A couple of weeks ago, I officiated my second wedding. The first was for my brother. This was for a close friend.
In a wedding ceremony, there is often a moment where the officiant will spend a few minutes sharing their own thoughts on marriage. This means I’ve now written twice on a subject I’ve never been directly a part of (of course, most priests could say the same). A confirmed bachelor for life, I’m certainly not an expert on marriage.
That said – I’ve got a pretty decent working knowledge on something that’s almost more important: relationships.
And I can tell you the secret to them right here. You don’t even have to attend a wedding.
The part that might be hard to swallow for some: Every relationship is based on what each person can get out of it. We all want something from the person we are spending time with or we wouldn’t be spending time with them. It can be as simple as enjoying their company (they have great stories or a keen sense of humor) or a sense of self-satisfaction in helping someone. But at the heart of it, all relationships are based on need.
So here is the secret: Making a relationship work requires understanding what you want from it and being honest about it.
Let me back up a moment and share a story. I was having dinner with two close female friends of mine. One them, B, was complaining about her dating life and about the fact that she couldn’t sustain a long term relationship. My other friend, K, asked her how long she’d known us. In both cases, B knew K and I for several years.
‘There you go,’ K said, ‘You have at least two long term relationships in your life.’
B argued that she was speaking of romantic entanglements. We didn’t count. But we did. In reality, except for those you meet only in passing, everyone in your life has a relationship with you. Your co-workers. Your family. Your friends. Your barista at the Starbucks you frequent. These all count as relationships.
In most of these cases, the first thing I said was important – understanding what you want from a relationship – is easy. You want cooperation and respect from co-workers. Love and support from friends and family. Coffee and maybe a smile from the barista. This isn’t to say that any of those relationship couldn’t be more complex – they probably are – it just means most people know what to expect from them.
Romantic relationships tend to be harder to pin down. Love? Sex? Devotion? Partner in crime? Adoration? Supplication? Domination? A presence in your life…2 days a week? Once a month? Every day? Do you want to know where there are every night? Do you want them to not date other men? Or women?
Let’s go back to my original secret. In a perfect world, you could sit down with your partner and write out what each wants for the other. That’s not likely to happen, if only because we seldom know ourselves what we want. But let’s assume we could at least name 2-3 really important things. And let’s assume you’ve been with this person long enough to be completely honest with them (with exceptions, this isn’t really a first date discussion – there’s no need to do this if you’re still figuring out if you even really like them).
You share your mutual wants and needs, and if you both can live with this, great! It’ll take lots of work and continued communication and honesty, but I’d say you’ve got a good shot at being happy in that particular relationship.
And that’s it. That’s the secret. I’ve got a number of relationships in my life, all of which bring me happiness (or at least a measure of excitement). In many cases, the shared knowledge of wants is unspoken most of the time. But whenever there is confusion, I gladly trade a moment of potential awkwardness for understanding. Relationships change and evolve, as do our wants and needs. Sometimes those I spend a great deal of time with can no longer meet a need and we drift into a less intense, but still friendly, place.
There’s more I could add here – I’ve had more than a few occasions where my honesty has created heartache or pain. But in every case, I’d say the heartache and hurt would have been much worse down the road had I not spoken up.
What do you guys think?