Every successful relationship is successful for the same exact reasons…

Hey, guess what? I got married two weeks ago. And like most people, I asked some of the older and wiser folks around me for a couple quick words of advice from their own marriages to make sure my wife and I didn’t shit the (same) bed. I think most newlyweds do this, especially after a few cocktails from the open bar they just paid way too much money for.

But, of course, not being satisfied with just a few wise words, I had to take it a step further.

See, I have access to hundreds of thousands of smart, amazing people through my site. So why not consult them? Why not ask them for theirbest relationship/marriage advice? Why not synthesize all of theirwisdom and experience into something straightforward and immediately applicable to any relationship, no matter who you are?

Why not crowdsource THE ULTIMATE RELATIONSHIP GUIDE TO END ALL RELATIONSHIP GUIDES™ from the sea of smart and savvy partners and lovers here?

So, that’s what I did. I sent out the call the week before my wedding: anyone who has been married for 10+ years and is still happy in their relationship, what lessons would you pass down to others if you could? What is working for you and your partner? And if you’re divorced, what didn’t work previously?

The response was overwhelming. Almost 1,500 people replied, many of whom sent in responses measured in pages, not paragraphs. It took almost two weeks to comb through them all, but I did. And what I found stunned me…

They were incredibly repetitive.

That’s not an insult or anything. Actually, it’s kind of the opposite. These were all smart and well-spoken people from all walks of life, from all around the world, all with their own histories, tragedies, mistakes, and triumphs…

And yet they were all saying pretty much the same dozen things.

Which means that those dozen or so things must be pretty damn important… and more importantly, they work.

Here’s what they are:

1. Be together for the right reasons

Don’t ever be with someone because someone else pressured you to. I got married the first time because I was raised Catholic and that’s what you were supposed to do. Wrong. I got married the second time because I was miserable and lonely and thought having a loving wife would fix everything for me. Also wrong. Took me three tries to figure out what should have been obvious from the beginning, the only reason you should ever be with the person you’re with is because you simply love being around them. It really is that simple.

– Greg

Before we even get into what you should do in your relationship, let’s start with what not to do.

When I sent out my request to readers for advice, I added a caveat that turned out to be illuminating. I asked people who were on their second or third (or fourth) marriages what they did wrong. Where did they mess up?

By far, the most common answer was “being with the person for the wrong reasons.”

Some of these wrong reasons included:

  • Pressure from friends and family
  • Feeling like a “loser” because they were single and settling for the first person that came along
  • Being together for image—because the relationship looked good on paper (or in photos), not because the two people actually admired each other
  • Being young and naive and hopelessly in love and thinking that love would solve everything

As we’ll see throughout the rest of this article, everything that makes a relationship “work” (and by work, I mean that it is happy and sustainable for both people involved) requires a genuine, deep-level admiration for each other. Without that mutual admiration, everything else will unravel.

The other “wrong” reason to enter into a relationship is, like Greg said, to “fix” yourself. This desire to use the love of someone else to soothe your own emotional problems inevitably leads to codependence, an unhealthy and damaging dynamic between two people where they tacitly agree to use each other’s love as a distraction from their own self-loathing. We’ll get more into codependence later in this article, but for now, it’s useful to point out that love, itself, is neutral. It is something that can be both healthy or unhealthy, helpful or harmful, depending on why and how you love someone else and are loved by someone else. By itself, love is never enough to sustain a relationship.

2. Have realistic expectations about relationships and romance

You are absolutely not going to be absolutely gaga over each other every single day for the rest of your lives, and all this “happily ever after” bullshit is just setting people up for failure. They go into relationship with these unrealistic expectations. Then, the instant they realize they aren’t “gaga” anymore, they think the relationship is broken and over, and they need to get out. No! There will be days, or weeks, or maybe even longer, when you aren’t all mushy-gushy in-love. You’re even going to wake up some morning and think, “Ugh, you’re still here….” That’s normal! And more importantly, sticking it out is totally worth it, because that, too, will change. In a day, or a week, or maybe even longer, you’ll look at that person and a giant wave of love will inundate you, and you’ll love them so much you think your heart can’t possibly hold it all and is going to burst. Because a love that’s alive is also constantly evolving. It expands and contracts and mellows and deepens. It’s not going to be the way it used to be, or the way it will be, and it shouldn’t be. I think if more couples understood that, they’d be less inclined to panic and rush to break up or divorce.

-Paula

Love is a funny thing. In ancient times, people genuinely considered love a sickness. Parents warned their children against it, and adults quickly arranged marriages before their children were old enough to do something dumb in the name of their emotions.

That’s because love, while making us feel all giddy and high as if we had just snorted a shoebox full of cocaine, makes us highly irrational. We all know that guy (or girl) who dropped out of school, sold their car, and spent the money to elope on the beaches of Tahiti. We all also know that that guy (or girl) ended up sulking back a few years later feeling like a moron, not to mention broke.

That’s unbridled love. It’s nature’s way of tricking us into doing insane and irrational things to procreate with another person—probably because if we stopped to think about the repercussions of having kids, and being with the same person forever and ever, no one would ever do it. As Robin Williams used to joke, “God gave man a brain and a penis and only enough blood to operate one at a time.”

Romantic love is a trap designed to get two people to overlook each other’s faults long enough to get some babymaking done. It generally only lasts for a few years at most. That dizzying high you get staring into your lover’s eyes as if they are the stars that make up the heavens—yeah, that mostly goes away. It does for everybody. So, once it’s gone, you need to know that you’ve buckled yourself down with a human being you genuinely respect and enjoy being with, otherwise things are going to get rocky.

True love—that is, deep, abiding love that is impervious to emotional whims or fancy—is a choice. It’s a constant commitment to a person regardless of the present circumstances. It’s a commitment to a person who you understand isn’t going to always make you happy—nor should they!—and a person who will need to rely on you at times, just as you will rely on them.

That form of love is much harder. Primarily because it often doesn’t feel very good. It’s unglamorous. It’s lots of early morning doctor’s visits. It’s cleaning up bodily fluids you’d rather not be cleaning up. It’s dealing with another person’s insecurities and fears and ideas, even when you don’t want to.

But this form of love is also far more satisfying and meaningful. And, at the end of the day, it brings true happiness, not just another series of highs.

Happily Ever After doesn’t exist. Every day you wake up and decide to love your partner and your life—the good, the bad and the ugly. Some days it’s a struggle and some days you feel like the luckiest person in the world.

– Tara

Many people never learn how to breach this deep, unconditional love. Many people are instead addicted to the ups and downs of romantic love. They are in it for the feels, so to speak. And when the feels run out, so do they.

Many people get into a relationship as a way to compensate for something they lack or hate within themselves. This is a one-way ticket to a toxic relationship because it makes your love conditional—you will love your partner as long as they help you feel better about yourself. You will give to them as long as they give to you. You will make them happy as long as they make you happy.

This conditionality prevents any true, deep-level intimacy from emerging and chains the relationship to the bucking throes of each person’s internal dramas.

3. The most important factor in a relationship is not communication, but respect

What I can tell you is the #1 thing, most important above all else is respect. It’s not sexual attraction, looks, shared goals, religion or lack of, nor is it love. There are times when you won’t feel love for your partner. That is the truth. But you never want to lose respect for your partner. Once you lose respect you will never get it back.

– Laurie

As we scanned through the hundreds of responses we received, my assistant and I began to notice an interesting trend.

People who had been through divorces and/or had only been with their partners for 10-15 years almost always talked about communication being the most important part of making things work. Talk frequently. Talk openly. Talk about everything, even if it hurts.

And there is some merit to that (which I’ll get to later).

But we noticed that the thing people with marriages going on 20, 30, or even 40 years talked about most was respect.

My sense is that these people, through sheer quantity of experience, have learned that communication, no matter how open, transparent and disciplined, will always break down at some point. Conflicts are ultimately unavoidable, and feelings will always be hurt.

And the only thing that can save you and your partner, that can cushion you both to the hard landing of human fallibility, is an unerring respect for one another, the fact that you hold each other in high esteem, believe in one another—often more than you each believe in yourselves—and trust that your partner is doing his/her best with what they’ve got.

Without that bedrock of respect underneath you, you will doubt each other’s intentions. You will judge their choices and encroach on their independence. You will feel the need to hide things from one another for fear of criticism. And this is when the cracks in the edifice begin to appear.

My husband and I have been together 15 years this winter. I’ve thought a lot about what seems to be keeping us together, while marriages around us crumble (seriously, it’s everywhere… we seem to be at that age). The one word that I keep coming back to is “respect.” Of course, this means showing respect, but that is too superficial. Just showing it isn’t enough. You have to feel it deep within you. I deeply and genuinely respect him for his work ethic, his patience, his creativity, his intelligence, and his core values. From this respect comes everything else—trust, patience, perseverance (because sometimes life is really hard and you both just have to persevere). I want to hear what he has to say (even if I don’t agree with him) because I respect his opinion. I want to enable him to have some free time within our insanely busy lives because I respect his choices of how he spends his time and who he spends time with. And, really, what this mutual respect means is that we feel safe sharing our deepest, most intimate selves with each other.

– Nicole

You must also respect yourself. Just as your partner must also respect his/herself. Because without that self-respect, you will not feel worthy of the respect afforded by your partner. You will be unwilling to accept it and you will find ways to undermine it. You will constantly feel the need to compensate and prove yourself worthy of love, which will just backfire.

Respect for your partner and respect for yourself are intertwined. As a reader named Olov put it, “Respect yourself and your wife. Never talk badly to or about her. If you don’t respect your wife, you don’t respect yourself. You chose her—live up to that choice.”

So what does respect look like?

Common examples given by many readers:

  • NEVER talk shit about your partner or complain about them to your friends. If you have a problem with your partner, you should be having that conversation with them, not with your friends. Talking bad about them will erode your respect for them and make you feel worse about being with them, not better.
  • Respect that they have different hobbies, interests, and perspectives from you. Just because you would spend your time and energy differently, doesn’t mean it’s better/worse.
  • Respect that they have an equal say in the relationship, that you are a team, and if one person on the team is not happy, then the team is not succeeding.
  • No secrets. If you’re really in this together and you respect one another, everything should be fair game. Have a crush on someone else? Discuss it. Laugh about it. Had a weird sexual fantasy that sounds ridiculous? Be open about it. Nothing should be off-limits.

Respect goes hand-in-hand with trust. And trust is the lifeblood of any relationship (romantic or otherwise). Without trust, there can be no sense of intimacy or comfort. Without trust, your partner will become a liability in your mind, something to be avoided and analyzed, not a protective homebase for your heart and your mind.

4. Talk openly about everything, especially the stuff that hurts

We always talk about what’s bothering us with each other, not anyone else! We have so many friends who are in marriages that are not working well and they tell me all about what is wrong. I can’t help them, they need to be talking to their spouse about this, that’s the only person who can help them figure it out. If you can figure out a way to be able to always talk with your spouse about what’s bugging you then you can work on the issue.

– Ronnie

There can be no secrets. Secrets divide you. Always.

– Tracey

I receive hundreds of emails from readers each week asking for life advice. A large percentage of these emails involve their struggling romantic relationships.

(These emails, too, are surprisingly repetitive.)

A couple years ago, I discovered that I was answering the vast majority of these relationship emails with the exact same response.

“Take this email you just sent to me, print it out, and show it to your partner. Then come back and ask again.”

This response became so common that I actually put it on my contact form on the site because I was so tired of copying and pasting it.

If something bothers you in the relationship, you must be willing to say it. Saying it builds trust and trust builds intimacy. It may hurt, but you still need to do it. No one else can fix your relationship for you. Nor should anyone else. Just as causing pain to your muscles allows them to grow back stronger, often introducing some pain into your relationship through vulnerability is the only way to make the relationship stronger.

Behind respect, trust was the most commonly mentioned trait for a healthy relationship. Most people mentioned it in the context of jealousy and fidelity—trust your partner to go off on their own, don’t get insecure or angry if you see them talking with someone else, etc.

But trust goes much deeper than that. Because when you’re really talking about the long-haul, you start to get into some serious life-or-death shit. If you ended up with cancer tomorrow, would you trust your partner to stick with you and take care of you? Would you trust your partner to care for your child for a week by themselves? Do you trust them to handle your money or make sound decisions under pressure? Do you trust them to not turn on you or blame you when you make mistakes?

These are hard things to do. And they’re even harder to think about early on in a relationship. Trust at the beginning of a relationship is easy. It’s like, “Oh, I forgot my phone at her apartment, I trust her not to sell it and buy crack with the money… I think.”

But the deeper the commitment, the more intertwined your lives become, and the more you will have to trust your partner to act in your interest in your absence.

There’s an old Ben Folds song where he sings, “It seems to me if you cannot trust, you cannot be trusted.” Distrust has a tendency to breed distrust. If your partner is always snooping through your stuff, accusing you of doing things you didn’t do, and questioning all of your decisions, naturally, you will start to question their intentions as well—Why is she so insecure? What if she is hiding something herself?

The key to fostering and maintaining trust in the relationship is for both partners to be completely transparent and vulnerable:

  • If something is bothering you, say something. This is important not only for addressing issues as they arise, but it proves to your partner that you have nothing to hide.
  • Those icky, insecure things you hate sharing with people? Share them with your partner. Not only is it healing, but you and your partner need to have a good understanding of each other’s insecurities and the way you each choose to compensate for them.
  • Make promises and then stick to them. The only way to truly rebuild trust after it’s been broken is through a proven track record over time. You cannot build that track record until you own up to previous mistakes and set about correcting them.
  • Learn to discern your partner’s own shady behavior from your own insecurities (and vice-versa). This is hard and will likely require confrontation to get to the bottom of. But in most relationship fights, one person thinks something is completely “normal” and the other thinks it’s really grade-A “fucked up.” It’s often extremely hard to distinguish who is being irrational and insecure and who is being reasonable and merely standing up for themselves. Be patient in rooting out what’s what, and when it’s your big, gnarly insecurity (and sometimes it will be, trust me), be honest about it. Own up to it. And strive to be better.

Trust is like a china plate. If you drop it and it breaks, you can put it back together with a lot of work and care. If you drop it and break it a second time, it will split into twice as many pieces and it will require far more time and care to put back together again. But drop and break it enough times, and it will shatter into so many pieces that you will never be able to put it back together again, no matter what you do.

5. A healthy relationship means two healthy individuals

Understand that it is up to you to make yourself happy, it is NOT the job of your spouse. I am not saying you shouldn’t do nice things for each other, or that your partner can’t make you happy sometimes. I am just saying don’t lay expectations on your partner to “make you happy.” It is not their responsibility. Figure out as individuals what makes you happy as an individual, be happy yourself, then you each bring that to the relationship.

– Mandy

A lot is made about “sacrifices” in a relationship. You are supposed to keep the relationship happy by consistently sacrificing yourself for your partner and their wants and needs.

There is some truth to that. Every relationship requires each person to consciously choose to give something up at times.

But the problem is when all of the relationship’s happiness is contingent on the other person and both people are in a constant state of sacrifice. Just read that again. That sounds horrible. It reminds me of an old Marilyn Manson song, “Shoot myself to love you; if I loved myself, I’d be shooting you.” A relationship based on sacrifices cannot be sustained, and will eventually become damaging to both individuals in it.

Shitty, codependent relationships have an inherent stability because you’re both locked in an implicit bargain to tolerate the other person’s bad behavior because they’re tolerating yours, and neither of you wants to be alone. On the surface, it seems like “compromising in relationships because that’s what people do,” but the reality is that resentments build up, and both parties become the other person’s emotional hostage against having to face and deal with their own bullshit (it took me 14 years to realize this, by the way).

– Karen

A healthy and happy relationship requires two healthy and happy individuals. Keyword here: “individuals.” That means two people with their own identities, their own interests and perspectives, and things they do by themselves, on their own time.

This is why attempting to control your partner (or submitting control over yourself to your partner) to make them “happy” ultimately backfires—it allows the individual identities of each person to be destroyed, the very identities that attracted each person and brought them together in the first place.

Don’t try to change them. This is the person you chose. They were good enough to marry so don’t expect them to change now.

– Allison

Don’t ever give up who you are for the person you’re with. It will only backfire and make you both miserable. Have the courage to be who you are, and most importantly, let your partner be who they are. Those are the two people who fell in love with each other in the first place.

– Dave

But how does one do this? Well, it’s a bit counterintuitive. But it’s something hundreds and hundreds of successful couples echoed in their emails…

6. Give each other space

Be sure you have a life of your own, otherwise it is harder to have a life together. What do I mean? Have your own interests, your own friends, your own support network, and your own hobbies. Overlap where you can, but not being identical should give you something to talk about and expose one another to. It helps to expand your horizons as a couple, but isn’t so boring as both living the exact same life.

– Anonymous

Among the emails, one of the most popular themes was the importance of creating space and separation from one another.

People sung the praises of separate checking accounts, separate credit cards, having different friends and hobbies, taking separate vacations from one another each year (this has been a big one in my own relationship). Some even went so far as to recommend separate bathrooms or even separate bedrooms.

Some people are afraid to give their partner freedom and independence. This comes from a lack of trust and/or insecurity that if we give our partner too much space, they will discover they don’t want to be with us anymore. Generally, the more uncomfortable we are with our own worthiness in the relationship and to be loved, the more we will try to control the relationship and our partner’s behaviors.

BUT, more importantly, this inability to let our partners be who they are, is a subtle form of disrespect. After all, if you can’t trust your husband to have a simple golfing trip with his buddies, or you’re afraid to let your wife go out for drinks after work, what does that say about your respect for their ability to handle themselves well? What does it say for your respect for yourself? I mean, after all, if you believe a couple after-work drinks is enough to steer your girlfriend away from you, you clearly don’t think too highly of yourself.

Going on seventeen years. If you love your partner enough you will let them be who they are, you don’t own them, who they hang with, what they do or how they feel. Drives me nuts when I see women not let their husbands go out with the guys or are jealous of other women.

– Natalie

7. You and your partner will grow and change in unexpected ways; embrace it

Over the course of 20 years we both have changed tremendously. We have changed faiths, political parties, numerous hair colors and styles, but we love each other and possibly even more. Our grown kids constantly tell their friends what hopeless romantics we are. And the biggest thing that keeps us strong is not giving a fuck about what anyone else says about our relationship.

– Dotti

One theme that came up repeatedly, especially with those married 20+ years, was how much each individual changes as the decades roll on, and how ready each of you have to be to embrace the other partner as these changes occur. One reader commented that at her wedding, an elderly family member told her, “One day many years from now, you will wake up and your spouse will be a different person, make sure you fall in love with that person too.”

It logically follows that if there is a bedrock of respect for each individual’s interest and values underpinning the relationship, and each individual is encouraged to foster their own growth and development, that each person will, as time goes on, evolve in different and unexpected ways. It’s then up to the couple to communicate and make sure that they are consistently a) aware of the changes going on in their partner, and b) continually accepting and respecting those changes as they occur.

Now, you’re probably reading this and thinking, “Sure, Bill likes sausage now, but in a few years he might prefer steak. I can get on board with that.”

No, I’m talking some pretty serious life changes. Remember, if you’re going to spend decades together, some really heavy shit will hit (and break) the fan. Among major life changes people told me their marriages went through (and survived): changing religions, moving countries, death of family members (including children), supporting elderly family members, changing political beliefs, even changing sexual orientation, and in a couple cases, gender identification.

Amazingly, these couples survived because their respect for each other allowed them to adapt and allow each person to continue to flourish and grow.

When you commit to someone, you don’t actually know who you’re committing to. You know who they are today, but you have no idea who this person is going to be in five years, ten years, and so on. You have to be prepared for the unexpected, and truly ask yourself if you admire this person regardless of the superficial (or not-so-superficial) details, because I promise almost all of them at some point are going to either change or go away.

– Michael

But this isn’t easy, of course. In fact, at times, it will be downright soul-destroying.

Which is why you need to make sure you and your partner know how to fight.

8. Get good at fighting

The relationship is a living, breathing thing. Much like the body and muscles, it cannot get stronger without stress and challenge. You have to fight. You have to hash things out. Obstacles make the marriage.

– Ryan Saplan

John Gottman is a hot-shit psychologist and researcher who has spent over 30 years analyzing married couples and looking for keys to why they stick together and why they break up. Chances are, if you’ve read any relationship advice article before, you’ve either directly or indirectly been exposed to his work. When it comes to, “Why do people stick together?” he dominates the field.

What Gottman does is he gets married couples in a room, puts some cameras on them, and then he asks them to have a fight.

Notice: he doesn’t ask them to talk about how great the other person is. He doesn’t ask them what they like best about their relationship.

He asks them to fight. Pick something they’re having problems with and talk about it for the camera.

And from simply analyzing the film for the couple’s discussion (or shouting match, whatever), he’s able to predict with startling accuracy whether a couple will divorce or not.

But what’s most interesting about Gottman’s research is that the things that lead to divorce are not necessarily what you think. Successful couples, like unsuccessful couples, he found, fight consistently. And some of them fight furiously.

He has been able to narrow down four characteristics of a couple that tend to lead to divorces (or breakups). He has gone on and called these “the four horsemen” of the relationship apocalypse in his books. They are:

  1. Criticizing your partner’s character (“You’re so stupid” vs “That thing you did was stupid”)
  2. Defensiveness (or basically, blame shifting, “I wouldn’t have done that if you weren’t late all the time”)
  3. Contempt (putting down your partner and making them feel inferior)
  4. Stonewalling (withdrawing from an argument and ignoring your partner)

The reader emails back this up as well. Out of the 1,500-some-odd emails, almost every single one referenced the importance of dealing with conflicts well.

Advice given by readers included:

  • Never insult or name-call your partner. Put another way: hate the sin, love the sinner. Gottman’s research found that “contempt”—belittling and demeaning your partner—is the number one predictor of divorce.
  • Do not bring previous fights/arguments into current ones. This solves nothing and just makes the fight twice as bad as it was before. Yeah, you forgot to pick up groceries on the way home, but what does him being rude to your mother last Thanksgiving have to do with anything?
  • If things get too heated, take a breather. Remove yourself from the situation and come back once emotions have cooled off a bit. This is a big one for me personally—sometimes when things get intense with my wife, I get overwhelmed and just leave for a while. I usually walk around the block two or three times and let myself seethe for about 15 minutes. Then I come back and we’re both a bit calmer and we can resume the discussion with a much more conciliatory tone.
  • Remember that being “right” is not as important as both people feeling respected and heard. You may be right, but if you are right in such a way that makes your partner feel unloved, then there’s no real winner.

But all of this takes for granted another important point: be willing to fight in the first place.

I think when people talk about the necessity for “good communication” all of the time (a vague piece of advice that everyone says but few people seem to actually clarify what it means), this is what they mean: be willing to have the uncomfortable talks. Be willing to have the fights. Say the ugly things and get it all out in the open.

This was a constant theme from the divorced readers. Dozens (hundreds?) of them had more or less the same sad story to tell:

But there’s no way on God’s Green Earth this is her fault alone. There were times when I saw huge red flags. Instead of trying to figure out what in the world was wrong, I just plowed ahead. I’d buy more flowers, or candy, or do more chores around the house. I was a “good” husband in every sense of the word. But what I wasn’t doing was paying attention to the right things. She wasn’t telling me there wasn’t a problem but there was. And instead of saying something, I ignored all of the signals.

– Jim

9. Get good at forgiving

When you end up being right about something—shut up. You can be right and be quiet at the same time. Your partner will already know you’re right and will feel loved knowing that you didn’t wield it like a bastard sword.

– Brian

In marriage, there’s no such thing as winning an argument.

– Bill

To me, perhaps the most interesting nugget from Gottman’s research is the fact that most successful couples don’t actually resolve all of their problems. In fact, his findings were completely backwards from what most people actually expect: people in lasting and happy relationships have problems that never completely go away, while couples that feel as though they need to agree and compromise on everything end up feeling miserable and falling apart.

To me, like everything else, this comes back to the respect thing. If you have two different individuals sharing a life together, it’s inevitable that they will have different values and perspectives on some things and clash over it. The key here is not changing the other person—as the desire to change your partner is inherently disrespectful (to both them and yourself)—but rather it’s to simply abide by the difference, love them despite it, and when things get a little rough around the edges, to forgive them for it.

Everyone says that compromise is key, but that’s not how my husband and I see it. It’s more about seeking understanding. Compromise is bullshit, because it leaves both sides unsatisfied, losing little pieces of themselves in an effort to get along. On the other hand, refusing to compromise is just as much of a disaster, because you turn your partner into a competitor (“I win, you lose”). These are the wrong goals, because they’re outcome-based rather than process-based. When your goal is to find out where your partner is coming from—to truly understand on a deep level—you can’t help but be altered by the process. Conflict becomes much easier to navigate because you see more of the context.

– Michelle

I’ve written for years that the key to happiness is not achieving your lofty dreams, or experiencing some dizzying high, but rather finding the struggles and challenges that you enjoy enduring.

A similar concept seems to be true in relationships: your perfect partner is not someone who creates no problems in the relationship, rather your perfect partner is someone who creates problems in the relationship that you feel good about dealing with.

But how do you get good at forgiving? What does that actually mean? Again, some advice from the readers:

  • When an argument is over, it’s over. Some couples went as far as to make this the golden rule in their relationship. When you’re done fighting, it doesn’t matter who was right and who was wrong, it doesn’t matter if someone was mean and someone was nice. It’s over. It’s in the past. And you both agree to leave it there, not bring it up every month for the next three years.
  • There’s no scoreboard. No one is trying to “win” here. There’s no, “You owe me this because you screwed up the laundry last week.” There��s no, “I’m always right about financial stuff, so you should listen to me.” There’s no, “I bought her three gifts and she only did me one favor.” Everything in the relationship is given and done unconditionally—that is: without expectation or manipulation.
  • When your partner screws up, you separate the intentions from the behavior. You recognize the things you love and admire in your partner and understand that he/she was simply doing the best that they could, yet messed up out of ignorance. Not because they’re a bad person. Not because they secretly hate you and want to divorce you. Not because there’s somebody else in the background pulling them away from you. They are a good person. That’s why you are with them. If you ever lose your faith in that, then you will begin to erode your faith in yourself.

And finally, pick your battles wisely. You and your partner only have so many fucks to give, make sure you both are saving them for the real things that matter.

Been happily married 40+ years. One piece of advice that comes to mind: choose your battles. Some things matter, worth getting upset about. Most do not. Argue over the little things and you’ll find yourself arguing endlessly; little things pop up all day long, it takes a toll over time. Like Chinese water torture: minor in the short term, corrosive over time. Consider: is this a little thing or a big thing? Is it worth the cost of arguing?

– Fred

10. The little things add up to big things

If you don’t take the time to meet for lunch, go for a walk or go out to dinner and a movie with some regularity then you basically end up with a roommate. Staying connected through life’s ups and downs is critical. Eventually your kids grow up, your obnoxious brother-in-law will join a monastery and your parents will die. When that happens, guess who’s left? You got it… Mr./Mrs. Right! You don’t want to wake up 20 years later and be staring at a stranger because life broke the bonds you formed before the shitstorm started. You and your partner need to be the eye of the hurricane.

– Brian

Of the 1,500 responses I got, I’d say about half of them mentioned at some point or another one simple but effective piece of advice: Don’t ever stop doing the little things. They add up.

Things as simple as saying, “I love you,” before going to bed, holding hands during a movie, doing small favors here and there, helping with some household chores. Even cleaning up when you accidentally pee on the toilet seat (seriously, someone said that)—these things all matter and add up over the long run.

The same way Fred, married for 40+ years, stated above that arguing over small things consistently wears you both down, “like Chinese water torture,” so do the little favors and displays of affection add up. Don’t lose them.

This seems to become particularly important once kids enter the picture. The big message I heard hundreds of times about kids: put the marriage first.

Children are worshipped in our culture these days. Parents are expected to sacrifice everything for them. But the best way to raise healthy and happy kids is to maintain a healthy and happy marriage. Good kids don’t make a good marriage. A good marriage makes good kids. So keep your marriage the top priority.

– Susan

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The Difference Between Being in Love and Falling in Love

Love is a complicated thing, it comes in many different forms and is a lot more painful than most other things. We tend to confuse a lot of things for love and I guess that is one of our biggest faults.

Being ‘in love’ is a lot different from just loving someone. It is something that does not happen nearly as often as we think it does and leads us down some pretty disastrous roads. We might fall in love with a few different people throughout our lifetimes and we might never truly fall for anyone, that varies from person to person.

When we love we rarely do so in the manner we should. We are capable of giving so much more than we do. You see, the problem with falling in love is that you will fall out of love sometimes as well.

When we fall in love with someone and truly love them falling out of love is not possible. Our love is something that happens after all the fun has died down and the ‘honeymoon’ phase is over. It is accepting that person for who he or she is and it is moving forward with them through the good the bad and the ugly.

When we truly love someone their flaws will not be flaws. When we truly love someone we allow them to become a real part of who we are. We grow with them and feel safe in their presence.

You see when we do not truly love someone, and we begin falling out of love with them everything within the relationship changes. We drive wedges between one another and we don’t focus on the positive sides of well, anything. Sadly, in situations like that usually, one person is pulling away while the other is struggling to cling on.

Real genuine love is not something everyone finds in a partner and it is not something that can be summed up in few words. This is a kind of love that our world does not see often. Love is being able to stick by someone’s side even when it is almost impossible to do so. It is focusing on experiencing one another in all possible ways and being able to open up completely.

When you truly love someone you don’t have to figure out how to say things or force yourself to sit down and talk through your problems. You do these things automatically without even having to think about it. Everything operates smoothly and you are both on the same page.

Sure, we might want to believe that all the couples in this world are in love, but that just isn’t realistic now, is it? Sometimes people end up together for reasons that have nothing to do with love at all. While I am in no way bashing those people I do think they deserve real love. They should go out and find it whether they are going to do so or not.

Love is painful, hard to face, confusing, overwhelming, and so much more. It is making sure your needs and the needs of this other person are met. It is going above and beyond to put a smile on that person’s face time and time again. It is a rollercoaster of emotions and a whirlwind of surprise.

Just because it is rare doesn’t mean it cannot be found. While most people never actually find love like this or love in this way we are all capable. Do not settle when it comes to partner’s, if love is what you seek, find it.

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Forgiveness Can Improve Your Health

Not only that, your body depends on it.

Let us shed some light on the correlation between forgiveness and good health. You need to be aware of the dangers of holding a grudge and what it means to your body and to know the benefits of forgiveness. According to John Hopkins Medicine, “chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.”

It is why so many wise people talked of forgiveness, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Bruce Lee, John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and others. Lest we forget, TRUE forgiveness is when you want the best for the person that has wronged you. Research from the Journal of Health Psychology has seen that forgiveness by itself all but erased the connection in stress with mental illness, but they need more research into why that is so. Can forgiveness be learned? Boffins believe so, which is why mental health professionals try to integrate it into therapy sessions and for people to work on it at home.

It is very important to think about your situation and what has happened to you, identifying with the causes of your pent-up anger and meeting them head on, dealing with them with self-love. If you must, talk to the people who caused you harm and tell them how it made you feel. Do whatever it takes to free yourself from the chains of anger, the key to unlock yourself is forgiveness. It is good for your health in general and it makes you a more positive-oriented person, with more charisma and a zest for life.

There is a story of Buddha when a man spat in his face while talking to his disciples. He wiped off the spit and asked the man what he wanted to say next. Puzzled, the man was thrown off balance as this was not the usual reaction to being spat in the face. The man returned home and could not sleep that night, clearly consumed by the experience, as he was soaking his bed sheets with sweat. The next day, the man went back to Buddha and threw himself at Buddha’s feet, asking for forgiveness.

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Buddha said that he was not the same man as the previous day, that the river keeps on flowing and is never the same again, for every man is a river and much has happened in twenty-four hours. He added that the man was also not the same. He had changed from being a man who spat in someone’s face to throwing himself to the feet of the person at whom he spat. Buddha finished by telling him to come closer and talk of something else. In this story, forgiveness is implied and not even the precise words are needed to say that you forgive, or you have been forgiven.

We end with this quote from Mark Twain: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Forgiveness is what you give for having a healthy, happy life smelling of roses.

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Twin Flames

Much has been written about the concept of Twin Flames, with many channeled opinions and deep beliefs in current circulation.  It would seem that this is the time when the interest in this subject is rising with the reality of its manifestation.  Men and women all over the world are finding themselves in situations where they meet their Twin and nothing can ever be the same again.  But what is a Twin Flame?

It is said that Twin Flames, also called Twin Souls, are literally the other half of our soul. Each of the Twins is a ‘complete’ soul in and of itself; in as much as we can describe a part of the whole as being distinctly ‘complete’.  But together both souls create something more.

Some believe that we each have only one Twin, from which we chose to move apart and effectively go our separate ways, incarnating over many lifetimes, generating a full spectrum of human experience and moving ever closer to expressing more love in the journey to remembering who we truly are.

It is said that there will be times, when the forces of Creation, driven by the impulse of Life to express every greater beauty and truth, conspire wonderfully to bring the Twins back together again.  Such a reunion holds the promise of something amazing emerging from the power and passion that represents the potential of the Twin relationship.  This reconnection of the One Soul, at a human level, involves the awareness, balance and integration of our masculine and feminine components, raising individual and joint consciousness.  It is also said that the Twins come back together in their last lifetime on the Planet, so that they can ascend together.

Some characteristics of the Reunion are shared by many; such as the initial meeting being wholly unexpected and unanticipated, and in many cases unwanted.  Both Twins may already be in solid committed relationships, many with family and fully established lives.  Both Twins will have evolved independently, to the point of being relatively happy in themselves, and quite sure of their purpose and mission.  Normally, this union tends to be between two relatively evolved souls.  However, when they meet, and recognise each other, a process begins that can challenge and disrupt their lives in ways that neither could have imagined.

Traditionally, when this happened in indigenous cultures, there was an understanding of the phenomenon; and the tribe, village or community would support both families in moving towards the potential – as it was believed to be something that would eventually benefit and elevate everyone.  However, in today’s society, there is oftentimes not this level of awareness and compassion, and the Twins movement towards their shared destiny is seen as fundamentally ‘bad’ and destructive.

But it must be remembered that the ultimate reality of this relationship is to explore and express Love in a way that can inspire and guide others to do the same.  The experience invites and offers the Twins a profound opportunity to reach towards and make manifest a Love that knows no bounds or limits; a Love that can carry them and anyone who feels the energy, to a deeper sense of Self Love and desire to serve all of Life.  It involves the generation of a shared destiny that is far greater than either Twin could realise on their own.

The most difficult part of the process can be the desire to integrate the relationship into pre-existing structures.  Many times this is just not possible.  One or both Twins may feel that it is all a bit too much, and collapse or retreat back into their previous lives.  Other times both Twins strive courageously, and with great faith and imagination, to build a life that honours the truth of who they are to their Twin, and their very real existing commitments to their families and communities.  Ultimately, this relationship is borne from Love, and it is elevated by Love.  And as with so much else in the human experience, the level of difficulty and pain experienced and expressed is a perfect reflection of the level of resistance (individual and collective) to what IS, or what is meant to be.

Until quite recently, it was believed that Twin Flame couples finding each other was a very rare event on the Planet.  However, there now appears to be more and more people experiencing this phenomenon, perhaps as an inevitable aspect of an apparent acceleration of spiritual awareness and general consciousness at this profound time of planetary evolution.  People appear to be more and more ready for this possibility, and are preparing themselves at a soul level to manifest the opportunity.

It must be understood, that despite how the relationship might appear to others, it is primarily one that involves spiritual service to the Great Unfolding.  This is the main reason for the Twins finding and reconnecting to each other, as the relationship generates a massive amount of creative energy, which is utilised not just for their own evolution but for the good of all.  The Universe is orchestrating this spiritual potential, and realising it through these unions.  It is a fast and very efficient remedy in the service to the rising expression of consciousness on the planet.

At a human level, where the fear, confusion and resistance tends to manifest, it is sometimes difficult to know if you have met your Twin, or if the intensity of attraction being experienced is actually due to some expression of karmic entanglement.  There are no litmus tests that can be carried out to distinguish the truth of this; it comes down to the depth of feeling and the attraction at a soul and spirit level.  This cannot be meaningfully shared or described to other people, and it remains a sacred secret that exists between the Twins themselves.

It is worth noting, that even if you are completely sure that you have met your Twin, there is absolutely no guarantee that one or both of you will be able to face or indeed survive the intensity of the relationship.  This intensity expresses primarily at a soul level, but will reach out and affect all other aspects of our being.  In such cases, the meeting may act as a catalyst for a conscious acceleration of spiritual development for one or both Twins, which may bring them closer to being able to be together at a practical level.  In essence, the ability to stay together and manifest a coherent and integral life together, including the loving elevation of the families involved, depends on the strength, soul level awareness and overall commitment and service to Love.

One primary element of the the Twin Flame relationship is that your Twin knows you better than any other person in the Universe, even if you have not had much or indeed any time together in ‘real’ life.  This Knowing transcends, experience, personality or habitual behavioural programming, and provides an impetus for change that is fast and furious.  Anything that needs healing is healed; anything that needs letting go of, is let go.  If it isn’t then the Twins know this and together they move towards its resolution, rapidly.

With many Twin Flame reunions, there may even not be a shared language, as they come from very different countries, cultures and backgrounds.  Yet there is a deep similarity, or resonance, that is unmistakable in its expression and presentation.  Each Twin will have their own connection to Spirit, but together it seems as if the communication is enhanced and optimised.  Twins will rapidly establish and utilise a telepathic connection that is very deep and often comic in its expression.  When you look at your Twin, hold them, kiss them, be with them, it is felt with the intense sensation that you have arrived HOME.  Time together is like being in an oasis in the middle of a desert, or seeing the Sun after a year in darkness.  All relationships up to the point of meeting served to prepare the Twins for this.

Twin Flame Love is not automatically expressed as romantic love, although there will be romantic moments.  It is not merely a strong, physical sexual attraction, but that is often a fundamental component.  Basically if you meet your Twin, you will begin to experience a massive internal shake up, a spiritual revolution, which initiates a greater understanding of yourself and the meaning of Divine Oneness.  It is an opportunity to experience and express unconditional Love.  This is the greatest gifts being offered by this relationship.

At a human level, the Twin Flame relationship is a forge of heart activity and continuous spiritual, emotional, mental and physical testing.  Both parties will simultaneously offer the other a chance to let go of old patterns and programs that limit love, and to move towards greater love in all aspects of their lives.  There will be little or no manipulation, as the other feels this intimately and shuts it down immediately.  Your Twin invites you to look into the crystal clear mirror of beauty and truth, to see yourself as you really are, and at the same time holds that vision for you, without condition, doubt or hesitation.

This relationship is rarely ‘easy’, and will continue to confound and confuse, evoking fear and doubt, and will spread out like a virus (not automatically a bad thing…) infecting and affecting all others in the orbit of this Binary (Twin) Star system.  It will challenge everyone on every level.  It will push each Twin to integrate their masculine and feminine, and to move towards greater self love; the stepping stone to true unconditional Love.  This potential offers the possibility of a love that will endure beyond space and time.  There really is no choice.  It is the beautiful truth.  It is the Beauty and the Truth combined, expressing as Love.

A final word of gentle caution is offered here.  As more people become aware of the Twin Flame concept, there is an understandable increase in their desire to experience such a union.  This can rapidly become an obsession, creating a massive imbalance in our lives and the lives of our friends and families.  We begin to look at everyone we meet, and judge or gauge the meeting relative to this singular vision or dream, which in effect can not just limit our learning that is meant to be derived from these relationships, but can also push away the very experience we are seeking.

We need to surrender such thinking, trust in the ‘Plan’, and feel gratitude for the very simple yet profound gift of just being alive in this very rich time.  Even if we feel and are convinced that we have met our Twin, what does it really matter?  That is to say, what difference does it make, in human terms?  The relationship, regardless of its ‘title’ or marketed packaging, will still provide ample opportunity to grow and evolve, and to explore and express more love.  Remember it is all about experiencing and generating more Love.

It is worth noting that even in the most vibrant of gardens, not every plant or flower opens at the same time.  If they did, then there could be no evolution, no experience of change, and no opportunities to perceive the beauty of each moment; and yet strive towards ever more.  Similarly, not everyone is destined to meet their Twin in this life, nor would it be useful to do so, in terms of the overall evolution of consciousness on the planet.

In finishing, it can be said that the Twin Flame relationship can be seen as a bridge to greater understanding and integration of Love.  It brings both Twins and all in their light to a higher state of being and consciousness.  It gives them opportunity to serve something so much bigger than their previous sense, gifting and blessing them with a mission that will affect all life at a planetary level, and beyond.  The individuals within the pairing are not so important; it is the combination of their strengths and capacity to love that opens the doors to loving emergence for all.

So be open.  Seek every opportunity to feel and manifest a greater sense of self love.  Prepare yourself without attachment.  Regardless of whether you meet your Twin or not, you will be moving towards more love and beauty in your life.