The most important factor in a relationship

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.

And the only thing that can save you and your partner, that can cushion you both to the hard landing of human fallibility, is an unerring respect for one another, the fact that you hold each other in high esteem, believe in one another — often more than you each believe in yourselves — and trust that your partner is doing his/her best with what they’ve got.

Without that bedrock of respect underneath you, you will doubt each other’s intentions. 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.

You must also respect yourself. 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. As a reader named Olov put it, “Respect yourself and your wife. Never talk badly to or about her. If you don’t respect your wife, you don’t respect yourself. You chose her – live up to that choice.”

Mark Manson writing in Business Insider 

A one-way ticket to a toxic relationship

Many people are 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.  This conditionality prevents any true, deep-level intimacy from emerging and chains the relationship to the bucking throes of each person’s internal dramas.

Mark Manson

Study: after 75 years the most fulfilling lives had one thing in common

For over 75 years, Harvard’s Grant and Glueck study has tracked the physical and emotional well-being of two populations: 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014 (the Grant Study), and 268 male graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939-1944 (the Glueck study).

Due to the length of the research period, this has required multiple generations of researchers. Since before WWII, they’ve diligently analyzed blood samples, conducted brain scans (once they became available), and pored over self-reported surveys, as well as actual interactions with these men, to compile the findings.

The conclusion? According to Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one thing surpasses all the rest in terms of importance: “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period. ”Not how much is in your 401(k). Not how many conferences you spoke at–or keynoted. Not how many blog posts you wrote or how many followers you had or how many tech companies you worked for or how much power you wielded there or how much you vested at each.

No, the biggest predictor of your happiness and fulfillment overall in life is, basically, love.

“It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship,” says Waldinger. “It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.”

Melanie Curtin writing in Fast Company 

Why some Couples Endure

There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness. As the normal stresses of a life together pile up—with children, career, friend, in-laws, and other distractions crowding out the time for romance and intimacy—couples may put less effort into their relationship and let the petty grievances they hold against one another tear them apart. In most marriages, levels of satisfaction drop dramatically within the first few years together. But among couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.

Emily Esfahani Smith writing in The Atlantic

Kindness glues couples together

Research has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved. “My bounty is as boundless as the sea,” says Shakespeare’s Juliet. “My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite.” That’s how kindness works too: there’s a great deal of evidence showing the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves, which leads to upward spirals of love and generosity in a relationship.

There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.

Emily Esfahani Smith writing in The Atlantic 

anger in relationships

No one in a relationship problem is ever totally innocent or totally guilty. With this belief, people can always keep the door open to their own faults without engaging in excessive, guilt-provoking self-incrimination. Holding back anger for even a short time and engaging in self-analysis in private has the effect of tempering the expression of anger. Confession altars our goals from changing others to changing the relationship.

Gary Collins, Counseling and Anger

5 internal contributions to anger

1-Self-esteem

People who try to be self-sufficient are easily frustrated and angered when they see evidence of their dependence on others. They get angry at themselves for needing others and they get angry at other people for “keeping” them in this weakness.

2-Desire for Power in Relationships

Some people feel threatened by the need to give up power in love relationships. For instance, a batterer may use anger to intimidate others in a quest for power. It’s a way to caution the abused person against using their own power. To avoid rousing their anger, spouses end up tiptoeing around the other to avoid confrontation because the price is too high to pay.

3-Desire to be Perfect

Unrealistic standards must be met for the person to feel worthwhile and accepted.

Whenever there is a perceived loss of perfection, the person becomes depressed (angry with themselves) for small failures. The student who gets a B-plus instead of an A, etc. These people also set up high standards for others to achieve and are quickly judgmental. They are hurt by others who do not join them in the quest for perfection. Even though they may be chronic confessors, but growth comes slow because they don’t want to accept their limitations.

4-Guilt

Unresolved guilt can lead to irritability. People have trouble admitting their faults.

5-Rejection

Rejection leaves people feeling hurt and worthless. When significant others disdain our contributions or act as if we are inferior and unimportant we bolster self-esteem by rejecting others ourselves, using the weapons of anger and hostility.  Since it does not heal the relationship or self-esteem, it is a temporary fix. 

The best network

Several years ago sociologist Brian Uzzi did a study of why certain Broadway musicals made between 1945 and 1989 were successful and others flopped. The explanation he arrived at had to do with the people behind the productions. For failed productions, one of two extremes was common. The first was a collaboration between creative artists and producers who tended to all know one another. When there were mostly strong ties, the production lacked the fresh, creative insights that come from diverse experience. The other type of failed production was one in which none of the artists had experience working together. When the group was made up of mostly weak ties, teamwork and group cohesion suffered.

In contrast, the social networks of the people behind successful productions had a healthy balance: There were some strong ties, some weak ties. There was some established trust, but also enough new blood in the system to generate new ideas. Think of your network of relationships in the same way: The best professional network is both narrow/deep (allies with whom you collaborate regularly) and wide/ shallow (weak-tie acquaintances who offer fresh information and ideas).

Reid Hoffman, The Start-Up of You

What would you do?

You have applied for a job and the interviewer asks you a question that lands like a bombshell: do you have a boyfriend? Then another: do people find you desirable? And a third: do you think it is important for women to wear bras to work? If you are a woman you probably know what you would do. Perhaps you would refuse to answer, complain or walk out. You would certainly be furious.

This is how 197 female American undergraduates, asked to imagine such an interview, said they would react. But they—and probably you—were wrong. The psychologists who asked them, Marianne LaFrance and Julie Woodzicka, orchestrated a real-life version of this ordeal, by advertising for a research assistant and arranging for male accomplices to interview the first 50 women who applied.

Half were randomly chosen to be asked those three questions. Not one refused to answer, let alone complained or walked out. When they were asked afterwards (and offered the chance to apply for a real job), they said they had felt not anger, but fear.

Videos of the interviews showed how much this supposedly minor sexual harassment threw the women off their stride. They plastered on fake smiles.

In a final twist, the researchers showed clips of the videos to male MBA students. Fake smiles are fairly easy to tell from real ones: they involve fewer facial muscles and do not crinkle the corners of the eyes. But many of the men saw the women as amused, even flirtatious.

The Economist

This is daring greatly

When we spend our lives waiting until we're perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.

We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be—a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation—with courage and a willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen.  This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.

Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Our Difficult Side

Knowledge of our own neuroses is not at all easy to come by. It can take years and situations we have had no experience of.  Prior to marriage, we’re rarely involved in dynamics that properly hold up a mirror to our disturbances. Whenever more casual relationships threaten to reveal the ‘difficult’ side of our natures, we tend to blame the partner – and call it a day. As for our friends, they predictably don’t care enough about us to have any motive to probe our real selves. They only want a nice evening out. Therefore, we end up blind to the awkward sides of our natures. On our own, when we’re furious, we don’t shout, as there’s no one there to listen – and therefore we overlook the true, worrying strength of our capacity for fury. Or we work all the time without grasping, because there’s no one calling us to come for dinner, how we manically use work to gain a sense of control over life – and how we might cause hell if anyone tried to stop us. At night, all we’re aware of is how sweet it would be to cuddle with someone, but we have no opportunity to face up to the intimacy-avoiding side of us that would start to make us cold and strange if ever it felt we were too deeply committed to someone. One of the greatest privileges of being on one’s own is the flattering illusion that one is, in truth, really quite an easy person to live with.

The Philosophers’ Mail

Figuring out What’s Wrong with our Prospective Mate

Other people are stuck at the same low level of self-knowledge as we are. However well-meaning they might be, they too are in no position to grasp, let alone inform us, of what is wrong with them.

Naturally, we make a stab at trying to know them. We go and visit their families, perhaps the place they first went to school. We look at photos, we meet their friends. All this contributes to a sense we’ve done our homework. But it’s like a novice pilot assuming they can fly after sending a paper plane successfully around the room.

We need to know the intimate functioning of the psyche of the person we’re planning to marry. We need to know their attitudes to, or stance on, authority, humiliation, introspection, sexual intimacy, projection, money, children, aging, fidelity and a hundred things besides. This knowledge won’t be available via a standard chat.

In the absence of all this, we are led – in large part – by what they look like. There seems to be so much information to be gleaned from their eyes, nose, shape of forehead, distribution of freckles, smiles… But this is about as wise as thinking that a photograph of the outside of a power station can tell us everything we need to know about nuclear fission.

The Philosophers’ Mail

Feeling Like Getting Married

Part of the reason we feel like getting married is to interrupt the all-consuming grip that love has over our psyches. We are exhausted by the melodramas and thrills that go nowhere. We are restless for other challenges. We hope that marriage can conclusively end love’s painful rule over our lives.

It can’t and won’t: there is as much doubt, hope, fear, rejection and betrayal in a marriage as there is in single life. It’s only from the outside that a marriage looks peaceful, uneventful and nicely boring.

The Philosophers’ Mail

And how are you mad?

When first looking out for a partner, the requirements we come up with are coloured by a beautiful non-specific sentimental vagueness: we’ll say we really want to find someone who is ‘kind’ or ‘fun to be with’, ‘attractive’ or ‘up for adventure…’

It isn’t that such desires are wrong, they are just not remotely precise enough in their understanding of what we in particular are going to require in order to stand a chance of being happy – or, more accurately, not consistently miserable.

All of us are crazy in very particular ways. We’re distinctively neurotic, unbalanced and immature, but don’t know quite the details because no one ever encourages us too hard to find them out. An urgent, primary task of any lover is therefore to get a handle on the specific ways in which they are mad. They have to get up to speed on their individual neuroses. They have to grasp where these have come from, what they make them do – and most importantly, what sort of people either provoke or assuage them. A good partnership is not so much one between two healthy people (there aren’t many of these on the planet), it’s one between two demented people who have had the skill or luck to find a non-threatening conscious accommodation between their relative insanities.

The very idea that we might not be too difficult as people should set off alarm bells in any prospective partner. The question is just where the problems will lie: perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us, or we can only relax when we are working, or we’re a bit tricky around intimacy after sex, or we’ve never been so good at explaining what’s going on when we’re worried. It’s these sort of issues that – over decades – create catastrophes and that we therefore need to know about way ahead of time, in order to look out for people who are optimally designed to withstand them. A standard question on any early dinner date should be quite simply: ‘And how are you mad?’

The Philosophers’ Mail

 

We prefer the Apps

The family that is eating together while simultaneously on their phones is not actually together. They are, in writer Sherry Turkle’s formulation, “alone together.” You are where your attention is. If you’re watching a football game with your son while also texting a friend, you’re not fully with your child — and he knows it. Truly being with another person means being experientially with them, picking up countless tiny signals from the eyes and voice and body language and context, and reacting, often unconsciously, to every nuance. These are our deepest social skills, which have been honed through the aeons. They are what make us distinctively human.

No wonder we prefer the apps. An entire universe of intimate responses is flattened to a single, distant swipe. We hide our vulnerabilities, airbrushing our flaws and quirks; we project our fantasies onto the images before us. Rejection still stings — but less when a new virtual match beckons on the horizon.

Andrew Sullivan writing in New York Magazine

I Used to Be a Human Being

In the last year of my blogging life, my health began to give out. Four bronchial infections in 12 months had become progressively harder to kick. Vacations, such as they were, had become mere opportunities for sleep. My dreams were filled with the snippets of code I used each day to update the site. My friendships had atrophied as my time away from the web dwindled. My doctor, dispensing one more course of antibiotics, finally laid it on the line: “Did you really survive HIV to die of the web?”

But the rewards were many: an audience of up to 100,000 people a day; a new-media business that was actually profitable; a constant stream of things to annoy, enlighten, or infuriate me; a niche in the nerve center of the exploding global conversation; and a way to measure success — in big and beautiful data — that was a constant dopamine bath for the writerly ego. If you had to reinvent yourself as a writer in the internet age, I reassured myself, then I was ahead of the curve. The problem was that I hadn’t been able to reinvent myself as a human being.

Andrew Sullivan writing in New York Magazine

Popular People Live Longer (sort of)

Dozens of studies reveal that children’s popularity can be measured reliably by age 3, and it remains remarkably stable not just through the next dozen years of primary and secondary education but also across contexts, as they move from community to community and into adulthood.

Yet this same research reveals that there is more than one type of popularity, and most of us may be investing in the wrong kind. Likability reflects kindness, benevolent leadership and selfless, prosocial behavior. Research suggests that this form of popularity offers lifelong advantages, and leads to relationships that confer the greatest health benefits.

Likability is markedly different from status — an ultimately less satisfying form of popularity that reflects visibility, influence, power and prestige. Status can be quantified by social media followers; likability cannot.

Anyone who has been to high school will recognize the distinction — and recall that those high in one category are often low in the other. Research suggests that despite the great temptations to gain status, those who achieve it ultimately experience greater unhappiness and dissatisfaction, while those who are likable have far greater satisfaction and success.

We may be built by evolution to care deeply about popularity, but it’s up to us to choose the nature of the relationships we want with our peers.

Which means that it wouldn’t kill you to step away from Twitter once in a while.

Mitch Prinstein writing in the New York Times

Freshening Relationships

Relationships often develop a certain tiresome predictability. You do what you usually do, other people respond the way they usually do, and around it goes. If you reverse course, act in a novel manner, you alter the entire dynamic. Do this every so often to break up the relationship’s stale patterns and open it to new possibilities.

Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War

What does she see in him?!

It happened years ago, but I've never forgotten it. I was singing and speaking at a small Midwestern college. During an informal seminar in one of the dorm lounges, a couple came in late.

I couldn't help noticing something odd about them. The girl was very attractive, close to cover-girl standards. The guy looked as if he had just walked off the set for The Nerds. He was short, wore thick horn-rimmed glasses and a plaid short-sleeved shirt. He was definitely a candidate for getting sand kicked in his face.

But the strangest thing of all was that these two were obviously in love. What could she possibly see in him? I asked myself. Suddenly I realized — she was blind.

But what did she see in him? Everything. Everything that's important about who a person is, what love is, and what a real man is. She saw everything she needed to know about him.

Blessed are the blind, for they can see people as they really are. Woe to those who can see, for they will constantly be tripped up by the image.

John Fischer, Real Christians Don’t Dance!

the image

As Americans, we're obsessed with images. Who we are isn't as important as how we appear. In fact, we spend so much time and effort on appearances, we lose the ability to recognize the true identity of another person, or even ourselves. We've become more familiar with the image than we are with the real thing.

Dating relationships are especially vulnerable to this problem. A person isn't evaluated on character or individuality, but on how close he or she measures up to the other's image of the ideal mate. Real people take second chair to the ideal; they measure up to the image or they don't.

Have you ever noticed the excitement at the beginning of a romance that later faded with growing familiarity? In the early stages of any new friendship, we're usually seeing more of the image than we are of the real person. We've seen enough of the surface to see similarities between the object of our affections and the ideal we seek, but not enough to show us that our ideal and the new friend are not the same person. In essence, we're falling in love with the image, with the idea that this one person might be "it." Sooner or later the real person is going to start breaking through that image, and disillusionment will set in.

The success of a marriage comes not in finding the "right" person, but in the ability of both partners to adjust to the real person they inevitably realize they married. Some people never make this adjustment, becoming trapped in an endless search for an image that does not exist.

John Fischer, Real Christians Don’t Dance!