Mark Manson is also a bit rough on the “fairy tale” conception of romance and relationships. Go read his post on healthy relationship habits and come back here for additional commentary…
Done? Wasn’t that sensible? Now for some comments:
In his research of thousands of happily married couples, some of whom who 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.
I would say “disagreeing” rather than fighting. Constant fighting over anything is relationship-eroding. What he is getting at is that you can agree to disagree about something, discuss it from time to time, and not let negative feelings about it endanger your much more important relationship. Couples who fight over unimportant things because for one or both of them creating perfection is more important than the value of their partner as they are, warts and all, are headed for trouble. You can both be controlling perfectionists and still treasure each other’s differences so long as you *mostly* agree on the ground rules of your home and heart. Over time these differences can become another source of playful banter and perspective. Picking at differences and showing hostility and contempt toward your partner for loading the dishwasher wrong or forgetting to put the toothpaste cap on is a sign of a relationship that won’t last.
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.
I make this point in the book. Supporting one another in the real world requires sympathetic honesty – tactful tough love, not constant ego support by always saying the thing you know will make your partner feel best. Sometimes feeling good is not the path to success for your partner or yourself — the truth about what you need and how you feel must be told, even if you have a duty to speak it tactfully and gently. Otherwise the shared worldview of the couple won’t be realistic, leading to disappointment and distrust.
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 becoming 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.
It’s very important to recognize the power of limerence and sexual attraction to get our attention when we’re in along-term relationship. Foolish people listen to the Siren call of hormones and destroy good marriages that have a history and security to pursue a temporary obsession; this mistake can destroy lives and damage your children. Cultivate the mental detachment to enjoy and be entertained by these hormonal storms without losing your grip on reality; recognize it is no more likely to last than a weekend bender, and take care to reassure your partner that you are committed to them despite this distraction, since there’s no way you can hide such feelings from someone really close to you. Bring your partner in on this temporary insanity and ask for their forbearance. Because you are in this together. And if your partner is in the grip of Fairy Tale Thinking, you have to snap them out of it.
More on Divorce, Marriage, and Mateseeking
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Monogamy and Relationship Failure; “Love Illuminated”
More reasons to find a good partner: lower heart disease!
“Princeton Mom” Susan Patton: “Marry Smart” not so smart
“All the Taken Men are Best” – why women poach married men….
“Marriage Rate Lowest in a Century”
Making Divorce Hard to Strengthen Marriages?
Student Loan Debt: Problems in Divorce
“The Upside of ‘Marrying Down’”
The High Cost of Divorce
Separate Beds Save Marriages?
Marital Discord Linked to Depression
Marriage Contracts: Give People More Legal Options
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Divorced Men 8 Times as Likely to Commit Suicide as Divorced Women
Vox Charts Millennial Marriage Depression
What’s the Matter with Marriage?
Life Is Unfair! The Great Chain of Dysfunction Ends With You.
Leftover Women: The Chinese Scene
Constant Arguing Can Be Deadly…
“If a fraught relationship significantly shortens your life, are you better off alone?
“Divorce in America: Who Really Wants Out and Why”
View Marriage as a Private Contract?
“It’s up there with ‘Men Are From Mars’ and ‘The Road Less Travelled’”
Free Love, eHarmony, Matchmaking Pseudoscience
Love Songs of the Secure Attachment Type
“The New ‘I Do’”
Unrealistic Expectations: Liberal Arts Woman and Amazon Men
Mark Manson’s “Six Healthy Relationship Habits”
“The Science of Happily Ever After” – Couples Communications
Free Dating Sites: Which Have Attachment Type Screening?
Dating Pool Danger: Harder to Find Good Partners After 30
Mate-Seeking: The Science of Finding Your Best Partner
Perfect Soulmates or Fellow Travelers: Being Happy Depends on Perspective
No Marriage, Please: Cohabiting Taking Over
“Marriage Markets” – Marriage Beyond Our Means?
Rules for Relationships: Realism and Empathy
Limerence vs. Love
The “Fairy Tale” Myth: Both False and Destructive
When to Break Up or Divorce? The Economic View
“Why Are Great Husbands Being Abandoned?”
Divorce and Alimony: State-By-State Reform, Massachusetts Edition
“Sliding” Into Marriage, Small Weddings Associated with Poor Outcomes
Subconscious Positivity Predicts Marriage Success…
Why We Are Attracted to Bad Partners (Who Resemble a Parent)