My parents were both 22 when my father proposed; they’d known each other for just a few weeks. They got married shortly after and have stayed that way for over two decades.
Until recently, such stories were the norm. A man would meet a girl; fall in love; get married. But in a world of high divorce rates and alternative life choices, things are different.
From Asia to the United States, marriage rates have been falling for decades. Median age at first marriage is rising and single parents are increasingly common. Numbers don’t lie: we’re spending less and less time in marriage.
This is where relationships come in. An elegant solution to the needs of a commitment-phobic generation, they’ve become central to our lives. Even pop culture reflects the trend – my generation watches “How I Met Your Mother,” not “Married with Children”!
And yet, as important as relationships are, we’re awful at them.
As a dating coach, I always heard complaints about unhealthy relationships; controlling girlfriends; the hardships of commitment. But the truth is, a relationship is like a dance – it’s up to the man to lead. If he doesn’t know the moves, it’s hard for his lady to take over and do well. In other words, things usually go bad because we screw up – not our girlfriends.
That’s why it’s up to men like you and I to keep our ladies – and ourselves – happy by stepping up and handling relationships like men. Here’s how.
The 2 Most Important Relationship Questions Ever
Before you commit to a girl, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Always ask yourself two simple questions:
1) Do I really like this girl?
2) Am I ready for a relationship right now?
If you can honestly say “Yes and yes,” you’re ready. If can’t – you’re not. It’s that simple.
You might think these questions are obvious – and they are. But the truth is, most guys never ask them. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to forget that the girl – or the time – is wrong for you.
Let’s say you like a girl very much and want to keep seeing her. Have a lot going on in your life? Working 14-hour days? Getting over an ex? You can overcome distractions like that for a while, but long-term relationships require time and effort. If you can’t – or won’t – make both, don’t commit.
Conversely, when you’re ready for a relationship, don’t settle for just anyone. This is what guys do when they’re on the rebound or desperate and it rarely works. Don’t waste anyone’s time by rushing a decision.
The Foundations of a Successful Relationship: Honesty, Trust, Respect
So you like a girl, she likes you and you want to be together: congratulations! It’s a wonderful feeling. Just remember to establish the three main ingredients of a healthy relationship – honesty, trust and respect – as early as possible.
Honesty comes first: always be upfront about who you are and what you want. We all try to make good impressions, but don’t bend the truth too much and never lie outright. She’ll get to know the real you anyway; why complicate things by pretending?
Respect is a natural product of honesty. A man of character doesn’t hide his thoughts (self-respect) or lie to women (respect for others). Cultivate respect in yourself and you’ll never let an unresolved issue fester, lead a girl on or put up with hurtful behavior. Your values won’t let you.
Of course, being respectful also means being a gentleman. The word means different things to different people, but it’s all about being a positive presence in a woman’s life. There is no excuse for being rude, abusive or manipulative.
Trust is the last ingredient of a great relationship, and it naturally follows Honesty and Respect. When you bring integrity to a relationship, women will trust you naturally. Being open – even when you don’t want to – is key here. Remember: trust isn’t when you count on someone to be perfect. Trust is when you can count on someone to be up-front about their imperfections.
Relationship Maintenance and Time Allocation
Relationships based on honesty, trust and respect are very easy to manage. Still, like anything in life worth having, they require a little maintenance!
First and foremost, don’t be the sloppy guy with a “relationship gut.” You have someone to look good for, so stay in shape and take care of your appearance. Don’t get too comfortable!
In the same vein, being together for a while is not an excuse to neglect your woman. If you’re not making her happy, someone else might. Do everything you can to stay passionate, romantic and caring as the relationship progresses. Never take anything for granted.
The other basic aspect of maintenance is time management. Spending all your time with your significant other is unhealthy; always leave some time for yourself. Hang out with your friends, read a book, go for a walk: do fun things you can tell your lady about later.
If you have the opposite problem – you and your girlfriend don’t spend enough time together – find a common activity. This will help you bond and create new discussion topics. Even if you have different everyday lives, Wednesday Night Salsa will guarantee you spend enough time together and have new things to discuss every week.
Troubleshooting and Damage Control
Every relationship involves compromise: sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don’t. Disagreements are normal. The big question is, how are you handling them?
Always ask yourself how important the outcome of an argument is to you. A man’s ego can get the best of him; if you feel emotional, take a step back and reassess the situation. Learn to pick your battles and avoid getting worked up over things that don’t matter.
When something really important is at stake, though, persist. Just don’t make things personal. Remember: you still love your girlfriend, you’re just having a hard time understanding each other. When you want something, try framing your request like this:
I care about you a lot. It’s really important for me that we work this out. I don’t want to pressure you, but I would be really happy if you could do [what you want her to do]. I don’t want to argue anymore, and I don’t want an answer from you right now: I just want you to think about it. No pressure. We’ll discuss everything later.
You’ll find that being firm – but respectful and patient – works most of the time. Putting things like this gives your girl an opportunity to think without feeling pressured. This works so well there’s hardly ever a “discuss everything later”; most conflicts are resolved quickly when egos are out of the equation.
Breaking Up or Staying Together
I view break-ups as a last resort, but some arguments are impossible to resolve; things don’t always work out. A relationship can be healthy and drama free for years but people grow apart and things change. If you want to break up, always be honest and direct – no bullshit.
If things are working out, on the other hand: congratulations! There are few things I enjoy more than seeing a happy couple. What you have is rare, hold onto it.