There are all these stories about how all we need is love, and finding and maintaining a serious relationship is a core part of most people's life dreams. But nobody ever bothers to tell us how to do that. Here's what I've learned.
In the surprisingly good Doctor Strange, there is one beautiful, fantastically amazing line that pays the whole movie - and Tilda Swinton's whole performance - off.
It's not about you.
It's simple, beautiful, deeply kind. Get over yourself. Focus your energy on other people, including your partner.
In relationships, it does double duty - telling you that whatever your person is reacting really strongly to, odds are it's not about you. Be kind. Be calm. Support them, and you'll be surprised how far that takes you.
Tune in. Listen. Make a safe space for each of you, and then learn how you each work. This work is going to be unexpectedly difficult. You and your person are going to have to figure out how to get access to your own emotions, and then communicate them to each other. For some people it's through their bodies. For some it's through writing. For some it just comes out.
For nearly everybody, it's as hard as learning a second language, and for nearly everybody, the perspective of a professional therapist is really useful. But one way or another, you'll have to bridge that gap.
Sorry. But it's true. Relationships aren't any different than anything else. Great ones take effort, humility, growth and the pain that comes with it. You will have to be a better you than you are right now. They will be too. That's kind of the point.
Focus on getting somewhere together, even if it means that today, you throw in the towel on a conversation, a plan, whatever it is. Play the long game for each other.
Psychologists agree it's one of the best barometers for relationship health, and best things we can do to bond. Keep having it. If it's not happening (and this happens to all of us), figure out why.
Even the best relationships have hard times. Commit to the process.
Abuse is not love. Not all relationships work. Not all relationships work forever. That is not a failure.
If your relationship doesn't bring you more meaning, happiness, and satisfaction than it does pain and stress, either fix it or get out.
Find, cherish, and maintain relationships with people who are advocates for you both, and for your relationship. Having separate friendships and places to vent are great. But drop people who want to tear you apart.
Being in a serious, committed relationship and it working in the long run requires that you have your own stuff going on. Staring at each other all the time will drive you crazy. Go be the awesome person you are in the world. Let them be, too.
As the years stretch on, you're going to find yourself face-to-face with all the things you never wanted to deal with. All of the unresolved baggage both of you have been carting around is going to have to be unpacked. Get a therapist, and get to work.
Have your disagreements, but back each other up publicly. With family. With friends. If you're in doubt, just say "You know, I agree with them."
The person you're with is awesome. They don't need you to fix their problems. They just need to be able to lean on you.
Have fun. Be silly. Life is short and beautiful and wonderful. Enjoy it together.
Having real, supportive relationships with people who care about you is a basic human need. We have tons of data on this. But that doesn't mean you have to get it from one person, it doesn't mean that you've gotta bang, and it doesn't mean anyone ever has to put a ring on it. What's right for you is right for you. The end.
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