Just in case it got bad again. Just in case the medication stopped working. Just in case my brain did what it does sometimes. The result was that I sometimes chose relationships that were deeply unhealthy. As long as somebody kept hanging out with me, I could endure emotional abuse, gaslighting, and all the rest of the fun that humans sometimes do to the ones they claim they love. I could get smacked in the face and stick with somebody because hey, maybe I deserved it for being an unworthy creature. I could be used for perceived professional or personal connections. I could also ignore my own missteps, failings and garbage behavior.
The truth is generally more nuanced. One cannot truly be happy if one is always dependent on someone else for emotional and financial resources.
And I know very well that being depended upon for love, money, etc. I reflected on wonderful times with wonderful people and terrible times with terrible people there was a lot of crossover. I thought about the ways in which I had been wonderful, and terrible, and sometimes just mediocre. I have indeed found a greater connection to family and friends since I bowed out of the commitment industrial complex.
It is an enormous pleasure to spend time with people of my choosing rather than to endure conversations out of obligation. I eat in restaurants alone. I watch whatever I want. I keep my own hours. I do some political volunteer work. I took a real vacation with my family for the first time in years. I talk to my friends and I laugh a lot. I joined a yoga studio like some kind of Lululemon-clad monster I cannot afford Lululemon, but will be starting a crowdfunding campaign for their magic butt pants shortly. And that feels really awesome. Love is a funny thing. In ancient times, people genuinely considered love a sickness.
Parents warned their children against it, and adults quickly arranged marriages before their children were old enough to do something dumb in the name of their emotions. We all know that guy or girl who dropped out of school, sold their car, and spent the money to elope on the beaches of Tahiti.
We all also know that that guy or girl ended up sulking back a few years later feeling like a moron, not to mention broke. It does for everybody. True love—that is, deep, abiding love that is impervious to emotional whims or fancy—is a choice. That form of love is much harder.
But this form of love is also far more satisfying and meaningful. And, at the end of the day, it brings true happiness, not just another series of highs.
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Every day you wake up and decide to love your partner and your life—the good, the bad and the ugly. They are in it for the feels, so to speak. And when the feels run out, so do they. What I can tell you is the 1 thing, most important above all else is respect. That is the truth. But you never want to lose respect for your partner.
Once you lose respect you will never get it back. As we scanned through the hundreds of responses we received, my assistant and I began to notice an interesting trend. Talk frequently. Talk openly. Talk about everything, even if it hurts. But we noticed that the thing people with marriages going on 20, 30, or even 40 years talked about most was respect. My sense is that these people, through sheer quantity of experience, have learned that communication, no matter how open, transparent and disciplined, will always break down at some point.
Conflicts are ultimately unavoidable, and feelings will always be hurt. You will judge their choices and encroach on their independence. You will feel the need to hide things from one another for fear of criticism. And this is when the cracks in the edifice begin to appear. My husband and I have been together 15 years this winter.
You have to feel it deep within you. I deeply and genuinely respect him for his work ethic, his patience, his creativity, his intelligence, and his core values. From this respect comes everything else—trust, patience, perseverance because sometimes life is really hard and you both just have to persevere. I want to enable him to have some free time within our insanely busy lives because I respect his choices of how he spends his time and who he spends time with.
And, really, what this mutual respect means is that we feel safe sharing our deepest, most intimate selves with each other. You must also respect yourself. Because without that self-respect, you will not feel worthy of the respect afforded by your partner. You will be unwilling to accept it and you will find ways to undermine it. You will constantly feel the need to compensate and prove yourself worthy of love, which will just backfire.
Respect for your partner and respect for yourself are intertwined. Never talk badly to or about her. You chose her—live up to that choice. Respect goes hand-in-hand with trust. And trust is the lifeblood of any relationship romantic or otherwise. Without trust, there can be no sense of intimacy or comfort. Without trust, your partner will become a liability in your mind, something to be avoided and analyzed, not a protective homebase for your heart and your mind.
We have so many friends who are in marriages that are not working well and they tell me all about what is wrong. A large percentage of these emails involve their struggling romantic relationships. A couple years ago, I discovered that I was answering the vast majority of these relationship emails with the exact same response. Then come back and ask again. If something bothers you in the relationship, you must be willing to say it.
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Saying it builds trust and trust builds intimacy. It may hurt, but you still need to do it. No one else can fix your relationship for you. Nor should anyone else. Behind respect, trust was the most commonly mentioned trait for a healthy relationship. But trust goes much deeper than that. If you ended up with cancer tomorrow, would you trust your partner to stick with you and take care of you? Would you trust your partner to care for your child for a week by themselves? Do you trust them to handle your money or make sound decisions under pressure? Do you trust them to not turn on you or blame you when you make mistakes?
These are hard things to do. Trust at the beginning of a relationship is easy. But the deeper the commitment, the more intertwined your lives become, and the more you will have to trust your partner to act in your interest in your absence. What if she is hiding something herself? The key to fostering and maintaining trust in the relationship is for both partners to be completely transparent and vulnerable:. Trust is like a china plate. If you drop it and it breaks, you can put it back together with a lot of work and care. If you drop it and break it a second time, it will split into twice as many pieces and it will require far more time and care to put back together again.
But drop and break it enough times, and it will shatter into so many pieces that you will never be able to put it back together again, no matter what you do. Understand that it is up to you to make yourself happy, it is NOT the job of your spouse.
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Figure out as individuals what makes you happy as an individual, be happy yourself, then you each bring that to the relationship. You are supposed to keep the relationship happy by consistently sacrificing yourself for your partner and their wants and needs. There is some truth to that. Every relationship requires each person to consciously choose to give something up at times. Just read that again. That sounds horrible.
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This is the person you chose. It will only backfire and make you both miserable. Have the courage to be who you are, and most importantly, let your partner be who they are. Those are the two people who fell in love with each other in the first place.
But how does one do this? Be sure you have a life of your own, otherwise it is harder to have a life together. What do I mean? Have your own interests, your own friends, your own support network, and your own hobbies. Overlap where you can, but not being identical should give you something to talk about and expose one another to. Among the emails, one of the most popular themes was the importance of creating space and separation from one another. People sung the praises of separate checking accounts, separate credit cards, having different friends and hobbies, taking separate vacations from one another each year this has been a big one in my own relationship.
Some even went so far as to recommend separate bathrooms or even separate bedrooms. Some people are afraid to give their partner freedom and independence. Going on seventeen years. Drives me nuts when I see women not let their husbands go out with the guys or are jealous of other women. Over the course of 20 years we both have changed tremendously. We have changed faiths, political parties, numerous hair colors and styles, but we love each other and possibly even more. Our grown kids constantly tell their friends what hopeless romantics we are.
And the biggest thing that keeps us strong is not giving a fuck about what anyone else says about our relationship. I can get on board with that. Amazingly, these couples survived because their respect for each other allowed them to adapt and allow each person to continue to flourish and grow. You know who they are today, but you have no idea who this person is going to be in five years, ten years, and so on. You have to be prepared for the unexpected, and truly ask yourself if you admire this person regardless of the superficial or not-so-superficial details, because I promise almost all of them at some point are going to either change or go away.
In fact, at times, it will be downright soul-destroying. The relationship is a living, breathing thing. Much like the body and muscles, it cannot get stronger without stress and challenge. You have to fight. You have to hash things out. Obstacles make the marriage. John Gottman is a hot-shit psychologist and researcher who has spent over 30 years analyzing married couples and looking for keys to why they stick together and why they break up. What Gottman does is he gets married couples in a room, puts some cameras on them, and then he asks them to have a fight.
He asks them to fight. Successful couples, like unsuccessful couples, he found, fight consistently. And some of them fight furiously. He has been able to narrow down four characteristics of a couple that tend to lead to divorces or breakups. They are:. The reader emails back this up as well. But all of this takes for granted another important point: be willing to fight in the first place.
Be willing to have the fights. Say the ugly things and get it all out in the open. This was a constant theme from the divorced readers. Dozens hundreds? There were times when I saw huge red flags. Instead of trying to figure out what in the world was wrong, I just plowed ahead.
And instead of saying something, I ignored all of the signals. When you end up being right about something—shut up. You can be right and be quiet at the same time. To me, like everything else, this comes back to the respect thing. Compromise is bullshit, because it leaves both sides unsatisfied, losing little pieces of themselves in an effort to get along. Conflict becomes much easier to navigate because you see more of the context. A similar concept seems to be true in relationships: your perfect partner is not someone who creates no problems in the relationship, rather your perfect partner is someone who creates problems in the relationship that you feel good about dealing with.
But how do you get good at forgiving? What does that actually mean? Again, some advice from the readers:. And finally, pick your battles wisely.
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One piece of advice that comes to mind: choose your battles. Some things matter, worth getting upset about. Most do not. Like Chinese water torture: minor in the short term, corrosive over time. Consider: is this a little thing or a big thing? Is it worth the cost of arguing? Eventually your kids grow up, your obnoxious brother-in-law will join a monastery and your parents will die.
You got it… Mr. You and your partner need to be the eye of the hurricane. They add up. Even cleaning up when you accidentally pee on the toilet seat seriously, someone said that —these things all matter and add up over the long run. This seems to become particularly important once kids enter the picture.
The big message I heard hundreds of times about kids: put the marriage first. Children are worshipped in our culture these days. Parents are expected to sacrifice everything for them. But the best way to raise healthy and happy kids is to maintain a healthy and happy marriage. A good marriage makes good kids. So keep your marriage the top priority. Make time for it. And you know how you know if you or her are slipping? Sex starts to slide. No other test required. I still remember back in college, it was one of my first relationships with a cute little redhead. We were young and naive and crazy about each other.
And, because we happened to live in the same dorm, we were banging like rabbits. We fought more often, found ourselves getting annoyed with each other, and suddenly our multiple-times-per-day habit magically dried up. To my surprised adolescent male mind, it was actually possible to have sex available to you yet not want it.
It was almost as if sex was connected to emotions! For a dumb year-old, this was a complete shocker. That was the first time I discovered a truth about relationships: sex is the State of the Union. If the relationship is good, the sex will be good.