5 Healthy Relationship Habits Most People Think Are Hurtful

It became very successful. A lot of people commented and a lot of people shared and big grown-up websites who get paid to post smart grown-up things asked me if they could copy/paste it, ostensibly to make a bunch of advertising money off people acting like assholes in their comment sections. I said, sure, why not?

Image result for Healthy Relationship

(I know, sell out.)

But the post also helped a lot of people. Since writing it, it’s generated a staggering amount of thank you emails, and no less than 20 people notified me that it inspired them to end their relationships (or even in a few cases, their marriages). It was the wake up call these people needed to finally let go and accept that their relationship was gagging them with a shit-spoon every day. And they deserved better.

(So I guess I’m a home-wrecker and a sell out. Sweet.)

But the article also elicited a lot of questions like, “So if these habits ruin a relationship, what habits create a happy and healthy relationship?” and “Where’s an article on what makes a relationship great?” and “Mark, how did you get so handsome?”

These are important questions. And they deserve answers.

Granted, I have far more experience screwing up relationships than making them work well, but I still wanted to take a stab at a “healthy relationship” post. I didn’t want to just make it a (yet another) “learn to communicate and cuddle and watch sunsets and play with puppies together” type post. You can find those posts just about everywhere. And honestly, those posts suck. If you love your partner, you shouldn’t have to be told to hold hands and watch sunsets together. This stuff should be automatic.

I wanted to write something different. I wanted to write about issues that are important in relationships but don’t receive enough airtime. 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 instead.

Puppies are cute but they don't make a healthy relationship
Puppies: The ultimate solution to all of your relationship problems.

And so I wrote this article. This is the first article’s bizarre twin brother. That article explained that many of our culture’s tacitly accepted relationship habits secretly erode intimacy, trust and happiness. This article explains how traits that don’t fit our traditional narrative for what love is and what love should be are actually necessary ingredients for lasting relationship success.

Enjoy.

1. LETTING SOME CONFLICTS GO UNRESOLVED

There’s this guy. His name is John Gottman. And he is like the Michael Jordan of relationship research. Not only has he been studying intimate relationships for more than 40 years, but he practically invented the field.

Gottman devised the process of “thin-slicing” relationships, a technique where he hooks couples up to all sorts of biometric devices and then records them having short conversations about their problems. Gottman then goes back and analyzes the conversation frame by frame looking at biometric data, body language, tonality and specific words chosen. He then combines all of this data together to predict whether your marriage sucks or not.

His “thin-slicing” process boasts a staggering 91% success rate in predicting whether newly-wed couples will divorce within 10 years — a staggeringly high result for any psychological research. His method went on to be featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book Blink. Gottman’s seminars also report a 50% higher success rate of saving troubled marriages than traditional marriage counseling. His research papers have won enough academic awards to fill the state of Delaware. And he’s written nine books on the subjects of intimate relationships, marital therapy and the science of trust.

The point is, when it comes to understanding what makes long-term relationships succeed, John Gottman will slam-dunk in your face and then sneer at you afterwards.

And the first thing Gottman says in almost all of his books is this: The idea that couples must communicate and resolve all of their problems is a myth.

In his research of thousands of happily married couples, some of whom have been married for 40+ years, he found time and again that most successful couples have persistent unresolved issues, unresolved issues that they’ve sometimes been fighting about for decades. Meanwhile many of the unsuccessful couples insisted on resolving fucking everything because they believed that there should be a void of disagreement between them. Pretty soon there was a void of a relationship too.

People like to fantasize about "true love." But if there is such a thing, it requires us to sometimes accept things we don't like.
People like to fantasize about “true love.” But if there is such a thing, it requires us to sometimes accept things we don’t like.

Successful couples accept and understand that some conflict is inevitable, that there will always be certain things they don’t like about their partners or things they don’t agree with, and that this is 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.

The truth is, trying to resolve a conflict can sometimes 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

My girlfriend is one of those women who spends a lot of time in front of the mirror. She loves to look amazing and I love for her to look amazing too (obviously).

Nights before we go out, she always comes out of the bathroom after an hour-long make-up/hair/clothes/whatever-women-do-in-there session and asks me how she looks. She’s usually gorgeous. But every once in a while, she looks bad. She tried to do something new with her hair or decided to wear a pair of boots that some flamboyant fashion designer from Milan thought were avant-garde. And it just doesn’t work.

When I tell her this, she usually gets pissed off. And as she marches back into the closet to redo everything and make us 30 minutes late, she spouts a bunch of four-letter words and sometimes even slings a few of them at me.

Image result for Healthy Relationship

Men stereo-typically lie in this 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.

Fortunately, I date a woman who agrees. She calls me out on my bullshit sometimes, and it’s honestly one of the most important traits she offers me as a partner. Sure, my ego gets bruised and I bitch and complain and try to argue, but a few hours later I come sulking back and admit that she was right and holy crap she makes me a better person even though I hated hearing it at the time.

When our highest priority is to always make ourselves feel good, or to always make our partner feel good, then 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 feel good stuff happens when you get the other stuff right. The sunsets and puppies, they happen when you get the more important stuff right: values, needs and trust.

If I feel smothered and need more time alone, I need to be capable of saying that without blaming her and she needs to be capable of hearing it without blaming me, despite the unpleasant feelings it may cause. If she feels that I’m cold and unresponsive to her, she needs to be capable of saying it without blaming me and I need to be capable of hearing it without blaming her, despite the unpleasant feelings it may generate.

These conversations are paramount to maintaining a healthy relationship that meets both people’s needs. With out them, we get lost and lose track of one another.

Image result for Healthy Relationship

3. BEING WILLING TO END IT

Romantic sacrifice is idealized in our culture. Show me almost any romantic movie and I’ll show you a desperate and needy character who treats themselves like dog shit for the sake of being in love with someone.

The truth is our standards for what a “successful relationship” should be are pretty screwed up. If a relationship ends and someone’s not dead, then we view it as a failure, regardless of the emotional or practical circumstances present in the person’s lives. And that’s kind of insane.

Shut up and jump already.

Romeo and Juliet was originally written as satire to represent everything that’s wrong with young love and how irrational romantic beliefs can make you do stupid shit like drink poison because your parents don’t like some girl’s parents. But somehow we look at this story as romantic. It’s this kind of irrational idealization that leads people to stay with partners who are abusive or negligent, to give up on their own needs and identities, to make themselves into imaginary martyrs who are perpetually miserable, to suppress their own pain and suffering in the name of maintaining a relationship “until death do us part.”

Sometimes the only thing that can make a relationship successful is ending it at the appropriate 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, our values, 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. It invites stagnation and stagnation equals misery.

4. FEELING ATTRACTION FOR PEOPLE OUTSIDE THE RELATIONSHIP

Our cultural scripts for romance includes this sort of mental tyranny, where any mildly emotional or sexual thought not involving your partner amounts to high treason. Being in love is like a cult where you’re supposed to prefer drinking Kool Aid laced with cyanide to letting your thoughts wander to whether other religions may be true too.

As much as we’d like to believe that we only have eyes for our partner, biology says otherwise. Once we get past the honeymoon phase of starry eyes and oxytocin, the novelty of our partner wears off a bit. And unfortunately, human sexuality is partially wired around novelty. I get emails all the time from people in happy marriages/relationships who get blindsided by finding someone else attractive and they feel like horrible, horrible people because of it. Not only are we capable of finding multiple people attractive and interesting at the same time, but it’s a biological inevitability.

What isn’t an inevitability are our choices to act on it or not. Most of us, most of the time, choose to not act on those thoughts. And like waves, they pass through us and leave us with our partner very much the same way how 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 it, end of 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.

When you suppress these feelings, you give them power over you, you let them dictate your behavior for you (suppression) rather than dictating your behavior for yourself (feeling them and yet choosing not to do anything).

People who suppress these urges are the ones who are likely to eventually succumb to them and give in and suddenly find themselves screwing the secretary in the broom closet and having no idea how they got there and come to deeply regret it about twenty-two seconds afterward. People who suppress these urges are the ones who are likely to project them onto their partner and become blindingly jealous, attempting to control their partner’s every thought and whim, corralling all of their partner’s attention and affection onto themselves. People who suppress these urges are the ones who are likely to wake up one day disgruntled and frustrated with no conscious understanding of why, wondering where all of the days went and remember how in love we used to be?

Looking at attractive people is enjoyable. Speaking to attractive people is enjoyable. Thinking about attractive people is enjoyable. That’s not going to change because of our Facebook relationship status. And when you dampen these impulses towards other people, you dampen them towards your partner as well. You’re killing a part of yourself and it ultimately only comes back to harm your relationship.

When I meet a beautiful woman now, I enjoy it, as any man would. But it also reminds me why, out of all of the beautiful women I’ve ever met and dated, I chose to be with my girlfriend. I see in the attractive women everything my girlfriend has and most women lack. And while I appreciate the attention or even flirtation, the experience only strengthens my commitment. Attractiveness is common. But real intimacy is not.

When we commit to a person, we are not committing our thoughts, feelings or perceptions. We can’t control our own thoughts, feelings and perceptions the majority of the time, so how could we ever make that commitment?

What we control are our actions. And what we commit to that special person are our actions. Let everything else come and go, as it inevitably will.

 

5. SPENDING TIME APART

Crazy girlfriend is not in a healthy relationship

You see it all the time: the man who meets his girlfriend and stops playing basketball and hanging out with his friends, or the woman who suddenly decides she loves every comic book and video game her boyfriend likes even though she doesn’t know how to hold the XBox controller properly. We all have that friend who mysteriously ceased to exist as soon as they got into their relationship. And it’s troubling, not just for us but for them.

When we fall in love we develop irrational beliefs and desires. One of these desires is to allow our lives to be consumed by the person we’re infatuated with. This feels great. It’s intoxicating in much of the same way cocaine is intoxicating (no, really). The problem only arises when this actually happens.

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 just yours. 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 space, without this oxygen to breathe, the fire between the two of you will die out and what were once sparks will become only friction.

The artist Alex Grey once said that, “True love is when two people’s pathologies complement one another’s.” Love is, by definition, crazy and irrational. And the best love works when our irrationalities complement one another and our flaws enamor one another.

It may be our perfections that attract one another. But it’s our imperfections that decide whether we stay together or not.

Advertisements

Love Is Not Enough For Us

What is Love?

Love is one of the most profound emotions we experience as humans. It’s bigger than us, meaning, though we can invite it into our lives, we do not have the control over the how, when and where love starts to express itself. Maybe that’s why 72% of people believe in love at first sight. Sometimes, love truly does strike like a bolt of lightening to the chest, and you aren’t prepared for it.

Since love is inherently free, we spend nights tossing and turning in an attempt to understand what it is, and how to know if we have it. How do you define something so uncontrollable and versatile?

That’s the tricky thing about love, we can feel it in a variety of different states–when we’re happy, sad, angry, confused or excited–and our attitudes about love can range from affectionate love, to infatuation and pleasure. We even use love as an action, as a force to keep our relationships with partners, or friends and family, together.

love-01.jpg

In 1967, John Lennon wrote a song called, “All You Need is Love.” He also beat both of his wives, abandoned one of his children, verbally abused his gay Jewish manager with homophobic and anti-semitic slurs, and once had a camera crew film him lying naked in his bed for an entire day.

Thirty-five years later, Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails wrote a song called “Love is Not Enough.” Reznor, despite being famous for his shocking stage performances and his grotesque and disturbing videos, got clean from all drugs and alcohol, married one woman, had two children with her, and then cancelled entire albums and tours so that he could stay home and be a good husband and father.

One of these two men had a clear and realistic understanding of love. One of them did not. One of these men idealized love as the solution to all of his problems. One of them did not. One of these men was probably a narcissistic asshole. One of them was not.

In our culture, many of us idealize love. We see it as some lofty cure-all for all of life’s problems. Our movies and our stories and our history all celebrate it as life’s ultimate goal, the final solution for all of our pain and struggle. And because we idealize love, we overestimate it. As a result, our relationships pay a price.

images (1).jpg

When we believe that “all we need is love,” then like Lennon, we’re more likely to ignore fundamental values such as respect, humility and commitment towards the people we care about. After all, if love solves everything, then why bother with all the other stuff — all of the hard stuff?

But if, like Reznor, we believe that “love is not enough,” then we understand that healthy relationships require more than pure emotion or lofty passions. We understand that there are things more important in our lives and our relationships than simply being in love. And the success of our relationships hinges on these deeper and more important values.

THREE HARSH TRUTHS ABOUT LOVE

The problem with idealizing love is that it causes us to develop unrealistic expectations about what love actually is and what it can do for us. These unrealistic expectations then sabotage the very relationships we hold dear in the first place. Allow me to illustrate:

1. Love does not equal compatibility. Just because you fall in love with someone doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good partner for you to be with over the long term. Love is an emotional process; compatibility is a logical process. And the two don’t bleed into one another very well.

It’s possible to fall in love with somebody who doesn’t treat us well, who makes us feel worse about ourselves, who doesn’t hold the same respect for us as we do for them, or who has such a dysfunctional life themselves that they threaten to bring us down with them.

It’s possible to fall in love with somebody who has different ambitions or life goals that are contradictory to our own, who holds different philosophical beliefs or worldviews that clash with our own sense of reality.

44.jpg

It’s possible to fall in love with somebody who sucks for us and our happiness.

That may sound paradoxical, but it’s true.

When I think of all of the disastrous relationships I’ve seen or people have emailed me about, many (or most) of them were entered into on the basis of emotion — they felt that “spark” and so they just dove in head first. Forget that he was a born-again Christian alcoholic and she was an acid-dropping bisexual necrophiliac. It just felt right.

And then six months later, when she’s throwing his shit out onto the lawn and he’s praying to Jesus twelve times a day for her salvation, they look around and wonder, “Gee, where did it go wrong?”

The truth is, it went wrong before it even began.

When dating and looking for a partner, you must use not only your heart, but your mind. Yes, you want to find someone who makes your heart flutter and your farts smell like cherry popsicles. But you also need to evaluate a person’s values, how they treat themselves, how they treat those close to them, their ambitions and their worldviews in general. Because if you fall in love with someone who is incompatible with you…well, as the ski instructor from South Park once said, you’re going to have a bad time.

2. Love does not solve your relationship problems. My first girlfriend and I were madly in love with each other. We also lived in different cities, had no money to see each other, had families who hated each other, and went through weekly bouts of meaningless drama and fighting.

And every time we fought, we’d come back to each other the next day and make up and remind each other how crazy we were about one another and that none of those little things matter because we’re omg sooooooo in love and we’ll find a way to work it out and everything will be great, just you wait and see. Our love made us feel like we were overcoming our issues, when on a practical level, absolutely nothing had changed.

As you can imagine, none of our problems got resolved. The fights repeated themselves. The arguments got worse. Our inability to ever see each other hung around our necks like an albatross. We were both self-absorbed to the point where we couldn’t even communicate that effectively. Hours and hours talking on the phone with nothing actually said. Looking back, there was no hope that it was going to last. Yet we kept it up for three fucking years!

After all, love conquers all, right?

Unsurprisingly, that relationship burst into flames and crashed like the Hindenburg into an oil patch. The break up was ugly. And the big lesson I took away from it was this: while love may make you feel better about your relationship problems, it doesn’t actually solve any of your relationship problems.

This is how a toxic relationship works. The roller coaster of emotions are intoxicating, each high feeling even more important and more valid than the one before, but unless there’s a stable and practical foundation beneath your feet, that rising tide of emotion will eventually come and wash it all away.

3. Love is not always worth sacrificing yourself. One of the defining characteristics of loving someone is that you are able to think outside of yourself and your own needs to help care for another person and their needs as well.

But the question that doesn’t get asked often enough is exactly what are you sacrificing, and is it worth it?

In loving relationships, it’s normal for both people to occasionally sacrifice their own desires, their own needs, and their own time for one another. I would argue that this is normal and healthy and a big part of what makes a relationship so great.

But when it comes to sacrificing one’s self-respect, one’s dignity, one’s physical body, one’s ambitions and life purpose, just to be with someone, then that same love becomes problematic. A loving relationship is supposed to supplement our individual identity, not damage it or replace it. If we find ourselves in situations where we’re tolerating disrespectful or abusive behavior, then that’s essentially what we’re doing: we’re allowing our love to consume us and negate us, and if we’re not careful, it will leave us as a shell of the person we once were.

THE FRIENDSHIP TEST
One of the oldest pieces of relationship advice in the book is, “You and your partner should be best friends.” Most people look at that piece of advice in the positive: I should spend time with my partner like I do my best friend; I should communicate openly with my partner like I do with my best friend; I should have fun with my partner like I do with my best friend.

But people should also look at it in the negative: Would you tolerate your partner’s negative behaviors in your best friend?

Amazingly, when we ask ourselves this question honestly, in most unhealthy and codependent relationships, the answer is “no.”

I know a young woman who just got married. She was madly in love with her husband. And despite the fact that he had been “between jobs” for more than a year, showed no interest in planning the wedding, often ditched her to take surfing trips with his friends, and her friends and family raised not-so-subtle concerns about him, she happily married him anyway.

But once the emotional high of the wedding wore off, reality set in. A year into their marriage, he’s still “between jobs,” he trashes the house while she’s at work, gets angry if she doesn’t cook dinner for him, and any time she complains he tells her that she’s “spoiled” and “arrogant.” Oh, and he still ditches her to take surfing trips with his friends.

And she got into this situation because she ignored all three of the harsh truths above. She idealized love. Despite being slapped in the face by all of the red flags he raised while dating him, she believed that their love signaled relationship compatibility. It didn’t. When her friends and family raised concerns leading up to the wedding, she believed that their love would solve their problems eventually. It didn’t. And now that everything had fallen into a steaming shit heap, she approached her friends for advice on how she could sacrifice herself even more to make it work.

And the truth is, it won’t.

Why do we tolerate behavior in our romantic relationships that we would never ever, ever tolerate in our friendships?

Imagine if your best friend moved in with you, trashed your place, refused to get a job or pay rent, demanded you cook dinner for them, and got angry and yelled at you any time you complained. That friendship would be over faster than Paris Hilton’s acting career.

Or another situation: a man’s girlfriend who was so jealous that she demanded passwords to all of his accounts and insisted on accompanying him on his business trips to make sure he wasn’t tempted by other women. This woman was like the NSA. His life was practically under 24/7 surveillance and you could see it wearing on his self-esteem. His self-worth dropped to nothing. She didn’t trust him to do anything. So he quit trusting himself to do anything.

Yet he stays with her! Why? Because he’s in love!

Remember this: The only way you can fully enjoy the love in your life is to choose to make something else more important in your life than love.

You can fall in love with a wide variety of people throughout the course of your life. You can fall in love with people who are good for you and people who are bad for you. You can fall in love in healthy ways and unhealthy ways. You can fall in love when you’re young and when you’re old. Love is not unique. Love is not special. Love is not scarce.

But your self-respect is. So is your dignity. So is your ability to trust. There can potentially be many loves throughout your life, but once you lose your self-respect, your dignity or your ability to trust, they are very hard to get back.

Love is a wonderful experience. It’s one of the greatest experiences life has to offer. And it is something everyone should aspire to feel and enjoy.

But like any other experience, it can be healthy or unhealthy. Like any other experience, it cannot be allowed to define us, our identities or our life purpose. We cannot let it consume us. We cannot sacrifice our identities and self-worth to it. Because the moment we do that, we lose love and we lose ourselves.

Because you need more in life than love. Love is great. Love is necessary. Love is beautiful. But love is not enough.

Dear my husband, you’re the best thing in my life

Greet your loving, caring, and awesome husband with full of love and thankfulness.

44712467_1993736150741043_8595245632594116608_n44776275_1993736070741051_7327321572568465408_n44641852_1993736087407716_7750972018454953984_n44639263_1993736064074385_5593711852363186176_n44658222_1993735974074394_3373876611223912448_n44602307_1993735950741063_2206695123704610816_n44650951_1993735957407729_6438212245070544896_n44635452_1993735884074403_1223107184393453568_n44848483_1993735877407737_7536562552344412160_n44688737_1993735880741070_4988461775360884736_n

Credit to blogtamsu.com