Hard to give, harder to apply. The concept of meaningful relationship advice is the toughest beast to lasso, but I believe I have it.
Having the “best relationship advice ever” is a bold claim. Good relationship advice is entirely contextual. Hard to give, and even harder to apply. There have been three standout instances in the past few years in which someone has given me their “best relationship advice.” Surprisingly, when combined, they all drive at a common message.
1) An ex-girlfriend once told me that there is always one person in a relationship who is “less into it” than the other. It is that person who holds the power.
What a sad way to view the world. First, if you are emotionally blackmailing someone for their dependence on you, you don’t deserve to be with them. Second, if you are willing to quantify your relationship in terms of a power ratio, then you can’t see the forest for the trees.
This idea that relationship dependency can be equated to powerlessness is repulsive, but it got me thinking, why is our focus on relationships so often guided by how much we “need” someone? Why is a relationship immediately considered special if that person is a “good support” for you? If you’re going to be with someone for the rest of your life, they may need to have a little more than just being supportive. Because if we’re being honest, the people that always look for the D&Ms, the “so how are you going?” chats, can become a little draining.
“Being there” for the person you love is obviously a large part of any relationship. However, when you think about the people you want to hang out with – and I’m not talking about the people you might “catch-up for coffee” with; I mean the people you truly connect with on a deeper level – do you choose to hang out with them because they have a broad shoulder to cry on? No, you don’t. Well, I certainly don’t. Sure, that may come with the territory, but it’s not the reason you adore them.
The fact is, I choose my best friends because they ignite a part of me that I love. A part of me that I like engaging with and that they have a unique ability to expose.
2) A good friend (one of those deeper types) once told me that we choose the people we hang out with because we aspire to be like them. I think this actually goes to the core of why we should entertain any relationship: because the other person holds up a mirror to your favourite parts of you.
People often think that they rely on a particular person to introduce something into their life: music, or laughter, or insight. In reality, most of the time those qualities already existed, it just took the right person to expose them. So, we end up aspiring to be like these people because they help us access the parts of ourselves that we love. Or put simply: we love being around them because they make us feel we are better people.
A supportive relationship may provide comfort, but will it expose the better you? If you’re going to be with someone for the rest of your life, shouldn’t it be a no-brainer that you make each other feel like better people? I was recently struggling with this concept and so, in the midst of my own relationship turmoil, I had a chat with my Dad (which brings me to number three).
3) It’s because of this perspective that I always love it when Dad smiles at me after I have finished explaining a problem. It’s actually comforting because my situation is obviously so predictable and the answer so obvious that he cannot help but smile slightly at my plight. (Or maybe he just has a way of recognizing that in the greater scheme of life, these problems are not so great.)
Dad’s relationship advice came after I had just finished a one-way conversation on all the relevant combinations and permutations of my relationship at the time. Aware of his son’s capacity to over-analyse, Dad listened attentively and, with a slight smile, managed to say what I have struggled to say in 587 words, in only two sentences:
“Will, there are two types of relationships in life: people that make you feel more free and people that make you feel less free. You want to be with someone that makes you feel more free.”
It’s not possible to plumb the depths of a lifelong relationship in one article, and there are many different ways to quantify the relationships in your life. But, since speaking to my Dad, I have found that his advice is the only rule which applies to all of them. Be with the people who expose the parts of you that you love, the people that free you from the restraints you put on yourself. The support will come from there. That I can promise.