we’re looking for here is not just the absence of criticism or contempt. There are literally seven billion people in the world that this couple are not criticizing right now, because they don’t know them and aren’t thinking about them. That doesn’t mean they’re wearing seven billion wedding rings.
Boosting someone is something special, something that many people don’t do for anyone. It’s not just a secret to a happy romance, it’s also a magical key to popularity and success. Might as well include a bit of that here.
See, people tend to treat romance differently than all other relationships, and this is a major reason why there are so many breakups and broken hearts all the time. A long-term love affair feels very similar to a long-term friendship (because it is), or being with family (because you are, after a while), or having a buddy at work.
Tell each other everything
Glad to see each other
Can be yourself, without feeling self-conscious
And, perhaps most importantly:
Celebrate the good times together, even the small stuff!
Someone who boosts you is genuinely excited when something goes well for you. They recognize even tiny little milestones, sometimes before you do. They give you credit when you aren’t willing to give credit to yourself. They remind you of who you are on your best days and shrug off the rare occasions when you’re having your worst days. They regard your funny little quirks with affection. They respect your dreams and want to magnify your image of what is possible. Basically they just think you’re great.
This is why I think my friend should marry her boyfriend, because the way she describes him, he is like her personal fan club. I don’t know if she sees him that way, but I know it when I see it. He’s always rooting for her success, the more the better. He loves it when she wins.
As her friend, I feel the same way. I see her as staggeringly talented, a personal role model of grace and generosity. I also see that her biggest issues are her shyness and reluctance to push forward, because I have the same issues. They just seem to make sense for me in a way that I wouldn’t say they make sense for her. Of course she should follow her ambition and go big. Of course she should!
It’s easy to like him because he loves my friend for the same reasons that I do. We both want the best for her and we’ll be waiting, side by side, every time she crosses a finish line, with a hug from me and a kiss from him. Figuratively.
This is by no means the model for every romance, or every friendship. There are so many:
The rescuer who loses interest when the wounded bird starts flying again. The sadist. The competitor who’d rather you both lose than watch you win. The dreamer who will never become a doer. The distracted one with nothing much to give. The one who’s checking the boxes of external approval and looking for a mate to pass the panel interview. The one who doesn’t want a romance but rather a personal servant.
They’re all out there.
People can be activated by your success for their own reasons. You have no control over whether someone else envies you or targets you as their personal benchmark. Somehow, some people will make your life about them. It would be nice if people just thought, “My colleague’s success is our company’s success,” or “My neighbor’s success is the neighborhood’s success,” or “My relative’s success is our family’s success,” but how common is that?
In a happy marriage, it should definitely feel like “My mate’s success is my success.” “When one of us succeeds, our marriage succeeds.” The question is just whether both of you are defining success in the same way.
If you and your sweetie are both aligned in the same direction, if you share values, then the natural result should be that you boost each other.
If you can’t boost each other, then something is misaligned. What is it? Your communication, your direction in life, your values, your affectionate regard for each other? Your ability to be excited for someone else and to express your delight to them?
The best way to find boosters for yourself is to be a booster of others. Show them how it’s done. One person can gradually set the tone for entire social groups. For instance, the quickest and best way to stop negative office gossip is to praise colleagues when they aren’t there. Promoting other people’s successes can be sneaky in that way. It establishes what traits and behaviors are valuable and what kinds of things can earn praise and positive attention. It also makes you look good!
Not everyone likes being boosted. They can’t trust it because their cynicism runs too deep and they suspect praise as sarcasm. That’s fine, and it’s also good information.
Not everyone is emotionally capable of boosting other people. Sometimes they are just too damaged, too angry, too competitive, too something. That’s good information too.
The truth is that feeling happy for other people is always a reliable way to feel happy in general. We’re all stuck in this dumb old world together, and it’s easier when we recognize that. We don’t have to walk alone. We can cheer each other on along the way.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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