What makes one relationship last, while another falls apart? Why do you seem to have found your dream relationship, only to have it turn into a nightmare? Your partner may seem perfect, but it takes more than shallow commonalities to make a relationship work. Just because things are amazing in the beginning doesn’t mean that everything is going to work out on it’s own.
If you’ve ever wondered whether she’s “the one”, or you want to know if your relationship has what it takes to go the distance, then you need to answer these questions.
- Why people end up in cycles of relationships that SEEM great, but fall apart within six months
- How “New Relationship Energy” can hide relationship destroying flaws
- What you REALLY need to have in common to make a relationship last
- Why the way you fight may be more important than your “love languages”
- What sexual compatibility REALLY means
… and so much more.
Are You Ready For A Girlfriend? — https://www.doctornerdlove.com/are-you-ready-for-a-girlfriend/
Is She Right For You? — https://www.doctornerdlove.com/is-she-right-for-you/
5 Questions You Should Ask Before You Start Your Next Relationship — https://www.doctornerdlove.com/5-questions-you-should-ask-when-you-start-relationship/
Are You Sexually Compatible? — https://www.doctornerdlove.com/are-you-sexually-compatible/
How To Have The “Defining The Relationship” Talk — https://www.doctornerdlove.com/defining-the-relationship/
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Want more dating advice? Check out my books at www.www.doctornerdlove.com/books
Hey everyone, Harris O’Malley from doctornerdlove.com, brought to you by my generous patrons at patreon.com/drnerdlove and today, I want to keep you from destroying your relationship… before it even starts.
But before we get to that specifically, let’s talk about a common problem, and one that’s only getting worse during the quarantine.
This is gonna take a minute to set up so just stick with me.
Like a lot of people, I spend far too much time on Twitter.
Seriously, it’s a sickness.
Two of my favorite Twitter accounts are, of course, relationships.txt and Am I The Asshole, both of which feature people writing in to ask subreddits full of strangers to weigh in on their problems — many of which involve issues within their relationships.
And more often than not, the problems tend to be symptoms of deeper issues, rather than simple miscommunication or unfortunate but understandable total fuck-ups.
In fact, many times the problem is in the relationship ITSELF… occasionally including relationships that are so obviously bad that it leaves people scratching their heads and wondering how in pluperfect hell these folks have been together for so long, or for that matter how they even started dating in the first place.
That’s actually an important question, because right now, there are a lot of folks who are starved for even basic human contact, never mind dates or relationships. And that desire to meet a very primal need can lead to folks pursuing relationships with people who are utterly WRONG for them.
In fact, a lot of people end up in cycles of dates and relationships that can SEEM great at first, but end up becoming massive trash fires within six months.
If they make it that long.
But honestly, the folks who keep it going for the long haul aren’t really doing any better. In fact, they tend to have a harder time confronting the truth: that this relationship isn’t working for them and hasn’t been for a very long time. They get caught up in what’s known as the Sunk Cost Fallacy, where they don’t want to admit that their relationship is making them miserable because that would mean admitting that they had wasted all that time they’ve spent in a relationship with that person. They tend to assume that the pain of leaving and being single again would be worse than the pain of staying. Even if that seemingly lesser pain just continues to add up, month after month, year after year.
I mean… been there, done that. My first relationship was incredibly toxic, to the point that my friends started trying to figure out if there was a way to stage an intervention when they realized my girlfriend was isolating me from everyone.
And I stayed with her for four YEARS.
Part of the problem, why so many of us fall for unsuitable partners, comes down to the fact that we are VERY good at convincing ourselves someone is actually right for us.
Why? Because, well…
Mostly because we WANT them to be right for us.
“Sure we fight all the time, she thinks my hobbies are stupid and she doesn’t like me seeing my friends but… she’s so damn hot, bro”!
But joking aside, it’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement that comes with the early stages of a relationship — what’s known as “new relationship energy”, where you’re getting lost in the oxytocin and dopamine rush that comes from meeting and sleeping with someone new. But at the same time, that rush can gloss over the fact that you don’t actually know them nearly as well as you think.
Other times, you’ll have people who fall into the “Somebody, Anybody, Everybody” trap, where they’re just trying to fill the hole in their lives marked “girlfriend” and they aren’t particularly choosy about who’s going to fill it, so long as someone does.
And I sympathize; when you’re feeling desperately lonely, it’s very easy to think that you could be ok with a person you’re not actually compatible with because at least it’s SOMEONE. But the truth is: being with the wrong person is actually worse than being single. It’s worse to be lonely because you’re with the wrong person than it is to be lonely because you’re alone.
Of course, the other part of the problem is that people very rarely put a lot of thought into what they actually need from a long-term partner, or even how to go looking for it. A lot of folks tend to rely on what amounts to intuition or “I’ll just know,” which, doesn’t really work. Because let’s be honest: a whole lot of dickful thinking mixed with that new relationship energy at the start tends to make us gloss over a whole lot of flaws.
Good sex tends to make people kinda stupid.
Think of how many people do YOU know who jumped into a relationship with someone, only to realize down the line that they got along like nitro and glycerine because hey… they fuck real good.
OK, maybe not even THAT good.
More often than not, folks don’t actually look for the REAL qualities that make for a successful relationship. And it goes beyond just having similar tastes in music or television. A person being “right” for you means more than their body type, their hobbies and passions or even similar lifestyles. It’s about whether or not you actually mesh well together — not just in the good times or the places where it’s easy and fun, but in the difficult or even unpleasant parts of the relationship. The times that challenge your commitment to one another, or even make you wonder if you made a mistake being with them.
But that’s why today, I want to help give you the tools to determine whether this relationship is right for you.
I am giving you the questions that YOU need to answer that will help you understand how well you ACTUALLY know your partner — and how well your partner knows you. Trust me when I tell you: you want to be able to answer all of these before you decide whether you’re ready to go all in.
Question Number One: What do you ACTUALLY have in common?
This question is tricky, which is why I bring it up first. It’s very easy to focus on surface commonalities: having the same taste in movies, whether you both like video games or you enjoy road trips.
The truth is, the fact that someone likes the same music or TV shows you do, doesn’t actually make them your soul mate. The things that help create a long-lasting relationship are the deeper commonalities, your core values. When those don’t line up, it can be very difficult — not impossible, but difficult — to make the relationship work; there’s almost always a ticking time-bomb that’s waiting to go off.
This is why you want to know what’s REALLY important to your partner… and to you. Someone who’s incredibly close to their family and sees that as being an important part of their life, for example, may not do well with someone who expects to live on the other side of the world from their nearest and dearest. Someone who doesn’t see much value in the arts or humanities and thinks that STEM is the end-all/be-all of career paths is probably not going to do well with someone who values creativity or wants a career in music or writing.
At the same time: what’s their background? Do they come from a similar economic, educational or social background as you? Can they relate to your experiences growing up, or is your upbringing a foreign concept to them?
What about their beliefs — are they spiritual? Is religion important to them? If so, then in what way? Is it for the ritual and the community? Because they’re a believer and they find comfort or inspiration from it? What about you? Do you share their faith? Or is it something that you can’t stand?
And for that matter: what’s their vision for their future? Not for the two of you, but how they see their life unfolding. That includes things like their career goals, or whether they see themselves having children or not. Do they see family as being important to their future, and if so, how? And — importantly — what kind of relationship do they see themselves having in their future? Are THEY ultimately looking for a life-long partner? Or is settling down for something traditional not a priority in their life?
Question Number Two: Do they know how their behavior impacts others?
You wouldn’t think this would be something that people need to ask, but then again… this is one of the things that comes up a LOT in long-term relationships. There’re a lot of people out there who are ultimately very self-centered. Not necessarily in a malicious way; some folks are young and immature, others simply need time to grow. They’re not evil, they’re not cruel or manipulative. They’re just focused on themselves and don’t see much past their own interests, ambitions or goals. They’re wrapped up in their own bullshit and don’t realize how of much what they do is affecting other people.
But the fact that they didn’t MEAN to hurt or neglect you or others doesn’t make it less painful.
And just to be clear: that means more than self-awareness. The old meme of “I’m a bitch or an asshole but that’s ok because I know it” is bullshit. Someone being aware of their shitty tendencies doesn’t make it ok.
The same goes for that famous quote: “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best”. Having flaws is a part being human, and going into a relationship means accepting that your partner is going to be flawed, just as you are. You can’t have only the good parts of a person in a relationship. But by that same token, just being aware of their flaws doesn’t give people a pass. Working on them, trying improve on them and recognizing how they affect the other people in their lives are signs of maturity and emotional intelligence. Insisting that “I’m flawed, I do things that hurt people and you can either take me or leave me” is a good indicator that you should probably leave.
You want to date someone who has not just awareness, but empathy, and COMPASSION. And that includes not just a willingness to apologize, but also a willingness to forgive.
Question Number Three: How do they respond to your boundaries?
If your partner brushes up on one of your boundaries or limits, how do they respond? Do they respect them? Do they get upset that you have them, especially if it conflicts with something they want? Do they question why you have that particular boundary in the first place? And if they do, do they accept your reasons for having them, even if that reason is just “…because”?
How somebody responds to your having boundaries is going to tell you a LOT about them. I’ve personally been in relationships with people who felt that the fact that I drew a line in the sand SOMEWHERE — didn’t matter where, or over what — was a sign that I didn’t trust them or care about them enough to “let them in”. The fact that I had that boundary meant that there was something “wrong” with our relationship and that my reasons were just not sufficient, as far as she was concerned.
Needless to say: this wasn’t a healthy relationship and when it ended, I was a LOT happier.
It’s important to note: you can set your boundaries or limits wherever you choose. But that means that sometimes people will decide that your boundaries are unreasonable or are too much for them and that’s their cue to go. That doesn’t automatically mean that they’re a bad person and you scared away a potential abuser; sometimes it’s just a sign that you and they were incompatible. They had their own needs or their own limits. Someone who doesn’t want to make a monogamous commitment and requires an open relationship, for example, will take a limit of “I require exclusivity from my partners” as pushing against their own boundary.
And that’s just life. Sometimes folks — even people you’d prefer to stick around — will see where your needs or limits are and say, no thanks, that’s where *I* draw the line. The the price of setting your boundaries wherever you choose is that sometimes other people will disagree and peace out.
Question Number 4: What’s their fighting style?
It doesn’t matter how amazing your partner is. It doesn’t matter how in love you are. You could be so close that you and your partner are the inspiration for The Human Centipede 3, but at some point, ONE of you is going to push the other past the limits of their medication and you’re gonna fight.
What you’re fighting about? Not really important. What IS important is HOW you fight.
Most of you have heard about the 5 Love Languages and how that affects how couples communicate. In fact, I just published a column with a question involving a couple with conflicting love languages. People ALSO have different fighting styles too… and sometimes those styles clash, especially if you don’t recognize their fighting… language.
Look, I’m still workshoping this.
Some people, for example, blow up like Mt. Saint Helens, but cool down just as quickly. However, for some folks, especially people who may not realize this is how their partner operates, that can be incredibly intimidating, even triggering.
Other people get very, VERY quiet and serious, which can mean that sometimes you miss the warning signs that shit’s getting real. You may be the type of person who goes and tries to walk off their anger before they deal with the issue… and your partner may think that this means you’re either ignoring them, dismissing their concerns, or actively disrespecting them.
Or one of you may be the sort of person who tears up as a reaction to ANY high level of emotion, leaving the other feeling like they’re being emotionally blackmailed into giving in because arguing with someone who’s crying makes them the asshole.
Understanding how you and your partner respond to conflict can be an important part of actually RESOLVING the issue. Many times, the fact that couples have different ways of fighting can lead to greater misunderstandings.
But the way they fight goes beyond the way they react when they get angry or upset.
Are they someone who fights to fix things… or do they fight to wound? Are they the sort of person who ends up saying things that they can’t take back when they get heated up, or do they de-escalate.
Just as importantly: when the fight is over, and the issue’s been resolved, do they let it go? Or do they hold on to grudges like a passive-aggressive squirrel storing hate-nuts for the winter?
When you and your partner don’t know each other’s fighting styles or how you try to resolve a conflict, you may end up making things WORSE instead of better. What seems like trying to fix things to YOU may feel to them like you’re dragging up old grievances or refusing to let things go — or that you’re refusing to acknowledge the validity of their feelings. Now instead of actually putting out the fire, you’ve both ended up dropping 500 pounds of FUCK THIS, FUCK THAT and FUCK YOU all over it.
Understanding how you both fight is important because until you’re on the same page, you’re both basically juggling jars of nitroglycerine. You may not drop it THIS time, but you only have to screw up once to blow it all to hell.
Question Number 5: Are you sexually compatible?
This is one of the hardest questions to answer because, frankly, it’s VERY easy to be on the same page at first, when it’s all new and hot and y’all are banging out on every available surface that’ll support your weight.
But sexual compatibility isn’t about wanting to bang or thinking your partner’s got a body to make a priest kick in a stained glass window. It’s not about wanting each other, it’s about needs and expectations.
Sexual frequency is an obvious one. In an ideal world, how often would you want be having sex? And how often would your partner? Some folks want every day and twice on Sundays. Others would rather keep it to every other week, or less. If your libidos don’t match up, what compromises are the two of you willing to make to bridge that gap — that doesn’t just involve the person with the lower libido having to suck it up and deal?
For that matter, what KIND of sex do you want, what kinds do you NEED… and what is an absolute no-go for you and for them?
If your partner has a kink or a fetish, are you willing to indulge it, even if it’s not something that turns YOU on? Are you willing to experiment and try things that may be outside of your comfort zone because they’re curious or need that from you? Can you take pleasure in your partner’s pleasure, even if it’s something you get nothing from?
For that matter, what kinds of birth control are you willing — or able — to use? Some folks can’t do hormonal birth control. Others want more than JUST condoms. And what happens if one of you gets pregnant? Are you on the same page about abortion?
The same question applies to commitment and exclusivity. If you’re monogamous, what does monogamy mean to each of you? If you’re non-monogamous, what does that look like? What counts as “cheating” to each of you, and what happens if someone DOES cheat? Is it an automatic relationship extinction event, or is it something you can work through and come back from?
These are things you really want to discuss early on; it’s all hot and easy during the honeymoon stage of the relationship, but that stage ALWAYS ends, and it’s never fun to find out that you and your partner have RADICALLY different ideas of what “good sex” means after you’ve moved in together. Or, for that matter, that you have VERY different ideas about what is or isn’t acceptable outside of your relationship.
Question Number Six: How do they respond during a crisis?
Relationships are easy when everything is going smoothly. It’s when shit goes down and everything is awful that you find out what your relationship is truly made of. And a lot of that? Is gonna depend on how you and your partner both respond when times are tough.
This isn’t just a case of “who handles their load and who falls apart,” it’s about how they respond EMOTIONALLY, as well as practically. When things are rough and you’re both in the shit, how do they act? Are they snappish and short-tempered, because they don’t have the patience or bandwidth to deal with you right now? Or do they start to become withdrawn, possibly even depressed or anhedonic?
Are they the type of person who tries to step up and overcome things, possibly even working past the point of their own endurance to keep up the ideal of normalcy? Or are they the kind of person who loses steam and starts to feel like there’s no point?
Do they act like everything’s normal and try to ignore it? Do they assume the worst and react accordingly?
Much as with different fighting styles, these different responses can create problems if you don’t know to expect them. Someone who tries to power through the problems like it’s not even happening can get incredibly frustrated and angry at someone who gets depressed or pessimistic. When your partner is snapping at you because things are tough, it can be hard NOT to take it personally and wonder if it’s even worth bothering to try to keep the relationship going… even though the problem isn’t YOU, it’s the SITUATION.
Now, I get that all of this seems like a lot. It can feel like a chore trying to fit all of this into a “define the relationship” series of conversations. These aren’t terribly romantic or fun things to discuss, especially early on when everything is all floating hearts and cartoon birds.
But the reason why a lot of seemingly great relationships fall apart is because people frequently get swept up in the thrill of the new and think that this excitement and infatuation means that everything else will work itself out.
The truth is, if you want to find a relationship that’s got what it takes to last over the long haul, you need to make sure you actually KNOW your partner. You need that magic combination of knowledge, respect, trust, and, yes, sexual compatibility. Not just ATTRACTION. Compatibility.
You can’t go on autopilot, like a lot of folks do, and hope it works out this time. And at the same time, you can’t let the other person exclusively set the tone or pace of the relationship. You have to be an active participant and be willing to advocate for what you need… and to be willing to walk away if you aren’t comfortable or if they’re not actually right for you.
If you’re looking for something serious and long term, then you have to be willing to go into a relationship with intent. You have to decide FOR YOURSELF, if they’re right for you or not, if it’s too soon… or if you’re ready for things to move forward and go all in.