Means-goals relations, supporting each other’s goals, is a way of analyzing relationships based on how much each partner helps the other to achieve his or her goals. In this case, the partners are each other’s means to reaching their individual goals. Mutual perceived instrumentality, or a relationship in which each partner is instrumental in helping the other to achieve those goals, is considered to be the most satisfying type of relationship.
Keeping in mind that each partner is the other’s helper to achieve goals, and that the goals are individual life goals, we can start to understand how this can affect your relationships.
Perceived Goals and Support
First, how does someone fit into your pursuit of your life goals? The simple fact of having goals and being aware of them makes people look around to see what or who can help them attain those goals. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, few life goals can be accomplished alone.
Second, having someone around to help makes people more likely to focus on the goals they want to attain. Most people recognize the inherent futility of trying to accomplish major life goals on their own, so they may not pay much attention to their dreams until they have a potential assistant.
Third, both partners assess the others’ and their own usefulness. It is human nature to want to be helpful, as well as to receive help from others. If both partners assess their own usefulness and find it satisfactory, as well as finding the other person’s usefulness equally satisfactory, the relationship is more likely to succeed.
Serving Multiple Goals
Next, a single person (or college degree) can be instrumental in attaining multiple goals is important. For example, a husband might help his wife create a resume for her dream job, run the household while she spends a weekend with her friends, and go to the gym with her to support her fitness goals. People tend to find means more valuable when they are able to support multiple goals, so the more useful you find your partner, the more satisfied you are likely to be with your relationship.
However, supporting multiple goals could become a source of frustration for a partner who feels like their many contributions are unappreciated.
Partner Substitution vs. Relationship Continuity
Lastly, there are many different ways to fulfill each goal. In most cases, the different alternatives are actually equally suitable to attaining your goals. This supports the idea that there is not one single best partner out there, but that we could be happy with many different potential partners.
However, availability of multiple means, or potential partners, tends to dilute a person’s focus on his or her existing partner. Likewise, our goals are not set in stone, and we might drop certain goals in favor of pursuing alternatives.
To maintain strong relationships in the face of shifting goals and readily available alternatives, It is important to actively inhibit, or devalue in your thinking, other choices. It is important to continually positively value your partner. As anyone who has ever been in a long-term relationship knows, it is normal to develop an attraction to or interest in someone else. However, we use various methods to inhibit those feelings and keep our attention on our chosen partners. When considering major life choices, we take into account all of the factors, including our partners’ preferences and usefulness in achieving any relevant new goals.
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Written by: Lisa FritscherNEXT