My Single Best Piece of Relationship Advice

My husband’s death changed something for me.

Danni Michaeli, MD
Hello, Love
5 min readAug 8, 2023

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Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

Many, Many years ago, a friend posed a question:

“If you could only give one piece of relationship advice, what would it be?”

I knew the answer immediately.

“If you feel the urge to pull away from your partner, move closer.”

For me, this was almost the essential rule, something I had refined through my own relationship and years of working with couples confronting difficulties in their relationships. When we’re bothered by our partners, when we’re pissed at them, when we’re annoyed or disgusted or offended, when we’re sick of them or have given up, our inclination is to pull away, to shut down. This is often the worst thing we can do, because it destabilizes the relationship more and can lead to fractures and fragmentation.

Relationships are complicated organisms, they’re organic living beings which need to be managed continuously in order to thrive, like a child or a pet or a garden. That’s why sometimes, they’re exhausting. Add to that, over time we change and our partners change and the circumstances change. That’s a lot of change. How skilled are any of us at dealing effectively with change? It’s easy to want to pull away, and it’s easy to understand why.

Actually, I really learned this from skiing. When skiing around a turn, we naturally pick up speed as our skis are momentarily pointing straight downhill. Add to this the feeling of centrifugal force and we feel pressure against our body, the same as when we’re driving around a sharp curve at a fast speed and feel the sideways crush against our body. When we’re moving straight, we’re not as aware of our motion as when we’re turning.

Now, what if we’re on a particularly steep or bumpy trail, and then encounter other unforeseen obstacles or hazards. It becomes scary. Because of our fear and discomfort, our inclination is to sit back in our skis, to pull away from the activity. This is the worst thing we can do, because it shifts our weight to the back which actually causes us to move faster and lose more control.

The key to successful skiing is to reach forward on our skis, to commit to the turn. We point our pole where we want to go and then we plant it in the ground where we want to pivot and we turn.

Many of us don’t do that. We sit back on our skis and forget about our poles, our arms spread out on either side with our poles flailing widely and wildly. Now we’re way off balance and totally out of control. Eventually we fall, sometimes we’ll crash and occasionally we’ll really hurt ourselves. Along the way, we end up expending a lot of energy and develop bad habits in our relationships with the ski slope.

That’s what happens in relationships, too. We need to make turns; we need to pivot. We encounter bumps and unforeseen hazards and we naturally pull back. Over time, we develop habits around this and the instability grows. Like with skiing, eventually we either get hurt, exhausted, lose interest or just reach the limit of our capacity. We arrive at a cap of intimacy, the same way we remain mediocre skiers. Our communication shuts down and we don’t even realize how we’ve created this for ourselves. The problem is not the relationship, the same way the problem is not the mountain.

When you feel the urge to pull away, move closer.

The solution is actually fairly simple. Simple but not easy. Don’t lean back, lean in. Sometimes, leaning into an engagement with our partner means providing a peace offering. Sometimes it means asking for what we want. Sometimes it’s an apology, and sometimes it’s actually an expression of anger. But either way, it isn’t shutting them out. That’s the worst.

Aah, Just tell me, Say anything

Anything hurts less than the Quiet

Troye Sivan; “The Quiet”

Through all of these engagements, we can become more skilled at our intimacy, and believe it or not, we all need training. Every relationship presents new challenges, new confusions. We’re not good at dealing with those things the same way we’re not good at anything until we learn how to master them. We have to keep refining our skills, and if we don’t engage, we’re not going to refine anything.

Well, that was my advice to my friend years ago, and I still stand by it. But since then, my husband and beloved partner of 20 years passed away. And while I still stand firmly behind my basic rule of good relationships, I’ve learned a new one.

Say yes more than you think you want to.

In the years since my husband died, I look back on all the moments we shared, and all the moments we didn’t share. The things we did together weren’t all perfect, but they were shared. And a lot of the things I said no to, that I talked myself out of were mostly made up. At some point, I relented and said yes and they turned out so much better than I’d imagined, because my husband was a good guy, he was wise in his own way and he was fun and cool. That’s why I got together with him in the first place. Now I do some of the things he wanted to do together and I love them, but I also feel sadness, guilt and regret.

I’m not unique. Listen, my husband said his share of “no” as well, and that also led to bad feelings between us and limited our experiences together. It’s normal. We’re inclined to say no for a variety of reasons. Saying yes to our partner is making a commitment to our relationship, and maximizes the reason we got together in the first place.

I still believe in my first piece of advice from all those years ago. It’s true, and it works. But my new rule is a good one as well, and matters to me now that I’m not “skiing” anymore.

No matter how many times you go down the mountain, if you don’t say yes to new possibilities, you won’t experience them. You won’t become a better skier and you won’t become a better lover. It’s up to you to decide how much that matters to you, but you won’t really recognize how much it matters until you’re off the slopes for the last time.

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Danni Michaeli, MD
Hello, Love

A psychiatrist and a dreamer, I'm always listening for the magic and wondering what we're all doing here.....