On Sunday, I was at a friend’s party and got talking to a woman in her early 30s. She presented as happy, with children and a loving husband, but, as someone that spends a lot of time watching people, I could see there was a lot she was hiding. Over a glass of wine, she told me about how she and her husband had, for a variety of reasons, drifted apart. She expected me to be sympathetic.
She did not expect me to ask: “When was the last time he made your eyes roll to the back of your head whilst you grabbed the sheets?”
After her shock over the directness of the question subsided, we had a very honest chat about her needs. It was ground-breaking for her, but routine for me. I’m the rare unicorn that talks to people about happiness in relationships. Today I want to share observations on what people in happy relationships have going for them. Whatever works for you is the right thing to do, but I hope that this provides a start point for discussion, if nothing else. Quick note: all couple names are made up, for obvious reasons.
What are your non-negotiables?
I came up with this question after noting the tension between Ryan and Lisa. Both felt hard done by. Ryan felt like the compromises he was making to ensure Lisa’s happiness weren’t being given any credit. Lisa felt the exact same way. The problem was that the compromises that each were making were not the compromises that the other wanted. Ryan wanted credit for keeping the kitchen cleaned and Lisa wanted credit for ironing his shirts. But Lisa didn’t mind a messy kitchen and Ryan cared not a fig about a crinkly shirt. I asked them both what were the things that they did need from the other and to make those “non-negotiable”. Lisa wanted a massage once a week and Ryan wanted to have a night a week where they planned to do something together outside the house, without the kids, whether it was a walk, dinner or something else. By making a small tweak to their compromises, they reaped the benefits.
There’s a myth that couples that have been together a long time have a mystical connection that allows them to know what the other person is thinking without even needing to ask.
I have seen (and been involved in…Ed) relationships that have turned ugly because both participants stopped communicating. I think this happens for a number of reasons. One, people forget that relationships are like gardens: the more you attend to them, the more they grow. By getting “comfortable” in relationships, people can stop working at them, stop asking their partners what they want and need. The other big reason is the curse of “fine”. I know that there will be a lot of people reading this, saying “I ask them if they’re ok all the time and they always say ‘I’m fine'”. If you’re in relationships and there is any kind of slow erosion, “fine” will be part of the rot that has set in. It can be scary, but if someone asks what you want, tell them. Don’t give them a watered down version of your hopes. Ask for everything. If you don’t know what you want, think about it. As I say to my friends, happiness is a human right and highly contagious. Ask your partner what they want and work to give it to them. If your partner is asking you what you want, think about it and give them the honest answer.
Have you renewed your downtown pass?
English people don’t like to talk about sex or intimacy in any setting and this is a shame because, if my biology teacher was correct, sex is perfectly natural and needed (I don’t know why he felt the need to tell me this outside of class over a candlelit dinner!
Thank you! I’m here all week).
When I say happiness is a right in relationships, that has to include sex. There are too many horror stories of people being in loving relationships but having little to no sexual enjoyment. That is crazy. We all need to engage our most powerful sexual organs, our ears (?…Ed) and mouths. Use your ears to listen to what your partner is saying when you are being intimate and use your mouth to tell them what you want.
The rest of you can listen in, but I need to talk to heterosexual men for a second here. *Takes deep breath* Men, don’t fall into happiness deficit. Great question, Arthur. What is the happiness deficit? Simple. Let us assume you are with your lovely partner and you are getting intimate. If your ending is “happy”, and hers isn’t, you have fallen into a happiness deficit. The greater that deficit grows, the worse things will get. You need understand that most men can only be happy once every few hours. Did you know women can be happy a couple of times a minute. I know, Danny; it is amazing. Another good question, Spencer: How do you ensure that your partner is…happy? Ask them. If they are not forthcoming, try decoding the title to this section. That concludes this chat. Thanks for coming, gents. No, Eric. I wasn’t using a pun there.