How to Have a Successful Relationship
by Bob Peterson
Out-of-body experiences can really make you feel un-grounded, otherworldly, and disconnected, so it's easy to lose touch with other people, especially your mate, partner, spouse, etc. So it's good to have set of ground rules to keep you connected. This article isn't about OBEs. It's about something more important and valuable than OBEs: loving relationships. In my opinion, there should be a class on loving relationships in everyone's basic high school education, but sadly, there isn't. So here are some things I wish someone had taught me when I was young.
As for my credentials: I've been happily married to my wife Kathy for 26 years and counting, so I think I'm qualified to talk about it. I once had a string of about nine years where Kathy and I literally spent 23 hours of every day together. We were a computer department of 2 in a small 25-person company: We carpooled to work together every morning, worked in the same office, carpooled home together, and were pretty much inseparable, except for doctor's appointments and such. The other hour? A half-hour for each of us to shower and get ready for work in the morning while the other ate breakfast. And we're still best friends.
The subject of loving relationships is very deep and complex, so this article can do nothing more than scratch the surface. I could write a whole book on subject. In fact, hundreds of books have already been written on the subject. So forgive my brevity.
Somewhere around 1988, I had a relationship fail because I didn't know anything about intimacy, and I did everything wrong. After the break up, I worked very hard to learn about relationships and improve myself. I read lots of books and attended many classes; classes on interpersonal communication, showing emotions, and so forth. One particular class on loving relationships was taught by a medical doctor at the world famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. He taught the class as a community service (he certainly didn't need the money!) and I still remember a lot of it because I live by it every day. This, then, is a collection of advice I have learned about loving relationships from many sources. None of these tips originated with me; I'm just passing them along. Some of these might be more geared toward men, partly because I'm a man (and men are often clueless) and partly because I think women are naturally better at communication, and that's an important skill.
Disclaimer: Most of the discussion and examples below are geared toward hetero relationships, because that's what I'm familiar with. I assume they apply equally to gay relationships, but I may be overlooking things that apply to those as well.
In no particular order:
Love YourselfYou really need to love yourself and find yourself worthy of love. You can't find yourself in another person. Nobody else can validate your existence. Remember that everyone is a mirror, and they reflect your own image back to you. If you think you're loathsome, people will see you as loathsome. So another person can't really love you unless you truly love yourself and love who you are. Also, you can't make anyone love you. The best you can do is make yourself more loving and more lovable. If you don't love who you are, change who you are. Improve yourself. Become somebody you can love, and the right mate will automatically be attracted to you. Become the person you really want to be. And always remember: We all deserve love. If necessary, do affirmations like, "I love who I am" or "I am lovable."
Physical appearance doesn't matterPhysical appearance doesn't really matter much. I don't care if you're short or tall, slender or fat, beautiful or ugly: there is nothing in this world more attractive than self-confidence, happiness, a smile, and a little bit of attitude. If you don't have it, develop it or learn to fake it. The spirit is more important than the physical body: my OBEs taught me that. Attraction goes way beyond appearances.
Find the Right Partner
It's important to find someone who's on the same wavelength. I credit a lot of my successful marriage to the fact that Kathy and I are very similar: we're both left-brained logical computer programmer-types, and we grew up in the same community, so we think a lot alike. She knows what I mean and I know what she means.
As much as I tried to make it work with my previous girlfriend, we just couldn't communicate. Whenever I said anything, she would hear something completely different. Every sentence became hopelessly twisted because she was all right-brained and emotional and I'm not. So if you're an intellectual person, find another intellectual person. If you're driven by emotions, find someone who's also driven by emotions. Otherwise communication will be a major challenge, if not downright impossible.
Marry your Best FriendMaybe some people can be successful in a relationship that's somewhat competitive, adversarial, or just a mutual agreement, but I can't. I live by this rule: If your partner isn't your best friend in the world, don't marry them. Your partner should be someone who you can trust implicitly, who's always got your back. They should be someone you can tell anything, even your deepest, darkest secrets, someone who won't judge you unfairly. They should be someone who accepts your character flaws and sees the real you. In other words, your best friend. Sure, you can have other good friends. Sure, you can go out with "the boys" or "the girls" but you should feel closer and more emotionally attached to your partner. Remember that your partner should be someone you're most comfortable with, who makes you feel at ease. If it's adversarial, it will never work.
Fight FairlyFighting is okay, but always fight fair. Never stockpile grievances. Share your feelings as soon as you can. Never tell your partner what they are thinking, feeling, or doing. You may strongly believe what they're thinking or feeling, but don't presume. Even if you're an empath, a psychic intuitive, and an first-class AAA-rated telepath, don't do it.
Use "I feel" messages as much as you can. It's better to say "I feel hurt" than "You hurt me" and "I feel angry when you do X" than "You're making me angry." Never say "You don't love me" when you can say "I feel unloved because..." That kind of thing.
Ask your partner how he or she feels. Never ever use sarcasm. Never be cruel or hurtful. Never mock them. Never belittle them or make them feel worthless or small. Never point out their flaws or make them feel stupid. Never resort to name-calling. Never go to bed angry. Never dredge up shortcomings from the past.
Also remember: it's okay to be angry, and it's okay to express your feelings, but don't hold on to anger and pain, and don't hold grudges. Learn to let go. Express it, then let it go. Never withhold affection because you angry an hour ago.
Try to see both sidesYour partner may not be good at communicating. Be patient and try to put yourself in their shoes. Try to see things from their point of view.
Remember the "emotional bank account"
I know it sounds trite, selfish, maybe even childish, but we all keep a little "score card" or "emotional bank account" in the back of our minds for every person close to you, especially your partner. It's an automatic reward/punishment system we unconsciously set up. Whenever your partner does something positive for you, (for example, they buy you roses) you unconsciously add a number of points to their emotional bank account. When they do something negative or hurtful (for example, calls you stupid) you unconsciously subtract a number of points. When the balance of your "emotional bank account" gets down to zero, you start to think, "Why the hell am I staying in this relationship?" and "Someone else would treat me better." In other words, you become unhappy in the relationship.
The thing is: They're keeping an emotional bank account for you too. So always bear this system in mind when dealing with them. Treat them with love and respect, and always try to do more positive things than negative things for them.
Do little things to brighten their day, to let them know you're thinking about them. Put gas in their car. Buy them a small gift, like a lottery ticket. Help them unload the car when they come home with groceries. Share the chores. Keep their account balance positive.
Never assume anything, except good intentNever assume that you know what your partner needs, wants, or is feeling. Always ask them what they need, what they want, and what they're feeling.
The only assumption you should make is: Assume that your partner means well, or they wouldn't be in the relationship. If they say hurtful things, assume they're not meant to hurt you. Maybe it's a reaction to something you said or did, but assume their intent is good. Negativity is often a defense mechanism, so maybe you just hit a sore spot.
Never think that you can change your partnerYou cannot change someone, and you cannot go into a relationship thinking, "They're flawed in this way, but I can change them." For example, "They've got a drinking problem, but I can fix that." You just can't. People only change from the inside. Either accept them and love for who they are, unconditionally right now, or find someone else you can accept and love. That doesn't mean they won't change. It just means you don't expect them to, and you're okay with where they're at. It's okay to encourage growth and change, but not okay to expect it.
Never take your partner for granted.Never expect that your partner will launder your clothes, wash your dishes, clean your kitchen, serve you food, or whatever. Don't take them for granted. When they do things for you, thank them. Even if you've been married a hundred years and they've done it 36,500 times, thank them. Nobody wants to be taken for granted.
Learn to listen and pay attentionBe a good listener. Never interrupt your partner when he or she is talking. Even if they're just on the phone to someone else, don't interrupt them, unless it's life-and-death important: it's disrespectful. Even if you disagree with them, and even if it makes you furious, give them a chance to speak their mind before you respond. Listen intently to what they say. Pay attention. When you talk to them, look at them. Don't just turn your head to face them; turn your whole body to face them. Look them in the eye. Don't talk while you're facing away. Don't talk while you're staring down at your phone. Make sure they know you're paying attention to them. Repeat back what they just said so they know you understand. "So you're saying we should [fill in the blank], right?" Try to see things their way. One of the biggest complaints is "He/She never listens to me." Don't give him/her that impression.
Learn to respond appropriatelyAlong the same lines, acknowledge your partner's feelings. Don't just grunt a response. Always respond to what they say to you with a sentence that acknowledges and affirms that you understood what they said. You don't need to agree with what they said; you just need to affirm that you heard it.
If you're not good with quick quips or how to respond, take enough time to formulate a proper response. At the start of my relationship, I was bad at this. I wasn't very good at formulating a thoughtful response, so I was slow to respond. But I got better with practice. I'm not talking about anything deep here.
For example, just now as I write this, I heard a gunshot from a hunter in the woods nearby. Kathy heard it too and said, "It is not dawn yet." (Hunters aren't allowed to hunt until dawn.) I responded by saying, "It's so dark, I can't even imagine a hunter even being able to see an animal at this hour." My response was automatic. I wasn't being a "yes man", but I did affirm that I heard and understood what she said. I could have easily ignored her statement or grunted an acknowledgement, or whatever, but I responded in a way that validates what she said. Learn to do this. We all want to be heard.
Share your dreams, goals, ambitions and secretsDon't hold back on your partner. Don't hold back your feelings because the feelings seem stupid or trivial or inconsequential. That's part of what makes us human. Don't be stoic, and don't be afraid to share your feelings. It's okay to say, "I feel hurt (or angry, or whatever) because this happened."
There's one exception to this rule. It may not seem fair, but if you're a guy, do not share lustful thoughts or feelings about another woman, or how beautiful another woman is. Don't say "She's got nice boobs" or "She's got gorgeous eyes" even if it's true. Women don't want to hear it. Trust me on this. It's a fact that straight men have lustful thoughts about other women, even if they're as satisfied as they can possibly be in a relationship. Man's brains are programmed for lust. Accept it but don't promote it. This is the one thing you cannot share with your mate.
Stand up for yourselfThere is usually a dominant person in the relationship and a quiet one. If you're the quiet one, you still need to stand up for what you want and what you believe. If you're an introvert, it may be tempting to clam up and not say anything, or to say "I don't know." It may be tempting to let your partner dominate you. But if you feel strongly about something, you need to push back and speak your mind. Don't let your partner bully you.
For example, if you really wanted to watch the football game Sunday afternoon, don't accept it if your partner says, "We're going to a play Sunday afternoon." That should have been negotiated, not thrust upon you. Stand up for yourself and tell her that you don't want to go to a play or whatever. Tell her how you feel. "What? I feel hurt that you made these plans without even asking me." If you don't speak your mind and let your opinions be heard, she won't respect you. She'll think you're weak. She'll continue to bully you.
If you're the dominant person in the relationship, you may need to draw your partner out and drag out responses. "I'd like to go to a play Sunday afternoon. Are you interested or do you have other ideas?" But don't be a bully and make decisions on your own that apply equally to you both.
Never lieWomen know when you're lying. They've literally got a million years of evolution geared toward spotting lies. They know. Trust me: they just know. The truth may be painful, but a lie erodes the foundation of the relationship.
Or to think about it another way: she may be hurt by the truth, but she'll get over it. But if you lie, she'll never get over it.
Learn to say you're sorryWhen you're wrong, admit it. Don't be stubborn. When you're right, don't gloat, boast, or parade it in front of him/her. Move on.
Determine exactly what your needs areTake some serious time to figure out (1) exactly what your needs are in the relationship, and (2) what your wants are in the relationship. You can live without a "want" but you can't live without a "need," so determine which falls into which category. You need to figure out what your top five needs are and communicate them to your partner. If your needs aren't being met, your partner needs to know that. Communicate it to them, painful or not.
Everyone is different, and we all have different needs and wants. There are often things in common in most men and things in common in most women, but men's needs are often different from women's needs. Men tend to need things like sex, to feel important or useful, touching, and to feel respected. Women tend to need things like affection, emotional connection, communication, to be payed attention to, etc.
For example, maybe you "want" to spend 8 hours a day with your partner, but your basic "need" is to spend at least one hour per day with them. Any less than that, and you're starved for attention.
Ask your partner what they need in a relationshipYou also need to find out your partner's needs in the relationship. There's an immutable law of relationships that says: A partner will only cheat or go outside the relationship if their needs are not being met. A man who needs sex isn't going to cheat if his needs are met, unless they're really a scumbag. A woman who needs emotional connection in a relationship isn't going to try to find that in another man if her emotional needs are met, unless she's a real psycho.
For example, if you're a man, you need to know exactly what her emotional needs are. She may "want" you to spent 24/7/365 with her, but that's not realistic. But what are her actual "needs"? Only she can tell you what she can and can't live without.
For example, if you're a woman, you need to know exactly what his sexual "needs" are. I can probably already tell you his sexual "wants": He wants to have sex five times every day, but that's not realistic. But what are his actual "needs"? Only he can tell you what he can and can't live without.
Meet your partner's needs - or elseIf you simply cannot meet your partner's needs, stop fooling yourself and end the relationship, and do it early. Likewise, if your partner simply cannot meet your needs, and you've given it a fair try, face facts and end the relationship, and do it early. If you try to fool yourself and tell yourself you can live without some basic need, you'll only grow to resent it, and in time, the resentment turns to anger, pain, and disillusionment. Likewise, if you can't be there emotionally or physically to meet your partner's needs, don't force yourself and become resentful.
Never try to sacrifice your needs for the sake of the relationshipYour needs are your needs. If you try to "do without" you'll only become resentful. For example, if one of your needs is "I need him to spend an hour a day with me" and he can't because he's always working or drinking with his buddies, or whatever, one of your basic needs isn't being met. Don't try to tell yourself you can "do without" that need. Sure, there can be business trips or illnesses that make it impossible for a time. But you can't change who you are, and you can't force your partner to satisfy your needs against their will. All you can do is communicate, tell them when your needs aren't being met, and try to be there for each other. If you're not willing to do that, get out. Don't get married until you know for sure they will satisfy your needs, and you know for sure you are able to satisfy their needs. It's so important to learn your needs and your partner's needs. And never never never try to be someone you're not. "I'd love you if you'd just..." doesn't work.
Conditional love vs. unconditional loveThere's a fine line between "conditional love" and having needs in the relationship. You need to find a balance. You need to have your needs met, but at the same time, you want to love them unconditionally. In a way, your needs are a condition under which your relationship will work. You can still love someone "unconditionally," even if your needs are not met. If your needs aren't met, there's a point at which you either try to abandon your needs (which won't work) or curse yourself for thinking your needs make your love "conditional" (which doesn't help.) You've still got to love yourself. You need to find a balance.
Tell your partner you love themIt may seem obvious to you, and even to them, but say it anyway. Sometimes your partner just needs to hear it from your lips. Affirm your love. Don't just say it, but show them. Shower them with affection. And when you're angry or they hurt you, remind yourself of the good times, and how much you love them.
Cuddle dailyTake at least 15 to 30 minutes every morning for "cuddle time" where you just hold each other, hug, cuddle, and share each other's warmth. You don't need to say a word. Just silently affirm your love for your partner. Set your alarm clock earlier if you have to.
It's not "Me" anymore, it's "We"A relationship is comprised of two people, but you need to start thinking in terms of "We" rather than "Me." Don't plan a trip "you" would like; plan a trip "we" would like. Don't go to a movie "you" would like; go to a movie "we" would like. Negotiate everything.
Work hard, but be lightheartedHaving a relationship can sometimes feel like a burden and a lot of work, so make sure to keep it lighthearted. Take some time to have fun together. Hold hands. Feel the warmth of connection.
Break the monotonySimilarly, don't just sit in front of the television night after night and watch sports or whatever. Break the monotony by getting out and having fun. Go on a date. Go to a movie. Go for a walk. Go to the mall. Play a game. Go camping. Keep it fresh. Keep it new.
Give your partner the space he or she needsSometimes we all just get "peopled out". We all wear masks, even to our partner. But we all need a break once in a while. We need time to do our own personal stuff. We all need space to meditate, listen to our music, play our games, to wind down. Give yourself the space and time for "you." Give your partner time and space to do their own thing too.
This can be a problem when one partner works and the other doesn't. If your partner works and you don't, remember you've had 8+ hours of personal time away from them, and they need some personal time too. They also need 8 hours of sleep. So don't completely fill up the remaining 8 hours without giving them at least a little time to themselves.
Make decisions togetherWhen it comes to important decisions, make them together. Agree on which car to buy, which house to buy, what debts to have.
As for minor decisions, figure out "what works best" as a compromise. For example, Kathy is a planner: she needs to have a plan for every day, especially on the weekends. I, on the other hand, love to be spontaneous. I'd rather not have it all planned out. I want to watch the parade of life. For us, "what works" is a compromise: She makes plans and either includes me in the decision-making process, or she reserves time for spontaneity, (for example, "This Sunday is planned to be 'do your own thing' day.") I've even given her permission to make plans and not tell me so that it seems spontaneous to me: She may say "Hey, let's go to a play tonight" even though she planned it days ago, but to me it seems spontaneous. "Sure. Sounds fun!" It works. Got it? Over the years, I've gotten better at making plans and she's become more spontaneous.
Don't fight over moneyMost fights are about money. So be careful with your money. Remember it's not "my" money, it's "our" money. You cannot be blamed for money issues when the money decisions are made together.
Perception is everythingI know it's unfortunate and unfair, but it's a fact of life: perception is everything. I can best illustrate this with an example: Suppose your partner is away on some errand and you've got exactly one hour alone to yourself. And suppose that in that hour, you've agreed to clean the kitchen and the bathroom. It ought to take a half-hour to do both, which leaves you with a half-hour to spend on your favorite past-time; for example, playing your favorite video game.
Logic dictates that as long as you get both tasks done, the order you do them doesn't matter. Logic might also dictate that you should do your chores first: get the unpleasant work out of the way first, then you'll have some leisure time to play. Logic is dead wrong. The reason is perception: If she comes home from her errands and sees you playing video games, she perceives you as a lazy bum, regardless of whether you got your chores done, or how well you did them. It doesn't even matter if you did extra chores: You're sitting on your lazy ass now, playing that game, and that's all she will see. Even if you spent 55 minutes cleaning the house and the last 5 minutes playing, that's the only thing she will see.
You should play your video game first, then do your chores. Just don't lose track of the time and forget the chores. If she comes home and sees you still cleaning a bathroom or cleaning the kitchen, she perceives that you're a hard worker, doing your chores, industrious, productive, or whatever. You're doing "us" tasks, not "me" tasks. You'll shine in her eyes.
Even though it's exactly the same amount of effort, she will perceive something completely different, and what she sees will make you either a hero or a villain in her eyes.
Just remember: Nobody ever got yelled at for vacuuming, washing dishes, or cleaning the bathroom.
Relationships are hard work, but worth the effort. The secret of being in a successful relationship is 10 percent finding the right partner and 90 percent being the right partner.
I hope my relationship tips can help someone out there. They work for me, anyway. I'm probably forgetting a hundred things, and the more I write, the more things come to mind. But this article's already too long, so I'll end here.
23 October 2018