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Essay: Seven Ways To Avoid A Bad Relationship.
Ohh, this is a good one. How do you end up in a bad relationship? Do you start there? Well, It can undoubtedly finish there, I should know... Let’s just say I’ve studied this topic from theoretical and practical perspective and definitely learned quite a few things along the way. Things that will be very useful for you, things you probably won’t hear anywhere else. I like this perspective on relationships because you don’t hear it generally; relationships are a skill, and you can be an amateur or a master, but there is a path from one to another. I wouldn’t say I’m a master yet by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m definitely less of a disaster than I was, and hey that’s progress. How do you avoid ending up in a bad relationship? Here are my thoughts on the situation.
1) Opposites do not attract. They cause conflict: it’s an old trope that opposites attract, that partners complete each other, and while there’s probably some truth in the myth, it’s also important to note the fallacy. Personality differences are constant sources of endless conflict in a relationship, forever, seriously. Have you ever seen a couple arguing about the same thing which they have argued about for the last twenty years? Sometimes it’s cute, and sometimes it really isn’t. Think about it -if you are an orderly person, and your partner is more disorderly, how much quicker will you be annoyed about the mess than they will? 20 seconds? That means you are going to have a continual argument about the state of the place because you perceive the world differently to your partner, and if your partner responds with more negativity, you can have an endless cycle of pain and suffering that drives you apart. She tells you the floor is a mess, and all you hear is ‘you are a bad person’ and you blow up -
“I can’t take it anymore!” If you are an affable and agreeable person and your partner is very disagreeable. They will seem callous and cruel to you, harsh and unfeeling, and they will think you are a wimp who doesn’t know what they want. If you are very conscientious and the other person is not, you will think they are lazy, and they will think you are uptight. If you are an introvert and they are an extrovert, you will argue every time you have to go to a party or any social situation. So they point is, you want to minimize these personality differences, so you don’t fall into this relationship circle of hell, because if you have three or four of these key differences, being together is going to be a constant battle, and maybe you like that? Who I am to judge but most people don’t. You can’t change who you are any more than you can take out your bones out and give them to somebody else, so the basic maxim is know thyself. Basically, take a personality test. Most people are familiar with the Myers Briggs test, but this is outdated. The current personality model in psychology is the Big Five Aspect Scale, which has five dimensions of personality (Contentiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, and openness to experience). I would recommend doing this at understandmyself.com. There are free versions available online, but by far, this is most comprehensive I have found. If you know where you line up on the scale, you can then have a rough idea of what type of person will suit you and prevent a further forty years of endless, unsolvable, and frustrating conflict with no end. Variety is the spice of life and all that, but too much spice blows the head off ye. Different personality types fundamentally see the world in different ways, so to avoid having an epistemological conundrum at the bottom of your relationship; stick to someone who is on the same page as you, roughly speaking.
2) Make sure you share long term goals: look if she wants to join the Circus and become an acrobat and you want to be an investment banker, you’re going to have a problem down the line. Many of these solutions for not ending up in a terrible relationship in the long run are, initially sorting things out. If you don’t know your long-term goals, how will you have a relationship that will last? For a long time, I didn’t make long term goals, and I just hoped for the best? And guess what, I got the worst. You need to know what you want to get it! The relationship is like a narrative. It needs an arch, a trajectory. You should be with someone who’s long term goals match with your own to avoid getting to some later point and realising you are completely fecked and going in different directions. Firstly, you have to start to develop a vision of your own future, and then if you have a partner, or get one, negotiate together to find a shared vision of the future which you can both believe in and doesn’t look like an eternity in a Chinese prison camp.
3) Listen to your body. Now I’m just thinking of that DJ Cammy song, listen to your heart... when it’s calling for you! Your body is much more honest than your head, a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach is a message and not a good one. No amount of excuses and paving over your feelings will change the objective fact of your perception, and a sure-fire way to end up in a nuclear-level toxic relationship is by ignoring these feels as they happen in real-time. They might be the signs of an incoming betrayal, a mismatch, or who knows what else! But you won’t know unless you confront them. Maybe you just don’t want to deal with it, maybe you doubt yourself, maybe you actually want them to betray you, so you have an excuse to end it all. Either way, listen to the feelings in your body and speak from them; otherwise, your unspoken words will build up in your subconscious until one day you realise you literally want to murder the person who previously you loved. (how did we get here?) Don’t underestimate the build-up of psychic-plague! You don’t end up with a rotten mouth all of a sudden. It is the cumulative effect of not brushing your teeth every day for forty years; a bad relationship is the same thing and this ain’t no joke.
John Gottman, an American Psychologist and relationship expert, could predict with 95% accuracy which couples would get divorced who came into his clinic. His clinic was designed as a BnB, and he would have couples in for a weekend. They would be wired up to measure heart rates and bodily responses monitored, and he found that the couples who got divorced were very nice and friendly on the surface but were constantly walking on eggshells with each other. Their bodies were in a state of heightened arousal, associated with fight or flight response, because each was perceiving the other as a predator, a threat, and so they were completely on edge. Who can live like that? This is caveman 2.0 shit, perfectly good if you are facing a saber-toothed tiger but not appropriate when your wife is complaining you haven’t done the dishes again. Being in a state of heightened arousal all the time is due to the unresolved conflicts bubbling beneath in the unconscious - you need to be able to map out your partner, so to speak, to know where they are at, so if you can’t, you won’t be able to trust them and bam, they’re a threat! So if you are like an agreeable person and me, you have to make an extra effort to speak the truth and maybe have those necessary fights; otherwise, a meltdown is inevitable. It’s much easier to deal with the one cup on the table before the whole room is submerged in garbage. So keep a clean subconscious by listening to your body and transforming that into action by speaking the truth. Boom!
4) Your family fuck you up - oh buddy, your familial relationships are your first bonding relationships, and your parents serve as a model of how to be in a relationship, so if you have a bad model, you’re fecked! Doom from the womb they call it! You have to go back to square one and learn the art of relationships again because you had shitty teachers to begin with. Think about it, if you are a child learning Tennis and some adult who is an alcoholic, deceitful, and half-mad teaches you a bunch of nonsense about jumping in the air and screaming but no actual Tennis, you will struggle when the time comes to play actual Tennis with other people. If you grow up in an environment that has a central unresolved conflict, you are used to walking on eggshells, being in a state of heightened arousal, and not communicating to people and resolving issues; your parents having a bad relationship conditions you to be in a bad relationship through habit and example. So guess what? Unless you work your way out of the bad habits, you’ll end up in exactly the same situation. You’ll pick somebody who is exactly like the worst in your opposite gender parent and you will have a god awful relationship, break up, and then you will do the same thing again! And again! Until you realise, it is you and not them. Human beings are attracted to what is familiar, so if you are used to being traumatised, this is how you end up in cycles of abuse. The sad truth is - what else do you know but the abuse? You need to start to familiarise yourself with love, truth, discipline, honest communication, and start by doing it with yourself. If you are in a ‘toxic’ relationship, it is just as much your fault as the other person and you end up in such a relationship because you are broken. There is a lot of the talk of narcissism, abusers, and gas-lighters these days, but how many billion people are there in the world? Why did you end up with one of them? The answer is you used to a fucked up situation, so you rebuild it wherever you go, so you have to sort out your familiarities, habits, and expectations and level up your skill in relationships to get something better. There is nothing glorious about any of this. You don’t choose where you are born, your family, but they create your worldview, your model for reality, so you have to come to terms with the bad parts, habits, flaws, and failures. There is no government funding for this process and it is not your fault, but going forward, it is your responsibility to repair your broken cycles if you want to have better relationships. Just because you were born a disaster with relationships does not mean you can’t be a master. It just might take more work for you. That’s not fair, but birth isn’t fair, and your reward will be the wisdom you learn along the way and you can’t buy that experience. As David Goggins says, you ca harness the worst things in your life to make you a beast, you survived it after all, didn’t you?
5). Be willing to end things. I don’t know how many relationships I’ve seen, and frankly, I’ve been in a few myself, where the thing is dead as a dodo. You can see the two individuals frankly dislike each other, they cheat on each other, mess with each other’s heads, break up, get together, and continue? For years sometimes? (Mainly when you are young.) Maybe it’s cause the sex is mental, powered by pure anger and hatred, or you just can’t get up the courage to leave them behind, or some other major malfunction. But there does come the point where Jesus Christ himself couldn’t resuscitate the poor beast, and you need to have self-respect and respect for the other person to say: we aren’t going to do this. We could spend months messing with each other’s heads? Making this a massive ordeal that gives us trust issues for the next forty years? Or we can not demolish each other, learn, and move one? The rule for a good relationship that survives across time is that you have five to one positive to negative interactions. So if you are having five positive interactions and four negative interactions? You’re goosed, but the same applies to no negative interactions, no challenge, and you will be bored. You don’t want too good. You don’t want too bad. But if the time comes and things have degenerated beyond control, you do not see a future, and the negative interactions are massively outweighing the positive; you gotta go, don’t sit on the toilet; shit, or get off the pot!
6). Commit the right way: here’s a crazy one, straight from the beak of the wise and benevolent Jordan B Peterson; what sort of message does it send to say - you’re good enough to have casual no strings attached sex with, but I want to keep my options open in case someone better comes along so I can leave you behind at any moment? This is the message we are all communicating with one another these days in the casual dating world. I’ll tell you what, you don’t have to be a professionally trained psychologist to see how that might cause more than a little bit of uncertainty going forward. This is why Tinder and all these short term, instant gratification options can be such a cluster-fuck. Suppose your only goal is to go out and bump genitals with someone, but you inevitably develop feelings for one another? In that case, it will already be too late because your relationship will have begun on a false start, and maybe you can’t get over that. In Peterson’s theory, the opposite would be, I’m willing to latch my horse to yours, despite all our flaws and things we don’t know, you seem to be decent enough for us to negotiate the world together. That is a very different place to begin a relationship from, one of faith, belief, and commitment. I used to think about how you started it didn’t matter, but I now know how you start out is very important to where you end up. So if you keep going into relationships saying, ‘I’m not going to commit, I’ll just do what I please,’ you can’t be mad when things deteriorate in the long run, and you are left wondering - what if?
7) Relationships are a skill, much like families, nobody’s found the perfect relationship yet. It’s very tempting nowadays with the online veneer of golden beaches and sunsets and attractive people that there is some sort of image of perfection, and you look at your own and think fuck! The only relationship we know inside and out is our own, and you should only compare your relationship with your own past, not your imagination of other peoples present. The reality is, as John Gottman put it, you can go from a relationship disaster to a master. You learn by trial and error and so being willing to put your best foot forward, to want to be better, is a prerequisite for future success. Oftentimes a relationship doesn’t go well, and we quit and decide to become hermits and move to the Himalaya mountains to ponder our lives, but relationships are a skill, so you have to be forgiving in mistakes and learning, especially when you are younger. Be willing to humble yourself and study to get better. It can be a cliche, but your first relationship is with yourself, with the fragments of your psyche, differing drives, instincts, and complexes. Your first task really is to ‘save yourself, from yourself,’ and then you will be in better shape for someone else. Don’t give up on love. We fail to come back stronger, better, wiser. As Seth Godin says, and I think it’s my new favourite quote, “whoever fails the most wins.”
So, in conclusion, you aren’t cursed or fated to have a bad relationship. A bad relationship is the convergence of all the bad habits, things you have negated to attend, sins of omission, falsehoods and shirked responsibilities, and overall just bad behaviour. The answer to avoiding a bad relationship is to not be complete chaos. If you know who you are, you have a long term plan, have faced up to your demons, and have made a solid commitment to improving, you are in a much better shape than you would be otherwise, and hell, maybe then, it will still fall apart? Maybe it will be a disaster? But at least you will be a better person then, one who knows where they are going and one who is learning to master the disaster that is human relationships, and in the end, what more can you ask for?
Want to learn more? Here is the genius himself, John Gottman in action.