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The Counter-Intuitive Secret Of Incredible, Happy Relationships

This is the fifth piece to be published on the Get The Guy blog from my brother Stephen. Steve helped co-write the Get The Guy book and is a wealth of knowledge on dating and relationships.

Today’s article throws a spanner in the works of the idea that a relationship is when we’ve ‘made it’, and shows that this is often when the real work begins. This piece is a deep dive into why ‘be yourself’ is terrible advice, and why we should stop using it as a noble excuse for our character flaws. There’s a big message to take away here. Enjoy.

Enter Steve

Being good company requires concerted effort.

It requires one to be attentive to the opinions and needs of others, maintain a level of playfulness and good humour, and have interesting ideas to contribute to conversation. It also demands that we coach ourselves away from the usual temptations: self-involvement to the point of tedium, an ugly tendency to be overly critical or negative about others, or getting morose and descending into a pity party of whiny self-loathing (just me, then?).

Many times you’ve heard Matt in his videos rail against the common advice to “just be yourself”. One of the reasons Matt and I always tired of this slogan was its pretense to champion authenticity and ‘being real’, when in fact it was often being used as a get-out clause to excuse people for their most repellent character flaws.

Many people think that it is enough to be incredible company just once in a while, as though this will compensate for any other flaws they exhibit the rest of the time. I completely disagree.

To test your own opinion on this matter, just answer the following question:

“Could you be happy in a relationship with a guy who is a loving, caring, generous sex-god 20% of the time and a moody, self-absorbed, needy asshole 80% of the time?”

My guess is that your answer is no.

This is because when it comes to the question of what makes a great relationship, QUANTITY really does matter more than QUALITY in nearly every area.

If you’re inclined to doubt the truth of this, consider the reason most relationships fail.

Most seemingly healthy relationships (i.e. let’s assume no cheating or violence) aren’t destroyed by one isolated act of bad behaviour. Most relationships end because of an accumulation of small negative behaviours that are repeated so often they overwhelm one or both partners to their emotional breaking point.

Therefore, when it comes to what sustains any great friendship or relationship: FREQUENCY REALLY MATTERS.

It’s not good enough to be amazing 20% of the time and difficult and negative 80% of the time. Personally, for example, I couldn’t care less how incredible my best friend is when they operate on a nine out of ten, if they happen to spend most of their time hovering around a three or a four.

The idea I’m suggesting here, that quantity beats quality, runs against what we are usually told, but in the case of relationships it seems to be supported by the evidence.

Recent scientific research published on the app ‘Happify’, found that the happiest couples experience a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. Put simply, for every one bad interaction they had five positive interactions – where a positive interaction is defined as anything from having a good conversation and sharing new experiences, to loving gestures like giving a hug or a compliment or showing concern for a partner’s needs, or expressing physical intimacy and sex. Therefore, for long-term satisfaction, it’s the frequency of positive interactions that really sustains a great relationship.

It’s much better to have a partner who treats you to little surprises every week than a partner who makes only one enormous token effort on Valentine’s Day but is a crappy boyfriend the rest of the year.

Equally on the negative side, anyone can deal with a partner who is demanding or emotionally volatile once a month, but dealing with it three times a week will lead anyone to a mental breakdown.

This principle of consistency also applies to sex. Nearly all guys would choose to have ‘good sex’ three times a week over ‘mind-blowing, incredible sex’ three times a month. And this seems borne out by the research, which states that the happiest couples have sex 2-3 times per week, and that frequent sexual interactions always led to more long-term satisfaction. (This is, incidentally, why Matt talks about how ‘frequency really matters’ in the sex chapter of the Get The Guy book).

I recall an interview in which Matt was asked to define in one sentence the secret of a great relationship. We talked it over for a while and decided on seven words: Never stop trying to impress your partner.

Looking back, I see even then we were trying to get at the importance of remaining consistent throughout the relationship. This doesn’t just mean increasing the amount of love we shower our partner with, but also curbing our negative traits and minimizing how often we subject our partner to our worst side.

Accept me at my worst?

This idea of ironing out our bad qualities can strike some people as a betrayal of our personality. As a society we are increasingly obsessed with seeking out authenticity. In an age of increasing transparency and openness, there is more desire for people who are ‘real’, whose personalities are naked and raw, who accept and love their human blemishes that mark them out as just a ‘normal person’ with flaws like you and me.

There is a healthy element to this. But it also has a darker side, when it permits people to feel unusually proud of their worst qualities, taking ownership of them as if they are just an essential part of the package of their personality. It’s the kind of thinking that says: if you are going to be with me at all, you have to accept all of the terrible things I do as well.

Consider the huge popularity of the following quote, which you’ll have probably seen repeated endlessly as an Internet meme, frequently (though mistakenly) attributed to Marilyn Monroe:

“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”

Recently a very good article on the Huffington Post expressed worry about the popularity of this quote, and while I won’t repeat all of that author’s points here, to echo one of his arguments: why would anyone think it is ok to describe themselves openly as “selfish” and “out of control”, and assume that this is just part of the package that their partner whom they love has to accept in order to get them at their best?

Here again we see this strange mentality, which assumes that it is somehow more authentic to stubbornly cling to and almost be proud of those bad behaviours that most of us would believe are totally unacceptable to inflict upon their partner. Do we really think that our loved ones deserve not even an effort on our part to change these behaviours?

The fact is, we aren’t at our best very often. Even if our best is incredible, it’s a lot for any person to hold out for if we are asking them to share their life with us.

I say we go for satisfying the people we love everyday, instead of promising them ecstasy and bliss once every few weeks if they just put up with our bad moods for long enough. Or to put it another way, let’s not ask those we care about most to eat our dirt today in the promise of a few scraps of future gold.


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59 Replies to “The Counter-Intuitive Secret Of Incredible, Happy Relationships”

  • This is one of the best articles about love and relationships I have ever read. You and your brother have outdone yourselves. I’ve never even thought about this concept before, but you are 100% on point. Thank you for putting this out there! The whole world needs to see it!!

  • Monsieuuuur Stephen, good to read you once more :D Although I think your articles get better every week, I have to slightly disagree with you in some way (well it had to happen some day now didn’t it!)

    I personally think it’s OK to recognise and accept one’s flaws (after all, it’s part of the lovely package of being human) as long as it helps to improve as a person and actually get rid of those flaws (or at least diminish them)!
    Nontheless I DO agree in the fact that it has caused more harm than help. I don’t know, I mean to me it’s a bit disturbing to actually be PROUD of flaws and especially to use them as an excuse for hurting people around us… Kind of reminds me of the typical nasty teenager attitude we all surely had once (or more) in our lifetime hahah.
    Long story short: I don’t think the advice “be yourself” in itself is harmful, the problem occurs when it’s confused with “be an unconsiderate selfish asshole/bitch!!”

    Last but not least, since when did Marilyn Monroe become a lifestyle icon?!?!? The lady committed suicide for peeps sake!!!! WAKE UP PEOPLEEEEE!!!!

    The end.
    Great reading you once more :)
    Keep rockin’!

    1. Randa old buddy! I agree with what you’re saying here. It’s not that ‘just being yourself’ is in any sense a terrible idea, and of course I wouldn’t tell people to just NOT be themselves. I think it is more the spirit with which this advice is usually given that is so frustrating, as it is commonly used to dissuade people from working on their personality at all, especially aspects that make them difficult to be around.

      With regards to Marilyn, as I said in the article, I don’t think she ever said that quote – it just seems to get attributed to her.

      Thanks, as always. Stephen x

  • Hi Stephen,

    I really liked all your articles but THIS is really the BEST!!!

    I can’t underline enough how much I agree with everything you wrote.
    I love the fact that in this article you ‘swim against the current’.

    The more I read your articles, the more I am curious about your person/mind…. what else you have to say.


  • I’m loving all your articles Stephen and this one tops them all! It can even be applied to friendships as well, so glad to know that I’m not the only one who thinks this way :)

    1. I think it’s one of the most important unconscious criterion we have when choosing close friends i.e. whether they consistently bring our mood up or down. Thanks so much for your response Rachel. Stephen x

  • hi Stephen,
    great post. maybe when a couple is communicative enough, the two could find an equilibrium that satisfy them both (sort of sacrifice for the loved one, but it should be from the two, not just from one).
    I want to tell you that I really love your posts. you bring a touch of wisdom to this blog.
    Thank u

    1. Yes, it definitely has to come from both sides. Of course there is always compromise and balance. I think most relationships come down to how consistently each partner makes an effort to please the other, and the balance between positive and negative binteractions i.e. in the article, I mentioned that the ideal is a 5:1 ratio (5 good for every 1 bad). Thanks Rima! x

  • Hi Stephen, your first paragraph particularly resonated with me. It is something I have been trying to do lately, not succumb to my worst character traits. To think about them, have them in my mind and stop myself before I go ahead. I had a conversation with my father yesterday where I listed them and stated how I was trying really hard to address these. To my surprise he agreed with every one and agreed I was right in my efforts to sort them out. I was astounded. I later thought, you know people need to accept a person whatever. But the reality is they don’t do they and quite frankly they deserve better, they deserve effort to be all the things you stated.
    Listening to a beautiful new song by John Legend, the words ” (I) love your perfect imperfections”, it’s easy to fall into the trap of expecting friends, lovers to accept us as we are, like you say, as if that’s real or authentic. Why should they have to put up with flaws really?
    I did as you suggested in a previous article and I’ve not been negative about anyone. It’s hard work but it pays off, well I hope so as I’m trying so damn hard!
    Kathryn x

    1. Great work Kathryn! I think it’s impossible to eliminate all of our weaknesses and bad behaviours – a lot of it is about improving communication and knowing the things that trigger our bad habits so that we can take measures to reduce them as much as possible. And of course, we have to incorporate more positive/loving behaviours towards our partner at the same time.

      Thanks for your comments. Stephen x

  • Hello Stephen,

    And again, I really enjoyed reading your post!

    For a second, maybe two I went like “What the hell is he talking about. 20% and 80% – that’s easy to answer and quality does matter.” And then I went like “Oh. Ok. Get it.” lol

    Jup, I do think ironing out our bad qualities is somehow a betrayal but in the other hand I totally understand why it’s done. We are somehow trapped in this dilemma of acting they way we should vs the way we would like to. So “be youself” can be an excuse for a repellent character flaw or a motivation to get out there and start living life the way you want to and not how society wants you to. But I get your point though. I just think it depends on the way you look at it.

    I agree on “Never stop trying to impress your partner” because it’s important to grow in a relationship. Impression is to define though because it shouldn’t become a pressure-thing like “if you can’t impress me anymore because I need that from you because I myself am on the fast-track etc.”

    I for example can be impressed by little things. Could be improvement in charakter, behaviour, acting. Could also be like something they achieved they wanted for so long and finally made it. Someting they love doing not what I want or society wants. It shouldn’t be about shaping the person it should be about loving the person.

    And that brings me to the quotation you quoted. I think it has to do with acceptance. Everybody has his or her package they bring into a relationship. To openly say “i’m selfish” is honest and shows gumption. It’s not the best quality but every human being is more or less, here and there selfish. I think sheh and every person wants to be accepted for who and what they are and that includes their flaws. And of course they deserve an effort on our part to change certain behaviours, in a good way! :)

    1. Yes, I think it’s when people become resigned to all of their worst qualities that things can really go bad, but you are right: to some extent we have to find people whose bad behaviours we are on some level willing to accept (as long as they don’t happen to often), which is a great reason to have standards in the first place. As I said in the article, it is largely about HOW OFTEN you have to deal with your partner’s difficult side that determines the quality of the relationship. Thanks a lot for taking the time to respond to the piece Irene! x

  • Yes it is true, for me any how,my marriage ended from an accumulation of 26 years of shit.
    I find it easy to accept 80%\bad versus 20%\ good when you see nothing else in your future. Whether you believe you deserve it or not.

    1. That’s true Leecis, which is why having strong standards from the beginning is so important. Thanks for your comment, Stephen x

  • ♥☆♥ Dear wonderful lovely Hussey brothers ♥☆♥

    Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww two brothers spreading LOVE around the world & writing LOVE articles together :)

    心温まる♥♥♥♥♥Very heart-touching♥♥♥♥♥心温まる

    I thank youuuuuuuuuuuuuu dear Matthew & Stephen :)
    I looooooooooooooooooooooooooove all the LOVE :):):)
    This is one of the most beautiful articles I read :)
    I loooooooooooooooooooooooooove your article :)

    100% agree:)
    To LOVE each other and to open our hearts every moment of our lives: awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww LOVE LOVE LOOOOOOOOOOVE is always the best :)

    Thank youuuuuuuu Matthew & Stephen Hussey : for all the special moments of LOVE :)

    Today I enjoyed all moments of LOVE :)

    ♥♥♥♥♥ 私はあなたを愛して ♥♥♥♥♥

    Endless hugs :)


    1. ♥☆♥ Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww you wrote GET THE GUY together :)
      Looooooooooooooooooooooooove it :) ♥☆♥

      One of the best books on this planet :)
      Because it is a book of LOVE :)
      Thank you for all the lovely LOVE moments :)

  • the last paragragh struck me. In regards to my approach to finding a partner, I thought i had a realistic point of view – I dont place expecations on others that I can’t fulfil myself and we all have our good, bad and ugly sides, the bottom line is can we put up and live with each other’s good, bad and ugly parts of each other. If so, its a go. reality check in?

  • I found this article to be very timely for me. I recently broke up with my boyfriend of a few months because he was (taking a page from your book here) being fantastic 20% of the time and disappointing me 80% of the time. However, the past couple weeks I sometimes wondered whether or not I made the right decision to end it (reminiscing about that 20%). Your article has helped put much of our relationship in perspective for me. Thank you for the insight & helping me see that there’s no way I would have been satisfied or happy with the relationship, had it continued.

    All your posts have been great thus far–looking forward to your next article!

    1. So glad this helped make you feel comfortable with your decision. Thanks for your kind words Liz. Stephen x

  • I think the truth is that it is very, very hard to change. And it’s kind of like being an addict. (Only ‘like’, not the same.) You’ll always be an addict and will try your best not to relapse. But you can’t promise that. Life is long. The person who loves you has to take that risk. If they can’t, they aren’t the right person for you. I really believe that.

    That said, it doesn’t mean one doesn’t try to be there best and and try very hard. Especially with the ones you love. But I do think that with all that trying the person who loves you does have to love all of you, not just the good parts.

    I give Marilyn Monroe points for being self-aware. :-) It all starts there.

    1. You are absolutely correct A., and part of that is the reason why you should find someone whose weaknesses/imperfections are things you can live with (and maybe even learn to love a bit). My point is more that there are certain negative behaviours we have a choice over whether or not to indulge in frequently, and they can be managed. e.g. if we are generally bad at praising others and showing how much we care, these are things we can improve by learning how to communicate our feelings better and open up more – rather than saying “i’m just naturally not good at saying how I feel” which seems like a poor excuse for not showing the people we love how much we care. Thanks for your response, Stephen x

  • The related article is a nice read as well –

    “My wife does not “accept me,” and thank God for that. She challenges me. She makes me better. In other words, she loves me.”

    Since I started following your articles, I’ve been perceiving the “be yourself” quite differently.
    I’ve noticed just how often it is used. I’ve noticed that whenever you talk about relationships and mention “changing” everyone will respond with “But you need to be yourself! You can’t fake it”, it’s ridiculous. It’s saddenind and maddening.

    When have we lost our will to improve or change? It’s quite odd, when people spend so much time on their appearance, their career or some stupid rules while they forget about the very core of their life, themselves.

    But that wasn’t the main point, now was it .. it’s just something I was reminded of.

    A friend of mine is genuinly investing in and worrying about his relationship. He’s still with his girlfriend who goes with the “take me as I am or go away”-attitude.

    Thanks for the reminder. You need to keep working on any relationship for it to continue to exist. There is nothing to be taken for granted in this world, and that’s a goddamn good thing

    1. Barbara, this is spot on. Who says that coaching ourselves out of some of our weaknesses is ‘faking’ it? It’s like saying that because someone feels needy and insecure at this stage of their life that they could never be a confident and secure person, which is nonsense. Thanks for talking sense :) Stephen x

  • This article is a token of novelty, triggering serious thoughts on everyday occcurances rather than ’14th of February’ instances. I agree (strangely enough). Steve, thanks.

  • I think this blog is going to resonate with a lot of people who are sick and tired of the culture of unhealthy acceptance and victim blaming we’ve created. My ex was one of those people who epitomized this mentality. He had a very aggressive temper, even to the point where he’d throw things around and slam his fists. I told him time and time again that it frightened me, and I thought he should look into anger management. His response was always, “So, I have a temper. That’s just who I am, I’m not going to change, and you need to accept that”. He was emotionally abusive and selfish in other ways as well, but his response was always that I was doing something wrong by not accepting him. More people need to be called out for being proud of their horrible traits.

  • So, while I completely agree with the objective of this article, I do have one question about the application of this theory.
    Oftentimes, I find myself unable to fully relax or be authentic around the men I date because I am trying so hard to be the best version of myself, and this is a rather exhausting exercise.
    How can you be the best possible version of yourself without also being overly agreeable or polite? I often end up in relationships where I feel the person I’m dating hardly knows me because I always have this shield of “good”, really boring, behavior up in front of my more genuine personality (which, to be honest, is less understanding of their whining).

  • I loved this article. I also believe that it can be applied to all type of relationship – friends, family, etc. How can I help somebody realize that this way of thinking (excusing your bad behaviors because that’s who you are attitude) is wrong?
    If it was a partner it would be easier to walk away, but what if it’s family. What do you do when it’s one of the parents acting this way?

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