Redefining a Successful Relationship
After some of the responses to Wednesday’s post about the Sunk Cost Fallacy in relationships, I thought that I would take some more time to discuss how I define a successful relationship.
It seems that the most popular metric for determining whether or not a relationship is considered “successful” is the length of the relationship. What length determines this success? It seems like a completely arbitrary definition. Is a relationship only successful if you get married, and are with each other until your dying day? What a bleak prospect. That means that all of your previous relationships, whether or not they were happy, are a complete and total failure. Let’s change the definition, shall we?
My personal hero, Dan Savage has discussed this subject extensively in his column and in his podcast. (If you are not familiar with Dan Savage, please, please, please go and read his column. He’s a wonderful sex-positive resource, and his groundbreaking work in this field was one of the big inspirations for Nice Girls.) He has two suggestions for redefining success in a relationship.
The “Campsite Rule”
One of the big rules when you go camping in a forest or a park is to try and leave your campsite better than it was when you found it. This can be applied to relationships too.
When you are in a healthy relationship, you should be actively trying to encourage your partner to be a better person. You should also be actively trying to never harm your partner, physically, emotionally, or mentally. Keeping this in mind, take some time to ponder whether or not you are applying the campsite rule to your relationships, whether it is your previous relationships or your current one. How can you do better at taking care of your partner, and helping them to become a better person?
Now take some time to think about your current and/or previous partners. Do you feel that you are now a better person because of their influence in your life? If the answer is yes, then whether or not the relationship lasts an indeterminate length of time doesn’t matter. It is a successful relationship. If the answer is no, then consider the next metric.
When I was in high school, I decided that I would make a list of all the personality traits, aspirations, and talents that I thought were desirable in a partner. I had some of the most ridiculous ideas of what was ideal. I’m sure that most women have, at some point, made a similar list. Has that list evolved over time? I know that my requirements certainly have changed over the years.
That evolution of my personal list has occurred entirely due to my experiences in relationships. I now have a better understanding of the personality traits that work the best with my own personality. I know what behaviors are deal-breakers, and what are desirable for a happy relationship. I learned about these through the trial-and-error of previous relationships.
Did your previous relationships give you a better idea of the type of person you want as a long-term partner? Did they challenge you to change certain behaviors so that you would become a better partner? If the answer is yes, then I would argue that those too are successful relationships.
In my own personal dating history, I would say that all of my relationships, past and present, have been successful. I look back on some of these relationships with fondness, and others I am thankful to no longer be with that person. But all of them were successful in one way or another.
If you apply these metrics, how many of your relationships have been successful?