It is hard to find anything positive in people’s impending divorces.
The impending divorce of Bill and Melinda Gates no doubt carries much sadness for them and does for almost anyone who would have wished them well.
The ills of social comparison
There are, without doubt, many lessons that could be learned from the breakdown of their marriage. But I would like to talk about just one today.
The lesson about which I wish to speak concerns social comparison—our tendency to judge how well or poorly we are doing by comparing ourselves to others.
Who can honestly say that they do not do social comparison? Even people who are highly intrinsically motivated, who take their direction from themselves and not from keeping up with the Joneses, and who set their goals based on their own inner standards and not on other people’s, sometimes resort to social comparison.
When we judge how well we are doing, we not only compare ourselves to where we want to be, but also to where others are.
Are we keeping up? Are we falling behind? Are we getting ahead of the others?
This is one of the reasons that rich people often are not as happy as we might expect them to be, given their seemingly limitless resources.
It is not enough to have unlimited resources. The question for many of them is how well their limitless resources compare with the limitless resources of other zillionaires. What, So-and-So only has two billion dollars? Such-and-Such has three billion dollars! So what good is it to have a mere two billion?
With some rich people, I suspect many rich people, it’s never enough because there is always someone ahead of them—someone they know does not deserve the money nearly as much as they do.
This is not a column about money. It is a column about love and intimate relationships. For better or worse, the same social comparison that applies to money, or academic success, or any other kind of success applies as well to love in intimate relationships.
We compare our relationships to others without knowing much about them
We are social comparers.
A couple of years ago, a couple of colleagues and I did a study on jealousy and envy. We had lots of findings.
But one thing that came out is that everyone is subject to envy in romantic relationships—they see some other couple and think of all the love and happiness they imagine that couple has. How they wish they had the kind of relationship that couple has!
But what do we really know about that couple’s relationship? What does anyone know about others’ relationships?
The Gates’s marriage was often touted to the public as a model. The Gateses appear to have promoted this image. They had a great publicity machine. In the end, the gates (excuse the pun) came crashing down.
When we look at others’ relationships and are envious, we should remember the Gateses.
The chances are good that we are envious of a chimera. Don’t waste your energy, your emotions, your powers of rational thinking, your time, asking why your relationship isn’t as good as those of others you know, or you know of.
Chances are, you know far less about their relationship than you imagine you do.
Start focusing on what you have and what you can do for your relationship
Focus on what you can do for your own relationship.
And if it is not where you want it to be, well, that’s what our website is here to help you with.
Do you have in your relationship the intimacy, passion, and commitment you desire?
If you'd like to find out where your relationship is headed in terms of intimacy, passion, and commitment, take our quiz here.
If you are struggling with envy or jealousy, read more here.
People often use social media, not to mention phone calls and personal meetings, to tout how great everything is going with them.
Maybe things are going great for them; maybe they’re not.
Don’t concern yourself with the wonderful life you imagine they have.
So many people lie through their teeth, trying to project an image of perfection.
If the impending divorce of the Gateses taught you that other people’s relationships often aren’t what they say they are and that your focus should be on understanding and improving your own relationship--the hell with the rest--you’ve gotten something positive out of their divorce.
Don’t dwell on what you imagine other couples' relationships to be. Figure out your own relationship. Then, if you wish, make it the best it can be.