A Sentence That Changed my Views on Relationships

Joe Duncan

Four Words That Will Radically Improve Your Love Life

Man with a bouquet of flowers in front of a womanPixabay

Recently, a Twitter personality I follow made the big announcement: they were getting married. Yes! It was time for that life-changing moment when he took the plunge and vowed to say those magic words, “Til’ death do us part.”

Congratulations to him, he seems very excited to be embarking on the hopefully lifelong commitment of marriage, a commitment that comes with great risk and great reward, and a lifetime of bliss for those who are willing to work through the challenging times that are just about guaranteed to come along.

Most relationships regardless of marital status are the exact same way, they start off with high hopes and all-too-often come crashing down at the least convenient time in our lives. Years of trust-building can be destroyed in an instant of bad decision-making.

But what if we could do something about it? What if we could improve our chances of success? There are no magic bullets in life but I know for a fact there is one sentence that I repeat to myself every single day that helps spin the odds in my favor.

Let’s be real, here, considering that 46.3% of all marriages end in divorce, you’d be forgiven for being skeptical, or even cynical, as you balked at the fifty-fifty odds given to most couples these days. Over the past century, a lot of people have opted out of marriage altogether, skipping the formality and saying no to the lifelong gamble, deciding to just cohabitate instead, thereby giving themselves an emergency exit in case they need it — one that doesn’t come with family courts and dividing assets. Those headaches aren’t worth the divorce papers the fresh-smelling ink is printed on.

While most people do indeed make their marriages last a lifetime, almost half of them don’t. That’s a lot of failures. And it’s not just marriages that fail, casual relationships fail much more readily than full-blown marriages do.

If it was any other facet of life, we’d likely give up, but we humans can’t live without love — we crave it in its various forms from familial love to fraternal and sororal love, and especially romantic love, we need love in our lives to reach the peak of our possible happiness.

  • If all goes right when we pledge our love to someone else, we transform ourselves into the next phase of our lives and grow into someone beyond who we are today, as marriage challenges us to become someone better for our partners. Loving another person can help us to love ourselves much more fully because it gives us a sense of achievement and accomplishment.
  • If all goes wrong, we open up an unexpected and nightmarish chapter of misery that will eventually resemble hell on earth. Fights are had, property is destroyed, restraining orders are issued, and wouldn’t you know it, everyone has a bad time. There’s not a lot in this world that’ll ruin your life like a toxic relationship.

As far as Mr. Newly-Engaged on Twitter goes, I’m confident he will take the former path of joy and I’ll be here to support him if he accidentally stumbled upon the latter path of misery and ends up pulling his hair out while clutching a bottle of whiskey alone, crying in the corner of a seedy hotel room somewhere. That’s what good people do, they console others through their failures rather than lecturing them, which is precisely what this article is about…it’s what good friends do, good family members, good lovers, and hell, even good pets.

The question arose in my mind, what is it that separates the former group of successful lovers from the latter group of discouraging failures? What makes the winners and what breaks the losers? What is it that makes some relationships go tolerably smoothly and others crash and burn faster than a fighter pilot who’s just taken on heavy enemy fire and lost both engines?

Looking at his situation from the outside, my vantage point is different from what it’s been when entering into my own relationships in years prior, and it’s different from his. From the outside, it became clear that above all, he needs to be ready.

If he isn’t ready for his marriage, if he was taking his relationship to the next level on an emotional whim alone, it was doomed to fail before it began. Nothing spells relationship disaster like being unprepared for a relationship you’re about to get into.

And readiness means being prepared to go to any reasonable lengths to make the relationship work. It means ditching your old selfish habits and learning to live in a more egalitarian, giving, patient, thoughtful, and kind manner. It means being willing to put the other person before yourself.

Think about it, someone else needs to put up with you for the long haul and stay in love with you in order for things to work. That’s hard to do with a person who isn’t consistently kind. Let’s not give our partners reasons to pull the escape hatch, shall we?

He asked for advice and received a lot of it. Marriage announcements tend to be the kinds of tweets that gain a lot of traction and thus the man’s answers teetered into the realm of overabundance. Everyone had their say, I chimed in mine, but there was one particular piece of advice that was tweeted in response to him that was only four words long and it was the most concise version of a mantra I recite to myself every single day that makes my relationships incredibly fulfilling:

“Better nice than right.”

Boom. There it is, everyone. Right in the feels. That’s the single sentence every man in a relationship needs to hear just about daily. I personally remind myself every single day because, you know what, life isn’t just all about me and it’s important I never forget that.

Mostly I was impressed by the power that the responder managed to encapsulate in those four words and just how to-the-point the tweet was. This is something I’ve believed whole-heartedly in this idea for a very long time now, though my version was much longer:

“You have to be willing to put courtesy and kindness before everything else you do, especially your need to be right about everything.”

Almost every single man I’ve ever known has struggled so hard with this. I’ll speak for myself and say that before this enlightening eureka moment dawned on me some years back, I felt like in the moments I didn’t see eye-to-eye with partners and I just knew I was right, like the sky was falling, like it was a rejection of myself and my reality. I would feel personally attacked.

I had to outgrow that part of myself. Some of it came with age but most of it came with that realization that very little in life is actually worth a battle with your partner over. They’re your partner, not an intellectual sparring partner that you fight about every stupid little thing with.

Since the ah-ha moment when this dawned on me, this has been my relationship mantra ever since. Being nice to your partner comes before being right about everything so you can feel smugly good about yourself. Even if you are right and it’s an incontrovertible fact about the nature of the universe that you’re right about, it’s mighty selfish to pounce on someone and demand they acknowledge it.

In my experience, the most difficult juggling act we men face in relationships is how to place kindness, patience, and courtesy above our need to be right all the time, meanwhile being totally honest with our partners and not lying to them. It’s tricky, but it can be done.

Sure, we don’t want to lie to our partners just to avoid confrontation, but we need to understand that debates about the average lifespans of various cockroaches just isn’t a fight that’s going to be conducive to our relationship health.

Ever been so hellbent on being right that you argued in circles until you forgot what you were arguing about? I’ve seen so many people fall into this trap.

Their emotions get the best of them, they think a disagreement about something external is an attack on who they are, the fight lasts anywhere from three hours to six days, and, you guessed it, eventually, someone ends up pulling their hair out while clutching a bottle of whiskey alone, crying in the corner of a seedy hotel room somewhere.

Conversely, a very close friend of mine has been married for approximately 25 years now and he’s one of the happiest men I know. Full stop, he’s got a wonderful family and it makes me happy to see him happy every time we talk. Living in rural America, it’s himself, his kids, his wife (who he insists makes the rules), and he plants trees that he hopes his grandchildren will someday take shade under long after he’s gone. They each spend their time gardening for most of their food. It’s the simple life they live and love.

I once asked him what made his marriage so successful and he said something quite like, “Better nice than right,” albeit in nowhere near as impressively concise of a sentence:

“You have to be willing to give 100% of yourself every single day for the rest of your life and never ask for a single thing in return.” For him, it’s all about expectations, and unmet and unreasonable demands make unhappy people.

It seems that all three of us have our own versions of the same exact idea. It’s more important to be nice, caring, courteous, and kind to your partner than it is to be right, factual, and even enlightening and entertaining. Nobody wants information that’s rudely delivered; nobody except maybe someone with a humiliation fetish and that needs to be verbally consented to before anyone starts scolding away unabashedly without warning.

It’s more important to be courteous than to be right. How narcissistic is it if our need to be right (and our need for others to acknowledge our rightness) comes before basic human decency? This is something a lot of people have a problem with, both men and women, our desire to be right being something that makes us feel understood, like our partners are on the same page as us.

But we need to shelf that pretty much every single day — when she’s overwhelmed, when she’s having a bad day, when she’s hurt, when she’s sad or stressed, or even really pissed off at us. That’s when we need to be there the most for her.

Those aren’t the moments to be right. Those are the moments to be nice.

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Keeping Florida informed with the latest. Life isn’t a series of many moments, but one moment that is always changing. Catch me on: https://twitter.com/JoeMDuncan

Orlando, FL

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