in: Intentional Living

Small Effort, Big Results: Beating Boiling Frog Syndrome

With the smallest bit of maintenance, we can avoid catastrophe. Ellen Gerst explains Boiling Frog Syndrome and how we can use it to sidestep relationship disaster.


We live in a world of opposites: good vs. bad; black vs. white, sad vs. happy and so on. When it comes to relationships, my favorite pair of opposing words is lost vs. found.

In 1584, Clement Robinson wrote, “I much rather be lost than found.” If you take this statement at face value, not many would agree with it. After all, who wants to be lost? 

Well, as with most situations, words can mean different things according to how you view them and in what context they are said. When terms are not defined, you tend to jump to conclusions based on your own world view. Let me illustrate this concept with lost vs. found as an example.

To me, being found equals complacency. Why is this a bad thing? When everything is going well, you’re more likely to take your eye off the ball. You start operating on autopilot and, before you know it, you look around and everything is a mess. 

As for being lost, you don’t want to be truly lost without a clue. However, if you can remain a little lost, this implies that you’re always seeking the best out of life and actively looking for ways to enhance it and your relationship. It also encourages you to always offer the best version of yourself to your partner. In other words, it stops you from getting lazy in your relationship because you’re paying attention.

Here’s a real-world illustration of how this works. 

I first married when my late husband and I were very young. Early in our marriage, we were both very busy working hard to establish ourselves. Often, he would leave for work before I got up, so I wouldn’t see him freshly shaven and looking spiffy in a suit and tie. As for me, I would get home before him, so he wouldn’t see me dressed nicely with my hair done and makeup applied. As soon as he came home, he changed into comfortable clothes, which often weren’t so attractive, and I had already wiped off my makeup and changed into something pajama-like. 

Basically, we dressed up nicely for the world and looked ratty and unkempt for each other. There’s something wrong with that picture. While I’m not saying you should remain “dressed up” in your own home, I caution you on becoming so complacent that you stop trying to look your best for the one you love the best. It’s very easy for this type of mindset to flow over into your general attitude about your relationship.

Luckily, before this got out of hand, we decided to change our ways and made a point to avoid slipping into a point of no return of slovenly dressing and all that goes with it. 

Unfortunately, not many are paying attention to this tiny adjustment you can make, which can play a tremendous role in your relationship. In fact, I read about a survey in which two-thirds of the respondents felt it’s totally acceptable to give up worrying so much about your looks once you’re in a serious relationship.  

Life is made up of a compilation of tiny moments in which you make decisions like the preceding that can impact the course of a relationship. To keep on track, it’s necessary to pay attention to all these little things before they turn into unmanageable big things. 

Here is a really easy way to think about it. It’s called the Boiling Frog Syndrome, which states the following: 

If you place a frog in boiling water, it will immediately jump out of the pot. However, if you place a frog in a pot of cold or room temperature water that you heat slowly until it comes to a boil, the frog won’t notice until it’s too late and he eventually boils to death.

I’d like you to think of your relationship in this context. You probably know when you’re in boiling water; it’s when something momentous happens that can’t be overcome, such as being caught in a lie, overspending on frivolities when you don’t have the money to pay the mortgage, or, at the extreme end, cheating.

However, it’s not so easy to tell when the water is heating up until it’s too late. Before you know it, you’re a pair of cooked frog’s legs and it’s far from a delicacy. 

Some simple things you might forget to do include: acting courteously towards each other by saying please and thank you; saying/showing that you love your partner other than on special occasions; or calling if you’re going to be late. 

When you’re complacent (or found), it’s easy for these things to occur. You think, “My partner knows how I feel without me saying or showing him/her.”  Well, that may be the case; however, even the most confident harbor some insecurities, and it’s just nice to be reminded that you’re loved and respected.

Now, taken individually and infrequently, the preceding examples will not tear a relationship asunder. However, if they happen repeatedly, the notch on the boiling pot goes up a tiny sliver of a degree. Then, one day when you wake up, your partner is the one who is boiling mad and you’re so confused because you don’t think you did anything wrong. 

Again, the point is that it wasn’t any one big thing that made your relationship veer off track; it was an accumulation over time of the little things—the moments you let your most important relationship slip from its perch at the top of your priority list. You can call it letting it stagnate, putting it on auto-pilot or being lost, but I caution you to avoid this state at all costs. 

Remain present in your relationship, and every day make conscious decisions that turn you towards lifting up your partner vs. tearing him/her down. If you don’t, trouble won’t be far behind. 

In order to avoid this pitfall, here’s my best relationship advice in a nutshell: treat your partner as you would a close friend and always be nice to each other. 

[image: via James Lee on flickr]

About the Author:

Ellen Gerst

Ellen Gerst is a relationship coach, the author of over 30 books and a workshop leader who assists her clients and readers in experiencing a change in perspective, which, in turn, allows them to find the resolutions for their issues. For everyday relationship advice, join her on Facebook and Pinterest. Visit her website for a full listing of her books, which are also available via Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Ellen is also available for coaching, as well as a speaker to conduct a workshop for a group.

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