I’m a sucker for good relationship advice, particularly when it’s presented in a straightforward, no-nonsense manner.
We could all use a bit of improvement when it comes to how we connect with other people and maintain healthy relationships.
According to relationship expert Mark Manson, author of bestselling ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck’, healthy relationships boil down to the three M’s:
- mutual respect
- mutual trust
- mutual affection.
Manson has compiled it perfectly, right down to the alliteration of the M’s.
So, let’s cover what new things he has to teach us, and what things we already know that he deems extra important:
1) Love is not enough
According to Manson, love is a product of healthy relationships. Not the foundation for it.
Weird one, right?!
But when you look at healthy long-term married couples, maybe even asking your grandparents, this isn’t an uncommon stance.
Longevity often comes down to choosing one another every day without fail. Working together and proving themselves consistently reliable and present in their relationship tends to produce this love.
It’s earned, not given.
And when you think about all those toxic relationships out there and all the victims struggling to break free, they often can’t.
Because they love their partners.
Yes, you might get that warm and fuzzy feeling or the flutter of butterflies whenever you think of your partner.
However, that unconditional love comes as a product of two people working tirelessly together to create a long-lasting and healthy bond.
2) If you lose out on one component, you lose another
Going back to our three M’s (respect, trust, affection) – if you lose one, you lose the rest.
For example, your partner breaks your trust by lying to you.
You feel like you’ve been slapped in the face and had the rug of safety pulled out from beneath your feet.
As a result, you start (consciously or unconsciously) feeling less tender and affectionate towards them.
You struggle with physical intimacy, and perfect case closed – an erosion in trust leads to an erosion in affection.
It’s pretty straightforward when you think about it.
I’m pretty sure if you reflect on some of your own experiences, you’ll be able to see the same pattern.
Losing one core component in what was otherwise a healthy relationship inevitably leads to a butterfly effect or chain reaction that has negative consequences in other areas.
3) So how do you regain those core components?
Okay, so say you’re in a situation not dissimilar to the above.
Something happened and respect/trust/affection was broken within your relationship.
Now it feels a bit like everything is falling apart.
How do you rebuild?
According to Manson, this breakdown is followed by either one or both people in the relationship changing, or a mistake taking place.
1) The importance of change
The first way in which Manson addresses overcoming these breakdowns in our three core components of healthy relationships is one or both people making wholehearted, honest changes.
And not just minor changes. To really overcome a relationship blunder, Manson calls for ‘real-deal, identity-level changes’.
Common areas where couples might run into issues regarding mutual respect are big topics such as religion, morals, or lifestyle.
For issues such as a loss of mutual respect, change is ultimately as often the culprit as is the solution.
You might wholly respect your partner but feel that admiration for them gradually declines as you watch them quit their job to become a professional Pokemon hunter.
Or you’ve always bonded over your shared atheism and begin to feel a disconnect after they find God (or gods) and become a devout Christian/Hindu/cult member.
The same goes for trust.
Maybe they slip up and show a dishonest side you didn’t know existed. Owing to this, your perception of your partner starts to change.
Overcoming these types of issues isn’t easy.
It requires willingness for either one or both of you to change and try and outsource other areas of trust/respect/affection.
That means really trying to grapple with respecting your partner for hitting the professional Pokemon hunting league tables.
Or taking a deep breath and reminding yourself that whilst you might be at odds with their newfound religious views, you can still respect the dedication with which they pursue learning about their new beliefs.
Manson calls these changes that trigger the loss of respect ‘transformations’, and they seemingly come in both negative and positive fashion.
The real takeaway is that any change can lead to a breakdown in our three foundational components, and requires either you/your partner adapting to the other’s new style of life, or you both finding somewhere to meet in the middle.
2) Accept mistakes & possible forgiveness
Following on from changing and adapting to change is how to deal with a legitimate mistake.
Let’s be honest, life isn’t perfect.
You and your partner will slip up at some point.
Whether knowingly or not, this will undoubtedly lead to someone getting hurt.
It’s how you navigate interacting with your partner after the mistake that determines whether or not you can restore the breakdown in respect/trust/affection.
The three stages in moving forward from mistakes
Healing mistakes and moving forward is generally broken down into the following 3 stages:
1) Have patience
The immediate aftermath of a mistake or slip-up will definitely sting, both if you’re on the receiving end or the person who did the wrongdoing. You both feel either guilty or hurt.
Luckily for you, time heals most wounds.
Giving each other a bit of space to process and allow for any heightened emotions to come down a little.
By taking a ‘pause’ or a step back from the situation, you both won’t be trying to make amends or solve an issue whilst also tackling increased feelings of anger or resentment.
2) Make sure it’s a one-off
Listen, you can be incredibly forgiving and good natured, but you have to make sure that forgiveness isn’t being taken for granted.
If someone lies to you, disrespects you, or otherwise acts in a way that causes you both some grief, you can both show how committed you are to your relationship in showing up and making the effort to solve the issue and prevent it from happening again.
But after all that hard work, the same ‘mistake’ happens next month…
Well, as Paul Coelho said, “When you repeat a mistake, it is not a mistake anymore. It is a decision.”
If your partner is repeatedly lying to you or disrespecting you despite you flagging this and trying to work through it together, they’re unlikely to be completely unaware of what they’re repeatedly doing.
And as Manson says, “repeat offenders should be avoided at all costs.”
3) Hope and pray that you/your partner is open to forgiveness
For amends to be made, the hurt party also needs to be receptive to that forgiveness.
Maybe not instantly – as we explored in point 1, they’re allowed to take their time to process and heal.
But for two hurt parties to come back together, the victim does need to be receptive and willing to forgive.
Say you’re going to forgive your partner for cheating. Hats off to you – it won’t be easy.
But if you want to make it work, then you need to actually forgive.
You can’t say you’re thinking about forgiving them but then continue to beat about the bush, bring up old arguments, and fester in conflict about who did what.
This means taking a hard, honest look at your feelings and considering whether it’s possible for you to let go of the issue.
Of course, there will also be issues of forgiveness on far smaller mistakes.
But the point remains the same – you can’t restore a relationship when the hurt person isn’t able to forgive and move forward (in good time).
Turns out that we can learn a lot from the 3 M’s.
Mutual respect, mutual trust and mutual affection.
To have a healthy relationship, you need to have foundations of all three.
Those can be built upon and reinforced through consistently showing up for each other.
But in the times where you slip up and make mistakes, the best approach is taking accountability where it’s due and being honest with your feelings.
Solving issues is something you approach as a team in either changing to meet the situation or working on how to restore your relationship through forgiveness.