February 2, 2006

A bit of relationship advice

February is upon us. Romance-related blogs, bulletins, and e-mail forwards are popping up like so many arrow-wielding cherubim. Now it’s my turn.

I’m not a licensed relationship expert, but I have found love and made it last eight years, each better than the last. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way. They’re not rules, merely suggestions. Well, OK, the last one is kind of a rule, but bear with me:

Some Tips for Successfully Loving a Person

Pay attention to the conversation.

The real indicator of a relationship’s health is not in a couple’s sex life, their body language, or their astrological compatibility. It is all in the conversation.


You know the couple in which one person does all the talking, and the other can’t get a word in edgewise? Here’s what’s in store for them: The quiet one will realize he or she is feeling controlled and finally break it off. The talkative one will be shocked, insisting that he/she never saw it coming.

If you’re the quiet one, ask yourself if you are really getting the respect and attention you need. If you’re the talkative one, ask yourself if you really know what your partner wants and needs. Don’t launch an interrogation, but bite your tongue for awhile and see what happens. And if you find yourself frequently zoning out when your partner is talking to you, end the relationship immediately.

Leave your friends out of it.

I have a theory about why the gorgeous ladies on Sex and the City had so many failed relationships. How can you build love and trust with somebody if you’re airing each other’s dirty laundry over happy hour?

Besides undermining your intimacy, this type of analysis can blow problems far out of proportion. If I learned one thing in eighth grade science class, it might just be this: Everything looks crusty if you examine it under a microscope.

Remember that gifts and romantic gestures are about your partner, not about you.

The most extravagant gift I ever bought Sam was an electric guitar. It's a beautiful instrument, it cost me a month's salary, and it has spent the last three years gathering dust in a corner of our storage room. Why? Because Sam didn't want to play the guitar. I wanted Sam to want to play the guitar.

The first Christmas my brother and his wife were married, he bought her a diamond pendant. She bought him a set of snow tires and a shop-vac. The gifts were completely out of their character for their givers, perfect for their recipients. It should come as no surprise that, 10 years later, Chris and Ana are still happily married.

I learned my lesson on this one, and there’s another benefit too. It’s fun trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes. Trying to choose the perfect Playstation game or the vacation I’d want to take (if I were Sam) gives me a challenge, a chance to show off how much I’ve been paying attention, and a feeling of pride when I get it right.

Explore comfortable alternatives to chastity belts.

Some people cheat on their partners. Some people do not. If you consider monogamy to be mandatory, make sure you are dating someone who agrees completely. Hint: It’s probably not the girl who scheduled trysts with you while her boyfriend was at the gym.

Also remember that everyone defines infidelity differently, and that definition may change as a relationship grows and develops. Let’s face it: flirtation is fun. Finding love doesn’t exempt you from having little crushes along the way. The important part is that you and your partner know where each other’s boundaries are, and are comfortable enough to discuss the topic.

Once you’ve established the rules, give each other the benefit of the doubt. He’s having lunch with a female friend? Excellent! Acting suspicious and jealous will not keep someone faithful. In fact, it might do the opposite. Think about this one for a second: “Since she’s convinced I’m cheating on her anyway, I may as well get some fun out of it.” It almost sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Treat your partner with more courtesy and kindness than you would (almost) anyone else.

This is the biggest one, and sadly the easiest one to forget. Some people will schmooze customers at work all day, but be incapable of forcing a smile for their spouse. It’s easy to take someone who loves you for granted, but that doesn’t make it right.

There’s no rule stating that you have to fight if you are in a long-term relationship. You may not always agree, but you don’t need to call each other names or make hurtful generalizations that start with “You always…” or “You never…” I have been with Sam for over 8 years, and we’ve never had what most people would consider a fight. Seriously.

And if you do fight, don’t fight dirty. If you’ve forgiven someone for a past transgression, it’s not fair to bring it up every time you’re upset. If you know your partner’s weakest spot, don’t exploit it just because you can. If you’re considering saying something just because it will be hurtful, swallow your words.

Follow the modified golden rule.

I guess all of my relationship advice can be summed up in a slight modification of the Golden Rule.

“Treat your partner as you know they want to be treated. And if you don’t know how they want to be treated, find out.”

Yeah, it's a little unwieldy for a bumper sticker, and it's grammatically incorrect to use "they" as a gender-neutral singular pronoun, but I'll keep working on it. Just like my marriage.

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