How To Achieve a Happy, Positive Relationship
Experts all agree that applying the rules we’ve discussed in this chapter requires two different types of action. The first comes from within, and the second involves what we do for the other. Fromm describes the first type of action as an “inner activity” or “the productive use of one’s powers.” This activity is “indispensable for the practice of the art of loving.” He explains that “Love is an activity; if I love, I am in a constant state of active concern with the loved person” which calls for a “constant state of awareness, alertness...”
Though not a psychologist like Fromm, feminist author bell hooks discussed this same concept when she advocates for lack of selfishness in a relationship—the “ability to recognize when the other person needs our attention.” Hooks quotes psychologist Robert Sternberg, Professor of Human Development at Cornell University and a theorist on intelligence: “If I were asked the single most frequent cause of the destruction of relationships, I would say it is selfishness. We live in an age of narcissism, and many people have never learned or have forgotten how to listen to the needs of others. The truth is, if you want to make just one change in yourself that will improve your relationship—literally overnight—it would be to put your partner’s interest on an equal footing with your own.” This is exactly what Fromm means by inner action.
The lover must be able to discount some of the negatives, to blink and look away, to deny and forgive.”3 In other words, as Aristotle advised, accept the person for who they are, finding and loving the good in them.
This means not trying to change someone’s personality to satisfy your needs. If someone is shy and introverted, you shouldn’t demand they become a public speaker. Susan was fundamentally quiet and shy with a wicked and dry sense of humor. But I could no more get her to tell jokes to an audience of people at a cocktail party than I could get her to shave her head bald. For her part, she could not get me to stop being assertive, which was my base nature. We strove to accept each other for who we were and didn’t try to impose demands that the other change. It formed part of the core element of a successful relationship.
However, this is different from our earlier discussion about love being a catalyst for change in ourselves. That refers to the motivation to change from within to do something that improves yourself and pleases the other person. Very different. For Susan, that meant a concerted effort to overcome her shyness and not stay in a corner at business or related events that we attended together, which she would have preferred, but would have reflected poorly on me. Instead she forced herself to mingle and strike up conversations with strangers. She called it “Being Mrs. Phil.” And for myself, I had to become more attuned to the emotional aspects of what was going on around me and in relationships in particular. I had to disregard my usual rational approach to everything and habit of looking at every situation as an exercise in logical decision making. Of course not everything in a relationship is rational. For instance, I had to appreciate the emotional aspect of Susan’s relationship with her children rooted in their childhood, which was different than my relationship with my children. If I were to impose my rational expectations on her interactions with her children, I ran the risk of adversely affecting our relationship. So emotional attunement to her family was a change I made from within. Both of these are examples of change from within inspired by love, not attempts to change the other from without.
This list of Do’s and Don’ts is a condensed compilation of the experts’ advice combined with what I learned from my relationship with Susan. It is an easy way for you to remember the most important points in this book so that you can apply them to your relationship on a day-to-day basis. Read the details of how you can apply each one in The Essential Rules of Love.
- Ever raise your voice at your partner.
- Ever call your partner a name (other than the pet name(s) you have for each other).
- Criticize, condemn, or complain to your partner about something they do, especially in front of others.
- Tell your partner what to do about their own issues, unless asked.
- Things for the other person without being asked.
- Talk to each other in person at least once a day and for at least thirty minutes, without any distractions.
- Always respect the other person. This means loving them for who they are and not for who you want them to be.
- Participate in activities together.
- Make an effort with your appearance and grooming habits to show that you care what your mate thinks of you.
- Give your partner the space they need to be/do their own thing.
This post is an excerpt from The Essential Rules of Love: A Practical Guide to Creating a Harmonious, Healthy, and Happy Relationship.
“This is a book born of tears and laughter. There is certainly no shortage of authors who have tackled this subject but few have overturned as many rocks along the way and unearthed such a wealth of insights in the process. Those of us who have managed to spend time with Mr. Russotti will attest to his resolve.”
- William Parker, LCSW
“We get education for our careers but we rarely ever get education for our relationships. Phil’s The Essential Rules of Love is a book that I WISH I had before I was married and divorced.”
- Theadora Vosse, Single or Divorced Relationship Podcaster
“The book was purchased as a gift for Valentine's Day, but instead of giving it away, I gave it to myself.”
- Emily C.
“This is, as it must be, primarily a love story. One told with striking depth of feeling.”
- Paul D.