- In his latest book, Beyond Order, Jordan Peterson offers a 'rule' chapter about romance and relationships.
- Five points within that chapter are particularly salient and align well with my own expert advice here over the years.
- We both note that successful relationships require practice, negotiation, effort, commitment to higher-order goals, and rewarding interactions.
Looking through Jordan Peterson's newest book, Beyond Order, I was intrigued to see that it included a 'rule' about romance and relationships. Personally, while I don't fall into the polarized camps of either fanboy or critic, I do appreciate the dialogue and interest he generates around psychology and self-help topics. So, I was pleased to see he was delving a bit into my area of expertise and I was curious about his ideas. Below are five main points I found helpful as I read through his work and my thoughts on how they connect to my own insights and articles over the years, too.
1) Getting better at dating and relating takes courage and practice.
Peterson writes: "Let us try to think about it this way, instead: Neither of you have any skill at dating. One attempt is therefore going to be insufficient. Maybe you need fifteen dates—or forty—because you have lost the knack, need the practice, and must develop the habit and goodwill... This is a skill you must learn, not an unearned gift from Cupid." (p. 267)
Indeed, dating and relating are social skills. On one hand, that means they take practice and effort to learn and improve. On the other hand, it also means that no one is doomed and improvement is possible for everyone. Nevertheless, that improvement does require things like learning strategies to reduce your anxiety around dating, dealing with interpersonal rejection, and understanding why modern relationships are particularly challenging, too. From there, you may also need to work on building trust with others and improving your own self-esteem, so that you have the belief in yourself and your partner to brave these learning experiences together.
2) Satisfying relationships require negotiation and exchange.
Peterson writes: "There must be a broader, relationship-wide strategy in place to maintain romance with your partner across time. Regardless of what that strategy might be, its success is going to depend on your ability to negotiate. To negotiate, you and the person you are negotiating with must first know what you each need (and want)—and second, be willing to discuss both forthrightly." (p. 270)
From a social psychological perspective, all relationships are social exchanges. Given that, our romantic feelings and decisions are based on the capacity and willingness of partners to trade with us—and our commitments are determined by how satisfying those trades are over time. Thus, it is essential to know what you want from a romantic partner, to learn to negotiate a fair exchange with them, and to have the skills to deal with arguments that will inevitably arise. Otherwise, you will be left with only short-term flings, or long-term misery.
3) Commitment is strengthened when partners view their relationship as special and sacred.
Peterson writes: "Instead, the couple can decide that each and both are subordinate to a principle, a higher-order principle, which constitutes their union in the spirit of illumination and truth... Voluntary subordination to this higher-order principle of illumination both unifies and revitalizes." (p. 274)
As I have found, partners who see each other as sacred and special tend to have better relationships. That outlook reduces the stress within relationships, motivates positive behaviors, and can reduce the possibility of cheating and infidelity. Sharing higher-order relationship goals with one another can also strengthen relationship connections. Essentially, this helps both partners break away from the day-to-day stresses and annoyances, to focus on the long-term goal of building a special connection with one another. Indeed, sharing that positive and long-term outlook does "unify and revitalize" the relationship.
4) Maintaining attraction and sex requires continued prioritization and effort.
Peterson writes: " It is not going to happen—not in my clinical (and personal) experience—not without a lot of effort. What will happen is that the absolute necessities of life will inexorably start to take priority over the desirable necessities. Maybe there is a list of ten things you will do in a day, and sex is number eleven." (p. 299)
As I have discussed at length, partners work on their own attractiveness, make plans for exciting dates, set a romantic mood, and then make the right moves, in order to initiate a satisfying first sexual experience with one another. The thing most people don't realize, however, is that none of those sexual requirements change after years of commitment and interaction either. That is because sexual interactions are 'trades' between partners too. Each partner is weighing the pros and cons of having sex and is motivated by a particular desire or goal to have sex, too. So, when partners stop putting forth the effort to make sex enticing and enjoyable for each other, it ceases to be a priority in the exchange and stops happening.
5) Punishment is counterproductive, particularly with someone you love.
Peterson writes: "Here is a rule: do not ever punish your partner for doing something you want them to continue doing. Particularly if it took some real courage—some real going above and beyond the call of duty—to manage." (p. 299-300)
Personally, through my own writing, I have cautioned that punishment is counterproductive and a warning sign for bad relationships. In general, it is an unhealthy way to influence others that erodes all types of relationships. Instead, to influence the behavior of a partner for the better, it is more effective to reward their positive actions and express gratitude to one another. This helps to create a satisfying and rewarding relationship overall. Therefore, those might just be the most essential skills to practice, especially for long-term relationship success!
Peterson, J. B. (2021). Beyond order: 12 more rules for life. Penguin/Portfolio.