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Relationships • Compatibility

The Seven Rules of Successful Relationships

We can spend a lot of time in relationships to which we are are ostensibly committed wondering, maybe with a fair amount of anxiety: do they love me? Is this solid? Might it all suddenly end?

But perhaps less time asking the more salient question: what can I do to help this valued relationship endure?

We can fall into an error of seeing love as a passive mysterious gift that we are in no position to generate, direct or guarantee, rather than conceiving of it as an emotion that for the most part flows fairly logically, steadily and naturally on from things we are in a position either to do or not do.

And, to come to the central thesis, love tends to be a consequence of a partner feeling cared for and heard — in the way they have almost certainly frequently signalled to us that they need to feel, in order to be inwardly assured that they are in safe and tender hands (to hazard a generalisation: most people tend to signal their emotional requirements pretty directly, if we are in the mood to listen).

In other words, there is much we can choose to do — or not do — (right now, today) in order to weaken or strengthen our loves. We are for the most part actives agents, not passive victimised spectators. The other’s love should — under normal circumstances — be thought of as a predictable reward rather than a random benediction.

There are surely cases where people are keen to maintain a relationship but are then left ‘for no reason’ that they could ever have guessed at or influenced (normally by people deeply and secretly ambivalent around the terrors of commitment). But in the end, not so many.

To maintain love, we need more than anything to follow a few simple-sounding rules (that can nevertheless be very hard, for what we should acknowledge to be complicated psychological reasons on our side, to act upon):

1. The partner must feel heard

2. They must feel we are on their side

3. They must feel appreciated according to their own distinctive love language (this might mean that we need to leave the kitchen a certain way or that we have to take their views of social life or intimacy into account)

4. The partner must know we are making an effort in their name 

5. They must feel wanted, emotionally and physically

6. In so far as we are difficult to be around (and we all are) we must explain why; we need to give our partner an accurate map to our areas of immaturity. We need to tell them calmly and with grace how we are a little mad and, with reference to our pasts, why. We must never insist proudly or defensively on our normality. ‘I’m so sorry’ and ‘I’m listening’ should be our two most habitual phrases.

7. We must strive to remain calm around their most trying sides. We mustn’t humiliate them about their flaws. We must become excellent teachers and diplomats of difficult messages.

If we do all this and a relationship ends without us wishing it to, we are entitled to feelings of acute bitterness and grief. The fault has not been with us. We have had the misfortune to love someone who was not ready to receive our gift. 

But if it ends and we have somehow been distracted or busy elsewhere, we should wonder whether, or perhaps why, we have wound up with an ending we told ourselves we didn’t want.

We may need to reflect, under the full glare of the truth of singledom, that we might be a lot more ambivalent, conflicted or lackadaisical about sustaining love than we have imagined.

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