The Best Advice for Relationships

After interviewing a number of relationships, here are some key takeaways from Nate Bagley's research on love.

On the key things that make a relationship successful:

“This was actually one of the most surprising things I learned on the journey.

Self Love: The happiest couples always consisted of two (sometimes more) emotionally healthy and independently happy individuals. These people practiced self-love. They treated themselves with the same type of care that they treated their partner… or at least they tried to.

Emotionally healthy people know how to forgive, they are able to acknowledge their part in any disagreement or conflict and take responsibility for it. They are self-aware enough to be assertive, to pull their weight, and to give love when it’s most difficult.

Commitment: After that emotional health came an unquestioning level of commitment. The happiest couples knew that if shit got real, their significant other wasn’t going to walk out on them. They knew that even if things got hard – no, especially if things got hard — they were better off together. The sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

Trust: Happy couples trust each other… and they have earned each others’ trust. They don’t worry about the other person trying to undermine them or sabotage them, because they’ve proven over and over again that they are each other’s biggest advocate. That trust is built through actions, not words. It’s day after day after day of fidelity, service, emotional security, reliability.

Establish that foundation, and you’re in good shape.

Intentionality: This is the icing on the cake. There’s a difference between the couple who drives through the rainstorm and the couple who pulls their car to the side of the road to make out in the rain. (Yes, that’s a true story.) There’s a difference between the couple who kisses for 10 seconds or longer when they say goodbye to each other rather than just giving each other a peck… or nothing at all. There’s a difference between the couples who encourage each other to pursue their personal goals at the expense of their own discomfort or inconvenience… even if it means their partner has to stage kiss another woman.

The couples who try on a daily basis to experience some sort of meaningful connection, or create a fun memory are the couples who shattered my perception of what was possible in a loving relationship.”

On the best advice he was given:

“One woman in Georgia gave some pretty amazing advice. She and and her husband have been married for over 60 years, and after being asked what her best relationship advice would be, she paused and said…

‘Don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most.’”

On the best way to solve disagreements:

“Resolving disagreements was one of the topics that came up the most.

Here’s what I learned:

Don’t Fight To Win: A huge number of couples talked about how they didn’t fight against each other. I mean, if you’re in love, you should be playing for the same team. Your goal should be to resolve the issue, not to emerge victorious over the love of your life… and let’s be honest, you just feel guilty when you win anyway.

Seek to Understand: If you’re having a hard time playing on the same team, stop fighting and instead try to understand why your partner is upset. Typically what’s being talked about isn’t the real issue. People are inherently bad at being vulnerable, especially in threatening situations. Be willing to ask sincere questions. Let the answers sink in. If she is complaining that you’re spending too much time at work, maybe the real issue is that she misses you, and wants to feel connected with you. Rather than arguing about how you’re providing for the family, and she needs to respect how hard you work, try to listen to what she’s really saying. Then hold her. Come home early one day, and surprise her with a date, or some special one-on-one time. Reassure her that she, and your relationship, are a priority for you. If you don’t want that same issue to arise again, keep investing in the solution.

Just Be Nice To Each Other Seriously. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t call names. Don’t take jabs. Don’t try to hurt the other person. Argue naked if it helps… but just be kind and civil ad respectful. It will prevent so many bad things from happening.”

Our ‘Someday’ is Right Now

For twenty five years, I’ve spent my days searching for something – a captured flag, a major, a purpose – and for twenty five years, I’ve managed to draw one, overarching conclusion: life should not be spent looking for something you don’t already have.

There’s nothing wrong with having a vision, goals, or playing a game of hide-and-seek every once and a while, but to spend every waking moment thinking about what you lack instead of embracing what you have is no way to live.

Do that, and you will wake up one day and realize you’ve missed out on some of life’s greatest treasures because you were too preoccupied with something menial. Do that, and you will realize you’re now too late. 

After a quarter of a century on this Earth, I have finally discovered the meaning behind the phrase “our ‘someday’ is right now.” No matter how much time we spend reliving or regretting the past, it will always remain the past, and no matter how much time we spend worrying about the future, it will always remain the future. So why waste our time dwelling on either? Why not let them go and embrace what is right in front of us, making the most of each and every second we have?

Another important lesson I have learned after a quarter of a century is that there is no right or wrong way to make the most of your time, so long as it is contributing to your wellbeing.

The important thing is to know what contributes to your wellbeing. Is it yoga, reading, dancing, cooking – is it travel? What gets you going? What fulfills you?

Spend your time doing whatever that may be, instead of what you think you should be doing, and your worry, anxiety and fear of change will subside. You will become a person of the present, focused and comfortable in your own skin, and will begin to find life more enjoyable. This, in effect, will make you a far more pleasant person to be around.

My biggest goal for the year ahead of me is to incorporate these two key findings and establish a balance in my life. I’m going to begin this process with a good detox – and I don’t mean by replacing juice blends with real food. I mean by omitting all things that detract from my overall happiness – including coffee (my energy level significantly drops once the effects ware off, leaving me tired and irritable), processed food, drinking too much, sleeping too little, doing things I don’t enjoy and excessive amounts of sugar.

I’m then going to fill the void with things I enjoy and crave – sleep, meditation, exercise, being with loved ones, doing crafts, learning new things and discovering new and healthy recipes to try.

Essentially, I hope to find a healthy balance between being social and fun – what I devoted myself to in my early twenties – and being relaxed and at peace. I want to stay active and engaged, but I want to do it in a more conscientious way so that I don’t drive myself into the ground, which typically leads to exhaustion and illness. I want to expand and absorb new things without overwhelming myself.

I’m not sure what that will mean for me in the upcoming year or decade, but so be it. Right now, I’m just going to enjoy exactly where I am, and right now, I’m twenty-five years old with a lot to be thankful for.

Bathing in Golden Light

What is it that makes it so hard sometimes to determine whither we will walk? I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright. It is not indifferent to us which way we walk. There is a right way; but we are very liable from heedlessness and stupidity to take the wrong one. We would fain take that walk, never yet taken by us through this actual world, which is perfectly symbolical of the path which we love to travel in the interior and ideal world; and sometimes, no doubt, we find it difficult to choose our direction, because it does not yet exist distinctly in our idea.

For the last two years, I have stumbled through a series of events leaving me feeling lost and confused. It seems to be a common experience for most people in their mid-twenties, but that doesn’t make it any easier to survive or understand. I had low self-esteem, which was somewhat new to me; made destructive decisions that affected myself and those around me; and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and cared very little about what that meant.

I had morphed back into my 16-year-old I-don’t-give-a-damn self, but this time it was inexcusable.

Rather than bask in this state of limbo - which I came to loathe more than the month of February - I tried various things to bring purpose back to my life. I developed new habits that made me feel good like yoga and cooking, and I extrapolated, or at least tried to quit, things that made me feel bad like smoking cigarettes and drinking too much alcohol.

I tried to zen out and find peace, and when that didn’t work, I went out and drank too much and smoked too many cigarettes, which kept this cyclical process going like the never ending story.

I twisted and turned, searching for a path different from the ones I’d traveled on before. I wanted something unique and exciting, but I wasn’t sure what that was or how to get it. I thought about switching careers, going back to school; I dated a number of guys - most of whom didn’t make it past date 3 because there was always something missing; and I constantly tried to change my look and my lifestyle.

I’m not sure if it was disillusionment or enlightenment that inspired me to stop. Maybe it was a mixture of both, or just sheer exhaustion. Regardless, something made me realize that perhaps I was going about this the wrong way. Perhaps instead of putting myself out there and actively searching for something without knowing its shape or meaning, I should pull back in, go inside myself and figure out once again who I am and what I want from life.

This took a great deal of patience and time spent in solitude. Reevaluating your life, especially when it is in a state of chaos, is not an easy task. It does not leave you feeling good about yourself, and before anything is resolved it causes an internal conflict by forcing you to question everything you say and do - most of which you have already justified in your mind, convincing yourself that it works for you.

If it disrespects you or anyone else, it doesn’t. Trust me.

This time of self-reflection required patience and forgiveness - both of which I find challenging. You see, I am an adventurer. I like for things to be vibrant, stimulating and intense - I seek out thrills and excitement. Though I consider myself an insightful person, spending hours contemplating my life and where it is going, especially when it seems stagnant, is a tedious and somewhat frustrating task. Thankfully, I am persistent and was tired of incessantly trying things that quickly withered.

So when everyone else went out, I stayed in, climbed into bed, pulled out my journal and wrote. First, I admitted to myself that life doesn’t always move at the pace you want it to and that some things take time to develop. Then after what seemed like hours of contemplation, I wrote down the things I was willing to wait for, the things I wanted most in life that I wouldn’t compromise.

I wrote about the dreams I tossed under the rug several months after graduation when I realized the “real world” isn’t quite as exciting or welcoming as I thought it would be. I wrote about the love I stopped believing in after the third heartbreak I barely thought I would survive. I wrote about the person I wanted to be, even if it took years to develop. 

I removed all the toxins that infected my life, including ones that I had become numb to, and I chose to care again. 

It wasn’t long before things started falling into place and life started guiding me again. Through surrender to the unknown and a strong foundation, I came to rediscover the beauty of taking life one step at a time and appreciating the process, the evolution.

I let down my guard and opened myself up to experience everything the world had to offer, and within weeks I met someone who has since turned my world upside down, leading my in a direction I never knew existed. He has taken me places and shown me things that I thought were only a figment of my imagination. He has made me a believer again - of life, of hope and of dreams having the potential to become a reality.

We walked in so pure and bright a light, gilding the withered grass and leaves, so softly and serenely bright, I thought I had never bathed in such golden flood, without a ripple or a murmur to it. The west side of every wood and rising ground gleamed like the boundary of Elysium, and the sun on our backs seemed like a gentle herdsman driving us home at evening.

I’m not sure what the future holds for us, or for myself. I’m not sure if this will last or if it will fade into the background, along with previous loves. But I know one thing for certain - this is something special that will change my life forever. It is taking me down a path I couldn’t see before, and there is an unavoidable light shining up ahead.

So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.

 - excerpts from “Walking” by Henry David Thoreau