Granted, in my younger years I had far more experience screwing up relationships than making them work well, but in the years since I’ve started to get it more right than wrong (yes, Fernada???), so I didn’t want to just write yet another “learn to communicate and cuddle and watch sunsets and play with puppies together” type post. Honestly, those posts suck. If you love your partner, you shouldn’t have to be told to hold hands and watch sunsets together–it should be automatic.
I wanted to write something different. I wanted to write about issues that are important in relationships but are harder to face–things like the role of fighting, hurting each other’s feelings, dealing with dissatisfaction, or feeling the occasional attraction for other people. These are normal, everyday relationship issues that don’t get talked about because it’s far easier to talk about puppies and sunsets.
1. Letting Some Conflicts Go Unresolved
Successful couples accept and understand that some conflict is inevitable, that there will always be certain things they don’t like about their partner, or things they don’t agree with–all that’s fine. You shouldn’t need to feel the need to change somebody in order to love them. And you shouldn’t let some disagreements get in the way of what is otherwise a happy and healthy relationship.
Sometimes, trying to resolve a conflict can create more problems than it fixes. Some battles are simply not worth fighting. And sometimes, the most optimal relationship strategy is one of live and let live.
2. Being Willing to Hurt Each Other’s Feelings
Men often lie in some situation to make their girlfriends/wives happy. But I don’t. Why? Because honesty in my relationship is more important to me than feeling good all of the time. The last person I should ever have to censor myself with is the woman I love.
When our highest priority is to always make ourselves feel good, or to always make our partner feel good, then more often than not nobody ends up feeling good. And our relationships fall apart without us even knowing it.
It’s important to make something more important in your relationship than merely making each other feel good all of the time. The feeling-good–the sunsets and puppies–they happen when you get the important stuff figured out: values, needs and trust.
3. Being Willing to End It
Romeo and Juliet was originally written as satire to represent everything that’s wrong with young, romantic love and how irrational beliefs about relationships can make you do stupid shit like drink poison because your parents don’t like some girl’s parents.
Sometimes the only thing that can make a relationship successful is ending it at the necessary time, before it becomes too damaging. And the willingness to do that allows us to establish the necessary boundaries to help ourselves and our partner grow together.
“Shoot myself to love you; if I loved myself I’d be shooting you.”
– Marilyn Manson
“Until death do us part” is romantic and everything, but when we worship our relationship as something more important than ourselves—more important than our values, than our needs and everything else in our lives—we create a sick dynamic where there’s no accountability.
We have no reason to work on ourselves and grow because our partner has to be there no matter what. And our partner has no reason to work on themselves and grow because we’re going to be there no matter what. This all invites stagnation and stagnation equals misery.
4. Feeling Attraction for People Outside the Relationship
What isn’t an inevitability is our decision to act on the attraction or not. Most of us, most of the time, choose to not act on those feelings. And like waves, they pass through us and leave us with our partner very much the same way they found us.
This triggers a lot of guilt in some people and a lot of irrational jealousy in others. Our cultural scripts tell us that once we’re in love, that’s supposed to be the end of the story. And if someone flirts with us and we enjoy it, or if we catch ourselves having an occasional errant sexy-time fantasy, there must be something wrong with us or our relationship.
But that’s simply not the case. In fact, it’s healthier to allow oneself to experience these feelings and then let them go.
People who suppress these urges are often the ones who project them onto their partner and become blindingly jealous, attempting to control their partner’s every thought, corralling all of their partner’s attention and affection onto themselves.
People who suppress these urges are often the ones who wake up one day disgruntled and frustrated with no conscious understanding of why, wondering where all of the days went and saying things like, “remember how in love we used to be??
5. Spending Time Apart
The problem with allowing your identity to be consumed by a romantic relationship is that as you change to be closer to the person you love, you cease to be the person they fell in love with in the first place.
It’s important to occasionally get some distance from your partner, assert your independence, maintain some hobbies or interests that are yours alone. Have some separate friends; take an occasional trip somewhere by yourself; remember what made you you and what drew you to your partner in the first place.
Without this oxygen to breathe, the fire between the two of you will die out and what were once sparks will become only friction.
6. Accepting Your Partner’s Flaws
This is one of those things that is not nearly as complicated as it appears. Let’s break it down:
- Every person has flaws and imperfections.
- You can’t ever force a person to change.
- Therefore: You must date somebody who has flaws you can live with or even appreciate.
The most accurate metric for your love of somebody is how you feel about their flaws. If you accept them and even adore some of their shortcomings — her obsessive cleanliness, his awkward social ticks — and they can accept and even adore some of your shortcomings, well, that’s a sign of true intimacy.
It may be our perfections that attract one another in the first place. But it’s our imperfections that decide whether or not we stay together.