Ambigamy

Insights for the deeply romantic and deeply skeptical

6 Counterintuitive Tricks for Making Love Last

The intuited assumptions hold, but more than we notice, so do their opposites.

1. Intimacy requires dishonesty:  We all know that at intimacy’s close range, being caught in a lie is an insult to your partner that lingers sometimes for decades.  We don’t tend to notice that a frank insult lingers as long and damagingly. In relationships, the stakes go up both for speaking your mind and biting your tongue. In any relationship that lasts, what you don’t say and what you do say can cause lasting damage. 

Notice how much lower the stakes are with strangers or mere acquaintances. You can lie and get away with it, and you can be downright blunt. What does it cost you? Think of how honestly we flare our middle fingers at drivers who cut us off. Just don’t try that at home.

2. Relationships bring out the worst in people:  Sure, they bring out the best in us, at least during early romantic enchantment when we ramp up the mutual flattery and believe each other’s self-reporting on how open and kind we are. And sure, we’re open and kind when we feel secure, but most, if not all people when feeling insecure tend to get a little desperate and pull out the nasty guns, revealing less openness and kindness than self-declared. 

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At intimacy’s close range, the more secure you feel the more insecure you will also feel. The better the relationship feels, the more you stand to lose if it fails. 

And if you survive the insecurity?  Relationships tend to go through three phases: early enchantment, an unstable adjustment to fleas-with-the-dog reality, and if they survive it, a period of relaxed secure commitment. Relaxed secure commitment can also bring out the worst in people since their sense that they can do no wrong invites indulgence. 

3. To make it last, visualize singleness:  Of course, visualize happily ever after, but if we don’t have a backup plan we’re far more likely to feel insecure, which again tends to bring out the worst in us, the nasty guns that make insecurity a self-fulfilling prophesy. 

Better to have the courage of your independence, not some need to flaunt it at your partner saying destabilizing things like “I don’t need you,” but just knowing quietly and confidently that you don’t. Remembering your independence is a kindness to your partner.  We should never love someone so much that we’re willing to derail their lives just so they can keep us feeling secure. 

4. Partner with some who gives you a good hard time: Of course you want a partner who gives you a good easy time, not a bad hard time, but remember that partners can give a bad easy time too, enabling your worst temptations. 

You want a partner who also gives you a good hard time, holding you to your own high standards, someone who helps you stretch where you want to stretch. So, yes to a partner who is delighted, not disappointed when you’re doing the easy things you like to do, but also one who is disappointed, not delighted when you stop doing the hard things you aim to do. You want an ally not an enabler.

5. In relationship you can’t just be yourself:  Sure, you want someone who loves you for who you are, but if you think that means you’re not going to have to change for partnership you’ve got another thing coming.  At close range you’re both going to just have to tuck in your elbows. Complaining about having to do so is a sure sign that you haven’t thought partnership out beyond the honeymoon phase.

People make a relationship harder than it has to be by pretending it can be easier than it has to be.

6. Maintain a double standard:  Self-serving double standards come naturally to humans and we’re notoriously bad at spotting our own. The best solution? Counter them with cultivated double standards that favor our partners.

An example: My love life is the story of a man who quested for an exceptional someone who wouldn't, when feeling unsafe, employ cheesy tactics, a man who eventually recognized that everyone, himself included, does just that, and that my best solution was a counter double-standard:  Brave up and stop being so easily triggered to fear, but don’t expect the same from my partner. Instead go to great lengths to make her feel secure. And curb the cheesy tactics at all costs, but forgive them in my partner. When you get partners who each cultivate counter-double standards with each other?

Well then, love is made in the shade.

Jeremy Sherman is an evolutionary epistemologist studying the natural history and practical realities of decision making.

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