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”

  • I’ve read many of the articles you’ve written, and this is the first I feel compelled to comment, because it struck quite a chord with me. The truth is, I have finally found a man I really like, and I want to be better for him. It’s not that I’m a horrible person, mind you. It’s just that I’ve had a string of longer-term relationships that ultimately ended, and I could list a ton of reasons why they ended, and it was always about what THEIR problem was. Instead of trying to find a pattern/correlation of what THEY did (“maybe I just choose the wrong guy”), I finally took responsibility for myself and the part that I played in those relationships’ demise and got real with myself. I knew I absolutely had to in order to have a full understanding of where I’d been, who I’d been and am, in order to not keep allowing “history to repeat itself” so to speak. Basically, this man I’m dating is the kind of man that makes me want to be better, and honestly, not mess it up. It has been a huge ego check to come to the understanding that there were things that I did, or did not do, in my past relationships to mess it up. Many of those things had to do with the fact that I allowed traits of my character, that were either gained through nature or nurture, that even I disliked, though they were my own, to just be on constant display. I definitely had the mind-set of “Take it or leave it, this is who I am”. So….yeah. That’s just stupid! haha If I don’t even like them and they weren’t making ME feel good, why on Earth would I expect anyone else to like them? Of course they would choose “leave it”! And they usually did this by checking out on me on an emotional level. The fact is, you have to put your ego aside, identify what those “flaws” are and be stronger than them. Before I react in a way that I know I would have in the past, (I’ve basically worked to identify the thoughts and even physical effects going on when I’m feeling a certain way in a situation or about any one thing, etc) I literally WILL myself to stop from reacting how it would come naturally to me to do so. “Being myself” and reacting how I normally would didn’t work in the past, so I need to do something better for myself if I want a productive, fulfilled future. Great article, one of the best I’ve ever read that challenges people to GET REAL about who they are and why who they are, may be the very thing holding them back from being the person they truly want to be. Keep ’em coming! :)

    1. I’m so honoured April – what a wonderfully honest and inspiring comment. I’m so glad you decided to comment on this piece. It sounds like you have a great capacity for self-reflection that will help you immensely in your future relationships. Really pleased for you! Stephen x

  • Okay, I may be about to start a firestorm here, but what’s with all the sexual requirements that a man needs the woman to fulfill? It’s always “The more sex you have with your partner, the happier you are…” Absolute bollocks.

    I may be a little different from the average person posting here because I am a happily married woman of 11 years with 2 children. My husband is always saying how lucky he is to have me. (In case you were wondering if he is happy too.) When you are dating, of course you always want to jump each other’s bones, but when you’ve been married over a decade, it’s comforting to know that you’re not going to be pressured to have sex just to keep up with some bollocks study – written by men, obviously. With the right person, a relationship, and marriage, is very easy and comfortable – even if you’re not having carpet burn. Sometimes you’re too tired or not in the mood for sex and go to sleep holding hands instead. As Matt wrote in another post, you choose loyalty, just as you choose to be happy by choosing to have gratitude instead of focusing on the negative.

    Men (and women) should go ahead and feel free to satisfy themselves 3, 7, 20 times a week if they so wish. If you feel like having a midnight snack 5 times a week, don’t go wake up your partner because you feel like having a club sandwich and expect her to smile and say “Fantastic!” – go to the kitchen and make it yourself. Sometimes – not all the time – fulfill your own needs and stop making it someone else’s responsibility ie “she must very cheerfully satisfy me a minimum of x times a week.” Rubbish. Every married woman in the world that has existed through millennia knows what I’m talking about.

    1. Nice points Angela.

      I didn’t think the main argument above was counter-intuitive. Seems common sense, but your comment comes from a real position of being married, whereas the article quotes distant studies and quotes the Huffington Post – hardly the best source.

      I have a friend who’s married (I’m not) and his comments are usually wiser than most things you read in the media. Because he’s living it and he knows what he’s talking about. That said, I don’t know if Stephen is married..maybe articles from his own perspective would be better than these cosmo-style articles.

  • Thank you Steve for writing such an insightful and honest article. It seems we live in a world where it is acceptable to shirk at taking personal responsibility for our actions and behaviour. By using the cop out line of ‘this is me take it or leave it ‘, means that we won’t grow as people and at worst causes pain towardscand abuse of others. There’s an arrogance and a coldness to
    This that makes your flesh crawl. I was married to a man that regularly said if you really loved me you would put up with all
    My moods and behaviour without comment. I’ve married you haven’t I? ‘Each of us affect those around us and it’s our responsibility as a citizen of this world to take full responsibility of who we are and how we behave and be courageous enough to face our flaws and patterns of negative behaviour and work on them. My ongoing journey is to not let past abuse be my mantra for being and behaving and thus continuing the legacy.It is very scary to open your heart when all you want to do is run. However, it is only truly living when you do. I am a work in progress and loving the journey of learning and growing, the pain and the joy and especially the thrill of limitless skies in all aspects of my life. Maybe we ought to all have to make a pledge when graduating from
    school along the lines of ‘ I pledge to take full responsibility as an adult for my behaviour and actions and thus promise to endeavour to make a positive impact on those around me. ‘

  • Hi. I am really glad to read about one area that you have touched on in particular – the quote by Marilyn Monroe. Hats off to you on your perspective. Well said and extremely glad you did say what you did regarding what really is wrong in people so happily and proudly saying such things.

  • Steve, this is such a great read. I enjoy your writing so much. It is smooth sailing and full of insights. I enjoy them also because they always speak my mind.

    I’ve seen that Marilyn Monroe quote many times and thought what a bs. I can’t put it as eloquently as you. People keep sharing this kind of stuff on social media. I don’t think people know or actually “think” about what they are sharing. They do it because the quote sounds cool, or it sounds “rebel” (oh I am such a bad-ass, watch out people :-P ). It makes me laugh when people who are not even passionate about life see themselves as rebels. What is even funnier is that they think “being selfish” is being rebel.

    I liked this part from the article you linked: These kids, perhaps not equipped with the same critical thinking capacities as the first type, will eventually buy into the hype. They will look at those trophies and gold stars, unearned and undeserved, and begin to develop an inflated image of themselves. What is born from this is not confidence, but narcissism and arrogance. These are the kids in possession of the much-heralded “self-esteem.” Indeed, they hold themselves in high esteem. Why? Because they are themselves. They are spectacular, beautiful, athletic, and brilliant, all by their very nature. Whatever they do is the best thing anyone has ever done, simply because it was done by them. Whoever comes in contact with them ought to be grateful for the privilege…People don’t know how to be in relationships anymore, and I think this epidemic can be traced, at least in part, to the delusions of grandeur we instill in our little snowflakes from an early age.

    I have worked, made friends with and even dated a couple of people like that. They were royal pain in the butt. Self-important people. I’ve always taken a joy of bursting their bubbles. I was with someone who never apologized for anything. Not even once. Nobody could make him admit his mistake and apologize for it. No way. When he screwed up, he was aware of it but he drove around words or changed the subject. And he told me “You are too smart for your own good.” I told him “You shouldn’t even be in a relationship with a human being if you don’t know how to apologize. You should get a dog instead.”

    I am a good communicator. If I do or say something wrong, I think about why I did it. And I am big enough to apologize and mean it. On the other hand, apologizing is not an excuse to repeat the same mistakes. I don’t make many mistakes actually. Really I am awesome. LOL!

    People think having self-respect means denying their mistakes. If you have self-respect you accept your flaws and try to cover them up with your strengths. That is something I also learned in my education life as well as personal experiences.

    We all have flaws. We have weaknesses. But we need to make the best of our strengths so that our flaws will not come to surface. You put it brilliantly “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.”

    Thank you for sharing your profound intuition and your beautiful mind, Steve. Looking forward to your new articles.

    Best xxx

  • Completely agree :) but here’s the “but” … I think we all have a “worst side”, created through the bs we can’t avoid in childhood. We have a selfish side created through evolution and survival instincts. When those two collide we have our “worst moments”, and I think for a human being that’s unavoidable. This is the intersection where selfish and out of control have a major crash and there will be injuries for both parties involved…which begs the question, what now?

    This is where knowing the power of self reflection, taking responsibility for your actions and reactions, and sincerely saying “I’m sorry for (fill in the blank with what you know was wrong about your behaviour)” without the use of the word “but”, without any form of justification, becomes vital to a relationship. We all will need forgiveness time to time, whether it’s among family, lovers, or friends. Put two people together long enough and human nature will deal us blows to our ego. But coming back to spirit, back to love and using love as a verb to take responsibility or to forgive becomes what love ultimately is all about.

  • Good article!

    We want people to be “authentic”,
    But what do we really mean by that?
    We hope they are:
    honest, caring, making us smile, constantly trying to improve oneself, not flawless but genuinely sorry when hurting s.o whether consciously or not, vulnerable, sometimes in a bad mood but not acting out on it, with quirks and pimples, not perfect but human like us and approachable…

    A lot of people seem to believe being authentic is acting out your inner three year old child-
    Don’t geht me wrong-
    three year olds can be very charming-
    And very tiring!!!

  • I think you’re right that many people use the not so M.M. quote as an excuse to be flawed 6 out of 7 days a week.

    When I read it though I see it as I have bad days just like you. They are not all the time. I do try to make myself better, but I am far from perfect and if you can’t stand by me once a month or once every couple months and leave or tell me to leave and never come back and not try to talk about what the issue is than no you don’t deserve to be with me when things are going great.

    Everyone is all those things at times, if it is all the time it’s annoying and they need to go, but if it is on occasion and they work on it it’s not that bad.

    I do believe that if you can not work together and stick out the hard times and only live in the easy fun times you don’t deserve to be with someone in the easy fun times. You have to be able to make it through the tough times where shit hits the fan and everything is going wrong to be able to be there for the good times. I told my boyfriend just as long as you don’t make excuses and not try to better yourself it’s okay to have flaws. I have flaws but I don’t use being human as an excuse. I’m far from perfect, but I try very hard to be a better person tomorrow than I am today that.

    I think you are right in the way that it is worded it is making it sound like it is making excuses not to better yourself and saying I’m proud of my flaws live with them or move on. Sorry I’ll move on.

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