A shimmering, blue lake. A gentle breeze that sways the trees. Children laughing as they splash in the water. Rays of sun that bounce off the lake’s surface.
That harmonic setting is what most people think a good relationship is like. A beautiful, peaceful thing.
Sorry. It’s not.
Relationships are more like white water rafting. There’s two of you in a small craft, being battered by the thrashing current and the sharp rocks. To stay afloat and stop yourselves going overboard requires communication, courage, composure and an unbroken concentration on the hazards downstream.
That’s what no-one really tells you. Relationships don’t work straight out of the box. They’re not like a tablet that you unwrap, charge up and start playing with. They take work. And without it, without constant attention, they shrivel and die.
Another thing that no one tells you? A good relationship isn’t defined by the absence of disagreement, debate and challenge. It’s harmed by the absence of these things. But strong relationships? They need these things to be able to grow into something beautiful.
It has something to do with ego. Relationships require sacrifice. Their very survival depends on your ability to subjugate some of your needs and desires. To place yourself and your interests in an inferior position to the relationship. That means you have to do things you don’t want to. Go places you’d rather not.
But at the same time, it means not surrendering your identity. It’s critical that you have boundaries that aren’t crossed and things you don’t compromise on. But you do have to re-evaluate your priorities. I must become less important than us.
A relationship is like a mini-organisation. And like any organisation or system, it benefits from shots of reality. It gets better when it receives accurate feedback, even if that feedback is unfavourable. Especially if that feedback isn’t what you’d love to hear.
If you don’t believe me, here’s a test. Think about the person you’re closest to. Think about something they really care about. Now think about how that person would react if you attacked the thing they cared about. Chances are, the stronger your relationship is, the more welcoming they will be of your perspective. They won’t blindly accept your position, but they’ll listen because they care about you.
That’s what good people and good relationships have in common. They want to hear about their errors. They want to know about and fix their problems. Rather than avoiding, they encourage disagreement and challenge.