The estimated reading time for this post is 8 minutes.

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Relationships, amirite? Everyone has an opinion on how to do them “right” (including me). So how do you know who you should trust? How do you really work on forming and keeping relationships? Well, annoyingly enough, you need to make that decision on your own. By reading a lot, trying a lot, and seeing what works. But as someone who has spent a lot of time thinking critically and deeply and extensively (and other adverbs, besides!) about relationships — and also, you know, engaging in them to varying degrees of success — I’d like to share some articles that I find especially illuminating on the topic of getting and maintaining healthy and rewarding romantic relationships.


 

1. Mark Manson’s Love Is Not Enough

Mark Manson is a straight-shooter type who writes advice on his blog about dating, relationships, and life in general. His posts tend to tell it like it is, with no sugar coating, and his advice tends to be solid.

The TL;DR
Love is not enough to make relationships work long term. You need more than just strong emotion, and if that’s all that you have, you should probably get out now.

Quotable quote

You can fall in love with a wide variety of people throughout the course of your life. You can fall in love with people who are good for you and people who are bad for you. You can fall in love in healthy ways and unhealthy ways. You can fall in love when you’re young and when you’re old. Love is not unique. Love is not special. Love is not scarce.

But your self-respect is. So is your dignity. So is your ability to trust. There can potentially be many loves throughout your life, but once you lose your self-respect, your dignity or your ability to trust, they are very hard to get back.

Why you should read it
We’re conditioned by Hollywood, Disney, our families, our friends, and everything in between to believe that love conquers all. Manson provides a nice reality check about why we get in and stay in unhealthy relationships, and why those relationships are unhealthy despite there being love between the two people.

What you might not like about it
Manson doesn’t pull punches. You might see yourself and your relationship in what he describes. This might be really uncomfortable for you. This article forces us to challenge a belief that, culturally speaking, is very deeply held by most of us.


 

2. Franklin Veaux’s Some Thoughts On Finding Love

Veaux is one of the co-founders of the well known polyamory website More Than Two (and co-author of the book of the same name). He and his partner Eve write some really fantastic advice that definitely has a non-monogamous bent to it, but is (mostly) applicable to all relationships, monogamous or non.

The TL;DR
Some people think it’s really hard to find love while others think it’s really easy. The people who find it easy seem to demonstrate a certain list of common characteristics that they either already had or worked (or continue to work) hard to obtain. Practicing those characteristics (listed) can help with the process of forming healthy, sustainable relationships.

Quotable Quote

There’s a thing I’ve seen happen where people say, “I’ve been mistreated, so I am not going to trust easily. I’ve learned my lesson. I will not let people close to me.” And what happens? They get hurt and mistreated again. And again. Why? Because when you build a fortress around your heart and hold everyone at arm’s length, kind, respectful people say, “Oh, you’re not letting people close. Okay. I will respect your boundaries,” and then don’t get close to you. Who does get close? People who don’t respect boundaries. People who bulldoze through your walls. Who is most likely to mistreat you? People who don’t respect boundaries. So what happens? You get mistreated. And you build even bigger walls, until finally you’ve put up so many walls only a full-blown psychopath can get in. What’s the solution? Vulnerability.

Why you should read it
This list is legit. It is basically the secret to life, the universe, and everything. It will help you win friends and influence people. It will give you a massage with a happy ending. OK, maybe not that last one, but the traits Veaux mentions in this article are traits we should all be working towards having, regardless of our relationship goals. If you’re like me and like having a game plan at all times, it’s comforting to have a list in front of you to work towards.

What you might not like about it
Well, it’s a long article. But other than that, it might be frustrating to read a list of traits that one ought to have, and yet not know how to get there. We all know being direct is important, but how do I overcome my anxiety around it?! Well, one article can’t solve all our problems, so I think this is still very much worth reading, but I can understand if feelings of frustration arise from being told “hey, just do these really super hard things and everyone will want to date you and you will succeed at everything!”


 

3. Emily Esfahani Smith’s Masters of Love

Smith is a journalist who writes about, among other things, relationships. In this article that she wrote for The Atlantic, she interviews Drs. Julie and John Gottman, of the highly successful and renowned Gottman Institute (for those not in the know, these two are the doctors of love — they have done research into love and relationships for decades, and what they do works).

The TL;DR
The Gottmans have done a lot of research into what makes relationships work (and what makes them fall apart), and the consensus seems to be, contempt and dismissal are the poisons, and kindness and compassion are the keys to success.

Quotable quote

By observing these types of interactions, Gottman can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples—straight or gay, rich or poor, childless or not—will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later. Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?

 

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

Why you should read it
The Drs. Gottman have been in the relationship business for-like-pretty-much-ever. They have scienced the shit out of this stuff. They have seminars and retreats that people pay hundreds to thousands of dollars to attend. And while popularity doesn’t always equate to actual value, the Gottmans have gott it (please don’t hate me for that).

What you might not like about it
I’m actually not sure what there is to not like about this article, other than perhaps I wish there was more of it. It’s beautiful and applicable no matter what stage of life and relationship you are in.


 

4. Tim Urban’s How to Pick Your Life Partner – Part 2

Urban’s piece for Wait But Why (a very nebulous kind of blogwebsitethingy) also has a part 1, which is an interesting read, for sure. It’s not required reading to understand and benefit from part 2, however, and it also repeats a lot of the things that show up in the previous three articles I’ve discussed here. However, if you have the time, it’s still full of good information, and repetition is a good way to retain new information.

The TL;DR
“How to Pick Your Life Partner” provides the reader (you!) with just 3 easy steps for picking the perfect person to spend the rest of your life with, and be happy while doing it! OK, but actually, it describes the qualities and behaviors of what makes relationships successful, not only in the short term, but in the long term. And it makes no bones about being anything like a secret recipe. These things require hard work, and the article outlines the work you (and your partner) will need to do over your lives to make it happen.

Quotable quote

Marriage isn’t the honeymoon in Thailand—it’s day four of vacation #56 that you take together. Marriage is not celebrating the closing of the deal on the first house—it’s having dinner in that house for the 4,386th time. And it’s certainly not Valentine’s Day.

 

Marriage is Forgettable Wednesday. Together.

Why you should read it
You can’t go wrong with lists! Maybe that’s hyperbolic… but this article neatly and honestly sums up the issues that face us when trying to decide with whom we should spend the rest of our lives. And then merrily goes about trying to help you solve those exact issues! There is a lot of what I’d call uncommon common sense in it; that is, when you read the article, you’ll find yourself going, “Well of course that’s important!” a lot. But you have to ask yourself (and answer honestly), “Would I have really come up with all these things on my own if asked?” And if the answer is yes, then why aren’t you out there writing books about relationships for all of us to read?!

What you might not like about it
The article is very marriage and monogamy oriented. And, if like me, that’s not your jam, sometimes the assumption of monogamy wears a little on you. It is also debatable whether the idea that the only successful relationship is the one that lasts until one or the other of you dies is actually a healthy idea to be perpetuating. An ended relationship is not necessarily a failed relationship, and advice on how to find The One True relationship may be inadvertently harmful.

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