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How to Have a Happy Relationship

It seems to me that a lot of basic ideas behind happy, healthy relationships are often considered "advanced," and seem to take rather a lot more time to learn than perhaps they really ought to.

At least, they sometimes did for your humble scribe. Ahem.

So, in the interests of spreading the wealth (because experience is the best teacher, but sometimes the tuition is very high), I present Relationship Ideas That Should Be Obvious But Aren't.

You can't expect to have what you want if you don't ask for what you want.
This is arguably one of the most basic rules for all of life, yet it's surprising how often we forget. There's almost no greater recipe for emotional turmoil then wanting something or harboring some expectation, not telling anyone about it, and then not getting it.

Next time you get really, really upset about some desire or expectation not being met, stop and ask yourself: "Did I actually let the people around me know about it?" (Here's a tip: Dropping hints about what you want doesn't count. Neither does wishing really hard. Nor waiting for the folks around you to become telepathic.)

If all of your relationships go pear-shaped in the same exact way and end badly in the same exact way, then maybe it's because of something you're doing.
Seriously. The one common element in all your relationship failures is you. Someone cheat on you? Well, that sucks, but it happens. Every single person you ever date in your life cheat on you? You're attracted to folks who cheat.

If all of your relationships end the same way, maybe it's time to step back and take a good, hard look at the kinds of folks you're attracted to.

If you find that sex always becomes boring after a while in all your relationships, maybe it's because you're choosing to let it.
There's a lot of fun you can have in (and out) of the bedroom. The total range of the human sexual experience is breathtaking--so much so that if you lived to be a thousand years old and did something different in bed every night for that entire thousand years, you'd still never have time to do it all. Seriously.

If you find that your sex life keeps getting stuck in a rut, maybe it's time to explore something new. (A sure way to make yourself crazy and have a boring sex life is to keep worrying about whether trying something new would be "too weird." The expression "That's too weird" has done more to advance the cause of boring sex than all the world's religions combined.)

Going into a relationship with the expectation that you can get your partner to change is quite likely to end in tears.
Now, don't get me wrong--people can and do change. In fact, change is the one constant in life. I'm not the person I was five years ago, and if you're doing this properly, you aren't either.

But expecting that a person will change in the ways that you want him to, because you want him to, is setting yourself up for suck and fail. Fixer-upper relationships usually don't work. And if you go into things thinking "Oh, I can fix him!" you just might find your ship of enthusiasm foundering on the shoals of the fact that maybe he likes being the way he is.

A relationship in which you say "This relationship is absolutely wonderful except for..." is not absolutely wonderful. Especially when the part that comes after the "except for..." is something so horrifying it'd make most folks run for the hills.
This relationship is wonderful except for the fact that we're completely incompatible in bed. This relationship is wonderful except for the fact that she keeps forgetting to take her meds. This relationship is wonderful except for the fact that he can't talk honestly about his feelings. Look out!

For maximum effect, try combining "this relationship is wonderful except for..." with "...but I know I can change him" and double your suck!

A partner who is kind to you but not kind to the waitress isn't a kind person.
Seriously. The fact that he's kind to you might just mean that he wants something from you. (Or that you're not his property...yet. Marry that person who's nice to you but not nice to the waitress and you might just find that once the ring is on your finger, he may start treating you like the waitress. Or worse.)

The way a person treats the folks around him reveals a lot about his true self. Pay attention.

It is possible to deeply, profoundly, genuinely, truly love someone, and yet that person might still not be a good partner for you.
It takes more than love to make a relationship work. A person you love, but who is incompatible with you, or who lacks good relationship skills, or who can't communicate with you, is not going to make for a functional, healthy relationship. Love and five bucks will get you a cup of coffee. Or, to put it more scientifically, love is necessary but not sufficient, no matter how many Disney movies and romantic comedies say otherwise.

Though really, if you're taking your cues on relationship from Disney movies and romantic comedies, there's probably little that I or anyone else can do.

Find a way to build a friendship with that person that honors and respects that love without trying to turn it into something unsustainable and you'll do okay. And as a corollary:

Being in love with someone doesn't mean you HAVE to be in a relationship with that person.
Seriously. You have a choice. You can love someone, and acknowledge that love, and still choose not to be romantically involved with that person.

That's one of the cool things about being a human being You get to choose.

You can't have intimacy without sharing. If you spend your time hiding things from your partner, or worrying about whether or not you can share something with your partner, you're not going to have an intimate relationship.
Everything you conceal from your partner undermines the foundation of intimacy upon which relationships are built.

No, that doesn't mean telling your partner every time you take a dump (and why is it that folks who don't cotton to sharing and openness always reach for that example?). But it does mean sharing everything that's important, significant, or meaningful. Even if it's uncomfortable.

Especially if it's uncomfortable, because the fact that it's uncomfortable probably means there's something important lurking in there. Communication ain't for sissies.

What you get out depends on what you put in. Approach every new partner with fear and suspicion, and you'll have fearful, suspicious partners.
Te best way to have a friend is to be a friend. The best way to have people around you who have compassion and integrity is to be a person with compassion and integrity. The best way to fill your life with suck and fail is to fill other people's lives with suck and fail.

You know that saying "opposites attract"? It's rubbish. Honest people look for, and attract, other honest people.

A person who has cheated on someone else to be with you cannot be trusted not to cheat on you to be with someone else.
No, you're not different. You're not a rare and unique flower, so totally set apart from that shrill, obnoxious harpy that he's with right now. You know how he tells you that you're so much better than that monster he's hooked up with? I bet he says the same thing about you to the other person he's shagging. You know, the one that neither you nor his other partner knows about.

Be wary of a person who trashes all their exes in front of you, for someday you'll likely be on that list yourself.
You know that person with the long list of former partners, all of whom were shrill, obnoxious harpies? Does something seem odd about that list to you?

Best case scenario, it means he keeps getting involved with the same sorts of people again and again, and doesn't learn anything from any of those experiences. What do you reckon that says about you?

Worst case scenario, it's a clear sign of someone who doesn't take responsibility for his own part in all those past train wrecks. Which means he ain't learning from any of them. Which means...you're the next train wreck. What do you suppose he'll say about you to the train wreck that follows after you?

Tell the truth from the start, and you won't have to worry about any nasty revelations down the road.
Especially about things you worry might scare her off. Seriously, if the truth about you makes you incompatible as a romantic partner, you want to scare her off. You're bisexual but your new love interest hates gays? You fancy country music and your partner would rather die than listen to it? Hiding those things doesn't help your cause; it merely makes the blowup that much more dramatic when the truth comes out.

Which it will, eventually.

Be honest, be true to who you are, and you won't have to worry about what happens if you slip up. On the other hand, make yourself seem like something you're not, even if it's to make yourself seem more attractive to the other person (hell, especially if it's to make yourself seem more attractive to the other person!) is going to end badly, sooner or later. I promise.


( 100 comments — Leave a comment )
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Feb. 5th, 2009 01:48 am (UTC)
i knew there was someone else living in my brain; apparently it's been you. and BTW, stop eating all my peanut butter.

it's a very, very frightening thing to go down this list and think of how many of these very same lessons i've blogged about here to one degree or another. yup, yup, yup. *headdesk*

where the hell were you N years ago when i was desperately wishing to learn from someone else's mistakes so i'd stop making my own?? *smile*

and dude, i'm serious about the peanut butter. cut that shite out.
Feb. 6th, 2009 12:01 am (UTC)
Mmm, peanut butter.
Feb. 5th, 2009 01:48 am (UTC)
This should be required reading...
for everyone in the Universe.

Thanks. :)
Feb. 5th, 2009 01:59 am (UTC)
...you're the next rain wreck.

Sobbing in the rain for added emo!
Feb. 5th, 2009 02:02 am (UTC)
AAIGH!!! Fixed now.
Feb. 5th, 2009 02:05 am (UTC)
In non-nitpicky news...

Could you expand on the "fear and suspicion" one?  Having wicked anxiety doesn't help me not approach everyone with suspicion.
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(no subject) - tacit - Feb. 10th, 2009 10:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - tacit - Feb. 11th, 2009 09:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Feb. 10th, 2009 10:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - the_xtina - Feb. 10th, 2009 10:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 5th, 2009 02:09 am (UTC)
*immediately files this one in my Folder O' Awesome Essays, to pull out for ease of reference in future conversations.
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Feb. 5th, 2009 02:18 am (UTC)
I am so with you on that.
(no subject) - freyaw - Mar. 11th, 2009 06:29 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 5th, 2009 02:22 am (UTC)
Franklin, you just might be the world's most foremost purveyor of pragmatic wisdom.
Feb. 10th, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
Why, thank you! Though I just call 'em like I see 'em. And I think learning from the other guy's mistakes is sometimes a lot easier, y'know? Everything on this list is something that I've had to learn--sometimes painfully--and these are the kinds of things I wish i could go back and tell the 22-year-old me.
Feb. 5th, 2009 02:48 am (UTC)
Being in love with someone doesn't mean you HAVE to be in a relationship with that person.

So true - I often say I still love my ex - but no way would I want to be in a relationship with him. His love of the bottle is more important than people - I'm on a much better journey for me.....
Feb. 5th, 2009 03:38 am (UTC)
...as I tried to explain to a previous landlord when he decided to let my ex-bf move in with me without even notifying me first, let alone asking how I felt about it (was a multi-bedroom house and I was renting a room).

We may be great friends now, but the reason we broke up is because we can't live together. Just because I care about him doesn't mean I can be with him. It just means I care.
(no subject) - cjhm - Feb. 5th, 2009 04:31 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 5th, 2009 03:11 am (UTC)
Wow dude! You just so rock. I would so love to meet you one day and shake your hand (or hug you) for all the great shit you come up with.
Feb. 10th, 2009 10:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :)
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Feb. 10th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
Yep. It is, and it sucks.
(no subject) - strayfish - Mar. 13th, 2009 09:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 5th, 2009 03:15 am (UTC)
(Here's a tip: Dropping hints about what you want doesn't count. Neither does wishing really hard. Nor waiting for the folks around you to become telepathic.)

It's amazing to me how many people don't understand this.

Great as always, Franklin. Thanks for taking the time to write it up.
Feb. 5th, 2009 03:32 am (UTC)
I was in a relationship with someone who thought he might do some remodeling. His friend made a suggestion but he didn't like it. His friend and I both teased him for weeks afterwards that we thought he should do it. Neither of us ultimately cared about his design choices, it was just kind of a running gag or an ongoing joke.

Apparently, the fact that he said he didn't want to take the suggestion was supposed to tell me how much it bothered him that I kept suggesting it.

*blink blink*

And when I expressed my inability to read his mind, he suggested that maybe he just had a different communication style and that I was too stubborn to admit that I was the one who was wrong here.
(no subject) - _luaineach - Feb. 5th, 2009 04:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - joreth - Feb. 5th, 2009 06:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 5th, 2009 03:19 am (UTC)
Going into a relationship with the expectation that you can get your partner to change is quite likely to end in tears.

I can't remember which divorce lawyer said this, but it was definitely a divorce lawyer: "Women get married in the hopes the guy will change. Guys get married in the hopes the woman won't change. Both are wrong."
Feb. 5th, 2009 03:42 am (UTC)
I just get into relationships with the hope that the person he *says* he is, actually *is* who he is. I keep getting disappointed though.
(no subject) - tedeisenstein - Feb. 5th, 2009 03:49 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - joreth - Feb. 5th, 2009 04:05 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Feb. 6th, 2009 12:02 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 5th, 2009 03:29 am (UTC)
"Being in love with someone doesn't mean you HAVE to be in a relationship with that person."

I agree with this and would suggest that it could also say: "Being in lust with someone doesn't mean you HAVE to be in a relationship with that person."

I find it disturbing that some people seem to think they NEED to have a relationship with anyone and everyone they lust after and that they are entitled to pursue that regardless. Maybe that's just me though.
Feb. 5th, 2009 03:36 am (UTC)
heh, I find that pathological :-)

I actually revel in the sexual and/or emotional attraction to someone with whom a romantic relationship is ultimately not practical. It adds a unique flavor to that platonic friendship. I don't spend much time trying to make a relationship into something it can't be, I try to enjoy the relationship for what it is.
(no subject) - tacit - Feb. 10th, 2009 10:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 5th, 2009 03:37 am (UTC)
I agree with all of these.

Re #9, there are some who need to keep secrets -- big, important secrets -- from everyone in life: mothers, fathers, new girlfriends, etc. I'm afraid that intimacy in a relationship will definitely be compromised if you are hiding a large part of who you are, but sometimes that's the price you pay. Just hope the payoff is worth it.
Feb. 5th, 2009 06:13 am (UTC)
Yeah, I had the unfortunate experience of having one of those. It was a guy who'd been trained by his parents never to lie to them and never to tell them anything they couldn't handle hearing (i.e. didn't want to hear). His choice was to lie to them so that they never had to hear anything they didn't want to hear.

When I heard that I should have run for the hills. I didn't. Nowadays, I would.
(no subject) - tacit - Feb. 10th, 2009 10:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 10th, 2009 10:34 pm (UTC)
Sometimes, sure. It's sometimes impossible to be on good terms with everyone.

But when it comes to treating those folks who aren't a part of your inner circle well--I think that's really telling. A person who fails to do this raises alarm bells in my head.
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