The Three Requirements of a Good Relationship – Free Ebook

Many people, after they’ve been in a couple for 
some time, will privately admit that they are – in  

many ways – frustrated and disappointed by the 
person they’ve chosen to share their lives with.
 

If pressed for details, they will have 
no difficulty coming up with a list:  

their partner, they might complain:
Is too loyal to their irritating family 

doesn’t share their views on 
the layout of the living room 

Never wants to go on camping holidays
Plays tennis every Wednesday evening,  

no matter what
Doesn’t like Moroccan food 

Doesn’t share their enthusiasm 
for 19th century Russian novels 

Has a habit of adding ‘actually’ to every 
second sentence, when it’s actually redundant
 

As the list gets longer, they sigh; they 
still love their partner and long to be happy  

together, it’s just that it seems impossibly 
complicated to make this relationship work.
 

What’s driving the frustration isn’t that 
they’ve sadly fallen for an idiot as a mate;  

it’s rather that we have all 
inherited needlessly complicated ideas  

of what a relationship is supposed to be for. We 
are told that love is meant to involve the almost  

total merger of two lives: we expect that a 
loving couple must live in the same house,  

eat the same meals together every night, share the 
same bed, go to sleep and get up at the same time;  

only ever have sex with (or even sexual 
thoughts about) each other, regularly see  

each others’ families, have all their friends 
in common – and pretty much think the same  

thoughts on every topic at every moment.

It’s a beautiful vision, but a hellish one too,  

for it places an impossibly punitive burden of 
expectation on another human. We feel the partner  

must be right for us in every way, and if they’re 
not, has to be prodded and cajoled into reform.
 

But there’s another perspective: relationships 
don’t have to be so complicated and ambitious  

if we keep in view what in the end actually 
makes them fulfilling. If we boil matters down,  

there might really just be three essential 
things we want from one another:
 

Kindness: a partner who is gentle 
with our imperfections and can  

good-humouredly tolerate us as we are.
Shared vulnerability: someone with whom  

we can be open about our anxieties, worries 
and the problems that throw us off balance:  

someone we don’t have to put on a good front for; 
someone around whom we can be weak, vulnerable and  

honest – and who will be the same around us.
Understanding: someone who is interested in,  

and can make sense of, certain obscure features 
of our minds: our obsessions, preoccupations  

and ways of seeing the world. And whom 
we are excited to understand in turn.
 

If we have these three critical ingredients to 
hand, we will feel loved and essentially satisfied  

whatever differences then crop up in a hundred 
other areas. Perhaps our partner’s friends or  

routines won’t be a delight, but we will be 
content. Just as if we lack these emotional  

goods, and yet agree on every detail of European 
literature, interior design and social existence,  

we are still likely to feel lonely and bereft.

By limiting what we expect a relationship to  

be about, we can overcome the tyranny and 
bad temper that bedevils so many lovers.  

A good, simpler – yet very fulfilling – 
relationship could end up in a minimal state:  

we might not socialise much together. We might 
hardly ever encounter each other’s families.  

Our finances might overlap only at a few points. 
We could be living in different places and only  

meet up twice a week. Conceivably we might not 
even ask too many questions about each other’s  

sex life. But when we would be together it 
would be profoundly gratifying, because we  

would be in the presence of someone who knew 
how to be kind, vulnerable and understanding.
 

A bond between two people can be deep and 
important precisely because it is not played out  

across all practical details of existence. 
By simplifying – and clarifying – what a  

relationship is for we release ourselves 
from overly complicated conflicts – and  

can focus on our urgent underlying needs to 
be sympathised with, seen and understood.

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