The 10 commandments for healthy long-term committed relationships

by | Feb 15, 2020 | Musings | 0 comments

Daisy and Andrew chat LIVE on Valentine’s Day about the 10 Commandments, hash them out and refine them…


The 10 commandments for healthy long-term committed relationships

If you want to play relationship roulette. No judgement. It’s a fun game.

But if you really want a committed long-term relationship, there are some realities you need to face.

  • It takes work.
  • It requires giving up the super-saccharine, hyper-glossy romanticised version of love presented to us in our media and culture.
  • It requires two people really committed to their own continual growth and making the relationship work.

Other than that, it’s easy. Just follow the 10 commandments in this article (hahaha).

Note: A committed long-term relationship can also be maintained without strict adherence to the 10 commandments. However, these relationships are bolstered by codependence. A form of mutually-beneficial dysfunction where both people need each other in some way. So they stay together not because the relationship and interactions are generally healthy, but because it’s familiar (ie ‘familiar’ like your ‘family’ of origin, which may have also been dysfunctional, see how that works?), comfortable, safe enough, exciting/dramatic, looks good to others or is meeting some other need. The downside is these relationships are not generally particularly healthy, they often involve one or both partners compromising or sacrificing a lot and can result in long-term stress and health implications. But ultimately, no judgement here, if this is you and the arrangement is working for you, knock yourself out! I’m just saying there is another way, that is far less dysfunctional (haha). You just need to keep these 10 simple rules in mind 🙂

Note 2: It helps a lot if both people are doing and/or have done their own inner work (is it ever really “done”?). By that I mean, it helps A LOT if both partners have a degree of experience with or access to…

  1. Awareness of and dropping the masks we wear.
  2. Addressing emotional wounds from childhood.
  3. Self-awareness of what their inner thoughts, feelings, intentions and expectations are.
  4. Love for self first. So a relationship is not ‘needed’ in a co-dependent way.
  5. An ability to speak your truth (without needing to sugar-coat it) and hear someone else’s truth (with an understanding that it’s just their perspective).
  6. A way to continue the inner work, as a relationship is the perfect way to identify a whole bunch of triggers for you to examine.

Note 3: Who am I to be giving advice on love and relationships? Well I can tell you I’m not a psychologist. Or a love, romance or intimacy expert. I didn’t study relationships academically nor am I a mystic or a guru. My credentials are this: I’ve been in two long-term relationships (11.5 and 7.5 years), which were successful until they weren’t. I’ve also had three shorter ones. All five we were ‘in love’ (and one we currently still are). And I’ve dated a bit. Finally, I’m an over-thinker, which I applied liberally throughout this entire journey accruing thousands of journal entries and reflections along the way. So I have a good idea of what works, and what doesn’t work. In the current active relationship we apply these 10 commandments whenever we can, and in fact collated and refined them together. This is definitely the most functional relationship as a result and the safest I’ve felt in a relationship that wasn’t codependent (codependency provides safety but is ultimately dysfunctional). Other than that, the following is presented to you in the hopes that provides some value or at least food for thought.

So without further ado, here they are…

THE 10 COMMANDMENTS

For a relationship to work long-term without co-dependence, both people need to…

1. Quit the addiction to relationship roulette

Now. Cold turkey. Find a substitute thrill. Some people are addicted to the drama (as usual, find a coach or program and clear that up!)

Caveat: If one or both of you remain addicted, there will be affairs, physical or even just emotional affairs. In which there’s no sex, but flirting and/or inappropriately intimate conversations with others occur, which can be just as damaging (it’s out of integrity).

2. Commit to making the relationship work unless you find irreconcilable conflicts in your core values

This is the only reason to ever walk away from a relationship, not fear, not other exciting or ‘better’ opportunities.

For example, if one person wants to have kids and the other doesn’t. Or know person must eat meat and the other is a strict vegan who believes meat is murder. You get the idea.

Caveat: If there are fears or gut-level intuition that the other person may not be right for you, then the unconscious and conscious will work together to try to find a reason to leave (which could even be a sign of the addiction from commandment 2). You need to decide you’re going to make it work, and commit to really uncovering if this is based on values misalignment or just emotional baggage. And then give it a chance to work through misalignments and see if there is room for shifting or re-examining values in a way that serves you both (not just one person compromising themselves for the relationship).

3. Maintain the intention that you want to really honour yourself and your partner in every interaction as equals

Especially when issues arise. The intention is to be generous in your assumptions about them and the way you engage to explore and resolve the issues.

You can agree on lead roles, but ultimately you are a team, and make important decisions together.

Caveat: If the way our partner interacts with us triggers us (eg they feel argumentative, or dismissive to us, or they always seem to come on the attack) we can get fatigued of constantly having to be generous in honouring where they are coming from and holding space for that perceived ‘attack’. Work through this, why is this triggering you? But you can also ask them to try raising issues differently. Which is most effective if they change their intention coming in, to less of raising an issue with you, and more of curiously exploring an issue together.

4. Keep communicating with radical honesty

It’s important to speak your truth, and be proactively transparent wherever possible. This Includes being open to giving and receiving feedback. (Both giving and receiving are quite confronting).

Caveat: There is a time and a place for critical feedback (and otherwise dropping ‘truth bombs’). Don’t use this as an excuse to hold off, but also try not to do this at the end of a long/tough day. Or when other challenges are going on. Also consider commandment 7 when it comes to timing (space it out).

5. Listen, really listen to the other person’s perspective. Without judgement or fear

Try not to jump in or cut them off. Try not to rush to provide solutions or reframe their thinking into more positive or constructive mindsets. Just listen and hold space for them.

Be aware of when you are being triggered by what they are saying. Ask yourself why?

This is a sign that there are things there you will need to work on. Either unresolved emotional wounds or they might have discovered your true intentions and you’re not proud of them, intentions you possibly weren’t even aware you had.

Gently clarify their intentions also. They need to be really honest here. This is where you build trust. If you can’t both be honest about examining your intentions, this process will fail. Don’t ask “why did you do that?”, ask “what was the purpose of doing that?”.

Even if the behaviour seems malicious, at the core, their deepest intention is usually safety and happiness. People don’t tend to focus on hurting each other unless that is the technique they learned to keep themselves safe.

Walk in their shoes. Once you understand their perspective (their shoe), imagine putting yourself in their place. How would you feel?

Caveat: It can be really really hard when you feel like you’re under attack not to jump in and defend. You haven’t lost. Just sit back. Relax. Take it all in. And ask yourself: This feels like an attack, but if I took the time away and looked at the content alone, is there any truth there? Once they are done, thank them for speaking their truth and then acknowledge where you agree with them (even if it makes you wrong) and calmly clarify where your truth differs.

Another caveat: This commandment is most difficult when both partners are challenged and compromised at the same time. It’s when neither party is fit to hold space for the other that the wheels can really start to come off. In this situation, if one person can have enough presence of mind to be aware that both partners are compromised, then they can ask for a timeout. So you both have space to recover a little independently. This timeout in itself can be quite challenging depending how much emotional material you have stored about rejection and abandonment. The key here is detachment, see commandment 10.

6. Own your 50% of any issues that come up.

Sometimes an issue is 100% one person’s fault. But this is exceedingly rare. Like incredibly, almost-never-happens rare. And averaging out all the challenges that will come up… Suffice to say, 50/50 ownership is the only workable way to look at it, and the most useful mental model.

Be really open to examining your intentions, and be really open that you may not be proud of them.

Own your intentions and your emotional baggage. And allow each other to have that. Even be proud of each other and congratulate or thank each other for owning them.

Commit to doing something about it. Clearing the baggage. Defining your values to clarify your intentions. Stepping outside the story to see what other solutions might be possible if you weren’t coming from a place of fear and defence.

Caveat: If one or both people won’t or can’t honestly look at their own intentions and baggage and own them, then it doesn’t bode well. You or they need to go and do the deep emotional clearing work to clear the defences that are stopping this honest introspection. And if you or they aren’t open to that, you have a fundamental values misalignment. Ie I’m sorry to tell you, it just ain’t gonna work out.

7. Maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive/neutral vs critical/negative interactions

Radical and even brutal honesty is good. But mix it up. Keep it light. Make sure there’s enough goodness there to balance out the heaviness and The Work. This comes from research out of the Gottman Institute.

Caveat: This is good to be aware of, but you can’t necessarily just force it. If there’s not enough shared interests, passions and common ground, it can be tough to maintain this ratio. See commandment 9.

8. Continue to invest in themselves and their own interests, passions, friends and then build a third space for shared interests, passions and friends

Andrew Low a transformational coach who now helps coaches level up their coaching businesses has a beautiful story and metaphor about love (which he tells me is an expanded version of a metaphor from Pip McKay). Which goes a little something like this (my paraphrased version)…

Two people are going about their lives, let’s call them person #1 and person #2. They each live in their own tree (tree #1 and tree #2) and they tend to their respective trees, watering and fertilising them and helping them grow. Then they spot each other and get curious and excited. They call out and have conversations, and hit it off. They build a bridge between their trees and go and meet in the middle to hang out and snuggle. They decide they’d be more comfortable in a tree so they both go back to tree #1 and setup their lives. Several years pass and tree #1 is thriving. Sadly, this relationship doesn’t work out and person #2 heads back to their tree #2 only to find it has shrivelled and died from neglect.

Meanwhile in a parallel universe, the story starts the same way, but instead of heading back to tree #1, the couple decide to plant a third tree in the middle, tree #3, based on their shared interests, passions, friends etc. Now sometimes they hang out in tree #3 and sometimes they each return to tend to and hang out in their own trees. All three trees thrive. And if the relationship ever ended both people would be ok to return to their own trees and still have a rich and supported life. Although in this universe the relationship lasts forever because they are also following all other 9 commandments and they never struck any major values misalignment between them. So they all lived happily ever after. The end.

Caveat: Try for diversity here. If all you have are one or two shared interest or passion areas you are at risk if your interest wanes over time. If you feel like there’s not enough there, go and start a new interest together. What is it each of you love to do individually? Is there a third thing that’s similar that you could try together?

9. Retain a degree of detachment such that you want the best for the other person regardless of what that means for you

Ultimately, you both need to be able to love yourselves and put yourself first.

You should want the relationship but not ‘need’ the relationship.

This doesn’t mean you aren’t in love. It just means you don’t get attached to the idea that person is somehow ‘yours’. They’re not yours. They are choosing to be with you now. That’s all they can do and it’s an incredible gift to share your lives together.

Caveat: If one person gets too attached, it can feel needy and controlling. They might get jealous (which comes from a lack of trust and/or their insecurities). Or the relationship forms an important part of their self-identity. Or they might have the other person up in a pedestal. This is all very common in our society. The model of love romanticised in our culture and media is a very attached form of love, eg “you complete me”. It feels nice and warm and fuzzy and quite saccharine. The relationship becomes our everything. But it sets us up for problems. Detached love can be warm and fuzzy too, just not over-the-top sweet. We take them off the pedestal, we trust them, but we know we can stand alone (and if you can’t, you guessed it, there’s emotional healing work for you to be done).

10. There is always a time and place to break the rules

Love is as much art as it is science, there’s only so much rationality you can apply to it.

Rules alone are not enough. You must always be willing to listen to your body, listen to your heart, your intuition.

And if you’re following the rules and it still doesn’t seem to be working, and it all seems to hard, it may even feel like it’s going to sh*t! Remember: Everything the universe sends your way (even the shit) is a gift, and exactly what you need right now. Look for the gift, the lesson, the reason this is exactly what you need to face right now.

Caveat: Sometimes “the heart wants what the heart wants” can be used as an excuse to justify running away from a relationship in fear. It takes great courage to stick to these commandments even when things get tough. The trick with commandment 10 is when your intuition speaks up, being able to tell the difference between irrational sabotage and transrational wisdom.

Game over?

So if what you want is long-term love without co-dependence, this is what it means. It’s not easy. It takes work and dedicated commitment. And it takes two.

It’s not for everyone. I understand the attraction to the game of romantic relationship roulette.

But let’s look at it objectively.

It’s perhaps not quite as titillating as roulette.

But once you understand the commandments and you and your partner are practiced at applying them, committed love provides all the things you get elsewhere: dopamine, escapism (within reason), predictable reward, safety, social connection.

Love is grand! And whichever model you choose, it’s best to know what you’re getting yourself in for.

Big love

Thank you to my lovely Daisy Nguyen for shaping these rules and discussions with me. She is very special, and a wonderful healer. Go check Daisy out on Facebook.

Over to you

Which one of the commandments do you do well? Or have you struggled with in the past? Bonus points for keeping it real. Authenticity is cool.

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