I got married two weeks ago. I think most newlyweds do this — ask for relationship advice, I mean, not shit the same bed part — especially after a few cocktails from the open bar they just paid way too much money for. But, of course, not being satisfied with just a few wise words, I had to take it a step further. See, I have access to hundreds of thousands of smart, amazing people through my site. So why not consult them?
I sent out the call the week before my wedding: What is working for you and your partner? The response was overwhelming. Almost 1, people replied, many of whom sent in responses measured in pages, not paragraphs.
It took almost two weeks to comb through them all, but I did. And what I found stunned me… They were incredibly repetitive. Not to mention, a relief. These were all smart and well-spoken people from all walks of life, from all around the world, all with their own histories, tragedies, mistakes and triumphs… And yet they were all saying pretty much the same dozen things. Which means that those dozen or so things must be pretty damn important… and more importantly, they work.
I got married the second time because I was miserable and lonely and thought having a loving wife would fix everything for me. It really is that simple. When I sent out my request to readers for advice, I added a caveat that turned out to be illuminating. I asked people who were on their second or third or fourth marriages what they did wrong.
Where did they mess up? Pressure from friends and family. Being young and naive and hopelessly in love and thinking that love would solve everything. Without that mutual admiration, everything else will unravel. It is something that can be both healthy or unhealthy, helpful or harmful, depending on why and how you love someone else and are loved by someone else.
By itself, love is never enough to sustain a relationship. They go into relationship with these unrealistic expectations. And more importantly, sticking it out is totally worth it, because that, too, will change. It expands and contracts and mellows and deepens.
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 generally only lasts for a few years at most. 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. Every day you wake up and decide to love your partner and your life — the good, the bad and the ugly. Many people are instead addicted to the ups and downs of romantic love. They are in it for the feels, so to speak. And when the feels run out, so do they. Many people get into a relationship as a way to compensate for something they lack or hate within themselves.
This is a one-way ticket to a toxic relationship because it makes your love conditional — you will love your partner as long as they help you feel better about yourself. You will give to them as long as they give to you. You will make them happy as long as they make you happy.
That is the truth. But you never want to lose respect for your partner. Once you lose respect you will never get it back. 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. Of course, this means showing respect, but that is too superficial.
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. 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. Common examples given by many readers: NEVER talk shit about your partner or complain about them to your friends. If you have a problem with your partner, you should be having that conversation with them, not with your friends.
Talking bad about them will erode your respect for them and make you feel worse about being with them, not better.
Respect that they have different hobbies, interests and perspectives from you. Respect that they have an equal say in the relationship, that you are a team, and if one person on the team is not happy, then the team is not succeeding.
Have a crush on someone else? Had a weird sexual fantasy that sounds ridiculous? Be open about it. Nothing should be off-limits. 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. These emails, too, are surprisingly repetitive. 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. 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. Just as causing pain to your muscles allows them to grow back stronger, often introducing some pain into your relationship through vulnerability is the only way to make the relationship stronger.
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.