The Three Things That Make or Break Relationships

At a recent party1, the conversation turned to relationships. Capital-R relationships. Serious relationships. Romantic relationships. And I shared my biggest relationship tip of them all: Listen to the polyamorous folks. Even if you’re straight-up monogamous, poly people have to manage more relationships at once – and so it stands to reason that they’ve got to have some ideas that can help a monogamous relationship as well.2

And that got us talking about the benefits and drawbacks of the relationship models each of us is in. The people in the discussion spanned the range of relationship models – from purely monogamous to fully polyamorous. And each person (or in some cases, couples) were in pretty functional relationships. As we all talked about what kind of relationship we were in, and why we were doing the kinds of relationships we were, one thing kept coming up again and again:

Each person in the relationship trusted each other, was honest about their needs and fears – and the other people in the relationship were flexible enough to address those needs and fears to make the relationship stronger.

The people different relationship models – polyamorous, monogamous, monogamish, some mix of all of the above – had all talked openly to their partner(s). They were honest about their needs and fears. And their partners addressed those fears – even to the point of changing the relationship model.

One couple told how they had an “open” relationship – but when there was extra stress and anxiety due to life events, they closed their relationship to help each other feel more secure. Another couple said they’d done the opposite – that having a more “open” relationship and being honest about it with each other had reduced their insecurity.

Those two couples addressed their insecurity issues in completely different ways. And that’s the point – there is no one-size fits all relationship model. It doesn’t matter what aspect of the relationship you’re talking about: kids, how long an engagement should be, what kinds of living arrangements you choose, or even how many partners you should (or shouldn’t) have.

Heck, look at the example above. The relationship model you’re in (or want) now may change as your life changes. You may realize you have needs or fears that you were unaware of. That’s okay.

You build your relationship based on trust, honesty, and a commitment to be flexible enough to meet your partner’s needs. Flexible enough that you can even change the relationship model you’re in order to strengthen the relationship itself.

That’s what is important.

That’s what makes relationships work.

1 I’m one of those guys who likes to talk about “real stuff” at parties. So this scenario is fairly common for me – and is actually cobbled together from a few different conversations at a few different locations. Identities are, of course, mungled and smeared, genders sometimes changed, and so on.

2 Polyweekly is a good place to start. I also recommend Dan Savage as well; the guy has consistently good advice, and is funny to boot. Reading-wise, I’d start with Wendy-O Matik’s "Redefining Our Relationships". There’s even more recommendations here