10 Tips for a Successful Relationship
Before we start, I’m going to tell you two things. The first is that I am separated from my wife and we’re getting a divorce and we both agree that it’s awesome. The second is about love.
If you want to have a successful relationship, you need to first understand that your relationship with love — and even your very definition of love—will never identically match that of your partner. You’re already starting with two different lexicons to define the very thing on which you’re going to build that relationship. Two different languages. With that said:
- Take love out of the equation. Love is not your friend. It’s not a tool. It’s a feeling, and the moments when you will need it the most in a relationship, it will fail you because its being replaced by any number of other emotions, ranging from fear to jealousy to lust to anger and even hatred. Everyone likes to say, “Man, I love that person, but right now I want to…!” and I don’t believe people actually feel love in those moments. I think they operate from this sense that they know that love exists somewhere inside them, but in that moment—in those 10 seconds—the feeling of love is overshadowed by other emotions. Love is great when things are good and you’re both in the zone, but you are a servant of love, and not the other way around. So skip the sort of frilly nonsense about treating your love like a newborn babe in the woods and how it needs your protection from blah blah blah. The simple fact is that your best, most successful relationship won’t rely on love at all, and you can use these tips for ANY relationship in your life.
- Treat it like a job. Part of that means knowing what you require from a relationship and make sure you’re hiring someone that has the qualifications you need to get the job done. Do you need someone who is good with money? Do you require someone who can articulate their feelings? Do you need someone who loves sex? Is into fitness? Likes science fiction and comic books? You may think that your hobbies and interests don’t need to align — and they don’t 100% — but if you need to leave the relationship and be with other people every single time you want to enjoy the things you love, you’re starting a marathon with one leg tied behind your back. If you get clear on what being your Ideal Partner really is, you have a better chance at the outset of finding someone well-suited for the work. If you go into a relationship from the simple place of “oh, this feels nice, I’ll stay here until it doesn’t feel nice anymore,” then you’re hiring someone without ever looking at their resume, which is how Cheryl on the advert team got a job as a graphic designer even though she’s never once opened up Adobe Photoshop but she’s pretty and she interviewed well with Philip, the art director, and now everyone on the team is mad because they end up doing all her work. THANKS, PHILIP. What do you require from a partner? Most people don’t know — not in any clearly defined sense — and so we end up with sloppy, messy relationships that flash into existence because of passion and then slowly burn out and die, wasting everyone’s time.
- You have to be authentically yourself the whole time. From the very first time you cut off your being, you are engaging in an act of self-sabotage which will ultimately doom you or the relationship or both. Keep up with your hobbies. Hang out with your friends. Do the things that make you happy to be alive. Include your partner when they’re willing, but always be you for you. Be clear on your priorities and get congruent with them through the actions you take. I wrote this article partly because of what another recently divorced man wrote about how to have a good relationship, and handed down things like Commandments: “Be silly! Be the best lover she’s ever had! Don’t worry about money!” But what if you’re not silly? What if sex isn’t fun for you, or doesn’t matter to your partner? What if your fiscal health is a key metric for hiring your perfect partner? Ignore anything that comes down from On High and JUST BE YOU.
- Allow them be them. Whether in a friendship or a business relationship or a marriage, a happy and fulfilled partner is the one who stays. Your only job in the happiness of another person is give them the space and agency they need to take it for themselves. When you find opportunities for you both to share experiences that enrich both of your lives, take them, but the happiness of another person isn’t your job or responsibility. It’s theirs.
- Never make your partner wrong. Your partner isn’t perfect. Neither are you. But spending all your time keeping score and placing blame will erode the foundations of that relationship because you’re always looking for who is at fault instead of how to move forward. A point of view that is different from your does not automatically make it wrong. Don’t point fingers and don’t give them a reason to get defensive and you’ll be amazed at the ease that gets created. Imagine a relationship where nobody has to be guarded or afraid of retaliation.
- Destroy all of your preconceptions about how a relationship has to look. If you are going to have a relationship that can weather any storm, then you have to be willing to let that relationship evolve and adapt to the environment for all parties. When my wife and I decided to get divorced, it was the easiest thing ever. Our relationship wasn’t ending. It was evolving. We got very clear on what we wanted for ourselves and our kids and we simply asked what it would take to have that. And that’s what we did. One of my friends is fond of saying that compromise is the art of neither person getting what exactly they want, but both parties walking away equally disappointed. If that’s your idea of a good marriage, how long would you expect it to last?
- Don’t be afraid to let it end. This is such a big point, but it boils down to the fact that no relationship can be successful if it exists in a constant state of fear. You have to be willing to accept that, at some point in the future, one or both of you may need things from your life that the other person cannot provide and there is nothing wrong with that. If you can find a way to adapt and stay together, great, but you cannot make the being together more significant than the happiness and well-being of all the parties involved. The word “marriage” will not save you from sinking if there is a hole in the bottom of the boat. It can, however, keep you from swimming for shore, if you let it. People who get divorced so often end up as enemies because they don’t get out of bad relationships early enough. Now, I’m not suggesting that you cut and run at the first sign of dissatisfaction, but you have to be willing to ask the questions — together — to continually create your relationship so that it works for both of you.
- Live in a perpetual state of gratitude. Understanding that both of you have the choice to leave is the biggest gift you’ll get because instead of living in this constant state of fear and trying to wish that away with vows and oaths and rings, you can now understand that you being you is all that was required for this person to choose you, and vice versa. You get to be you, and they get to be them, and you get to do it together. And you get to choose it every day. If you can’t be grateful for that, maybe you don’t belong in that relationship.
- Be considerate. This isn’t hard, but it is an ongoing choice to be kind to another person. Take note of the things they like and do more of them. Take equal note of the things they dislike and do less of them. It’s not rocket science. Don’t be a jerk. When you are, say you’re sorry. Understand that you will not always understand why something is important to your partner — like, say, not putting wet towels on the bed—but if they are clear in expressing that desire and you choose not to honor it, then you have to accept that you’re creating tension in a place where it doesn’t need to exist for reasons that amount to nothing but your ego, and, at the end of the day, it will slowly erode the strength of that relationship. On the reverse side, just being observant and considerate can go a long way. They like Diet Coke? Make sure it’s always in the house. It’s a little thing, but your whole life is little things. Do the ones that contribute to your partner’s happiness.
- Add love back in and learn its language. You can create a healthy, sustainable relationship doing nothing but the items listed above, but you can exponentialize that by adding love. Love can make it better. If your love aligns with theirs, it can be magic. I said at the outset that your lexicon of love will never match theirs exactly, but it’s a language you should take the time to learn. Nelson Mandela once said, “If you speak to a man in a language he understands, you can win his mind. But if you speak to him in his own language, you can win his heart.” Learn their language.
I used to write love letters for a living. Seriously, people used to pay me to ghost write love letters for their partners or spouses. But the day to day work of being in a successful relationship has nothing to do with romance or cards or flowers. It’s being so authentically you that when that other person wakes up in the morning with the choice to stay or go, the choice to stay is easy.
You want to love someone well? You love them for who they are, not who you want them to be. And if any part of your relationship is about making them wrong for who they are so you can feel better about something inside you, you’ve got some work to do.
Love never dies in an instant. It dies with slow poison of inconsideration, of distrust, of disempowerment. It dies by inches with dissatisfaction and constant compromises.
Love lives and breathes where there is joy and gratitude and contribution and the endless magic of possibility.
Relationships feed on the diet you give them. So what’s on the menu?