The Best of This Modern Relationship Guide: Keep Alive

Logan Ury’s “How Not to Die Alone” is gold.

Hitting like a freight train, chock full of superb advice, Logan brings their years of learning (Harvard), behavior science (Google), industry know-how (coach and director at dating-app Hinge), and personal relationship-building (and deconstructing) experience without hesitancy. The book is a firehose backed with findings from the likes of psychotherapist Esther Perel and the renowned Gottman Institute.

Having read it multiple times, I now come up for air to share with you the last half of the best I’ve gleamed from this most modern and thorough relationship guide.

  1. Wanna Know What Came Before?
  2. F the Spark
  3. Having “The Talk”
  4. Trouble >_>
  5. Breaking Up
  6. Post Break
  7. Do We Commit?
  8. Bond Better
  9. Bonus: Having Those Tough Convos

Wanna Know What Came Before?

Of course you do. Check out last week’s post on making relationships begin to happen.

So now you have your criteria, your goals set forth, and a few dates lined up. Read on for maintaining what you’ve made:

F the Spark

More colorful language is used in the book 😅

“Spark” is largely useless. The honeymoon infatuation / lust has terrible correlation of what leads to long-term relationships.

Worse yet: contextual anxiety (this situation or person is not OK), i.e. stomach butterflies, can be confused with affection.

Case in point: Recall Juliet and Romeo? Their spark got ’em dead 😐 What would have happened if they had taken some time to get to know each other?

Go for the slow burn contentedness instead. Remember: loyalty, kindness, interested, decently interesting, your own gut feels after the date.

Having “The Talk”

Define the relationship, DTR. Early and often. Often and early.

(Callout again to James Sexton mentioning the same from his divorce practice.)

The infamous “Talk” is the business of relationships: knowing what you want and being explicit in expressing it. Though while The Talk ought be a conversation over a negotiation, it can be awkward because The Talk actively deconstructs fantasies to reveal if there is a foundation to the relationship, which may very well end the relationship along the way.

So it goes.

The author Logan stresses to decide, not slide into the various states of relationships, e.g.

  • Are we still open dating, or are we making this exclusive?
  • What does exclusivity mean to you? For I?
  • How should I introduce you to other people in relation to myself? (Partner, bf/gf, good friend, etc.)
  • What are your values?
  • What are your red flags and musts in relationships?
  • What are your goals for a relationship? Long term, short term, something casual?
  • What does long term look like for you? Why?
  • Should we move in together? What does this mean for us and where we are headed?
  • Where are your fears for us? About yourself? About myself?
  • et. al

Everyone in a relationship has the responsibility to initiate, to be candid, and to assume nothing, but trust that the other person will follow through on what has been explicitly laid down.

Things will evolve, contexts will change. “Talk” early and often, often and early. You have so much to gain by being straightforward, and put so much at risk not respecting your own or your partner’s answers and perspectives.

Trouble >_>

Things have slid into a bad place for the relationship. How this trouble came about might be from your way of handling smaller troubles:

  • Hitching – A person with this tendency sticks around in relationships long after it has already failed. Whether from misaligned trajectories, enduring toxic outcomes, or excusing poor behavior, yesterday came and went and the bad relationship still remains.
    • Growth, The Wardrobe Test: Compare your partner to your wardrobe: quality, comfort, fit. What piece are they? A garment for rain and shine, cold and hot, or something itchy, holey, or not to wear around the parents? “Clothes make the man [sic]” so it might be time to clean out the closet.
    • Growth, Sunk Costs and Loss Aversion: You have spent so much time, energy, and resource into this person; are you afraid to admit it is time to cut off the flow? A feeling of loss is 2-to-7 times more harsh than any gain; are you sticking it out because you feel you lack a support structure or strength to handle the heartache? A yes to anything means you must act now, even if that means asking for help.
      • Growth, Opportunity: Would you date today if you met a stranger who acted like your partner does with you? If “no”, stop wasting time – every moment spent in stagnation is an opportunity to meet better folks, AKA getting those reps in!
      • Ditching – Folks here leave before there is growth in the relationship from conflict. Maximizers (something could be better “out there”) and Romancers (fantasies are unfulfilled) make up a lot of Ditching. There is a danger of attempting to optimize at the beginning dating stages – while this can lead to meeting many folks very quickly, it fails to gain experience maintaining relationships and understanding what healthy long term relationships operate as.
      • Growth, Falling Vs Being: “Falling” into Love is a big thrill; this happens with each new partner. “Being” can seem too chill; the slump after a hot beginning. To keep a relationship alive – of “Being” in Love – focus more on strengths vs. the imaginary or mathematical perceived failings of the partner.
      • Growth, Startup Costs: Remember that every new relationship must be built from the ground-up. Ditching a relationship negates that work, leaving no momentum, no leftover energy, no intimate knowledge that would help sustain the newer partnership.

That may not be enough. Further analysis or a sanity check from a second opinion can help. Check these things about the relationship:

  • Wardrobe Test – Again, check the quality, comfort, and fit of the partner. Is this an all-weather person or only a fair-weather opportunity? Raggedy? Outgrown?
  • Stress – Is the trouble new, seemingly from a temporary stressor? Jobs, medical situations, family, and other contexts can be extreme and take us to the brink – if you can see the light at the end of this tunnel, the relationship may merely need more patience or an ounce of grace.
  • Tried It – If you have been open and honest on where things could improve, have been ready to give positive feedback, yet things are not growing (or, daresay, even getting worse!), you have done your due diligence. It is time to move on.
  • Missed Long-Term Expectations – Make sure the trouble isn’t from a personal pet peeve or surface-level (read: shallow) preference. Being less picky, are long term cues being missed, such as kindness and dedication?
  • Defaults – Have you made sure you haven’t fallen into the negative aspects of your default styles? Ditching too early, pulling away as an avoidant, hesitating to commit?
  • Ask Others – People are unlikely to offer unsolicited advice, so you must be proactive here. Ask those who are unbiased and who you trust their perspectives on the relationship as they see it. Ask if they like who you are when around or with the partner in question. Whatever the advice (which does not need to be acted on), be thankful for it, never begrudging.
  • Best Self – Are you doing 100% of your work to be the most you can be in this relationship? Are you actively showing up? What have you done lately to show your work explicitly to your partner? How can you be kinder? Do you have grace?

And of course, some of the obvious: Do you have resentment? Do they? Have either of you learned something new about yourselves that cannot be accommodated for? Has anyone just given up? The End Times (for the relationship) are upon you!

But of course, if trust is broken, the relationship is broken. Black Lies, deceit, manipulation, a pattern of dropping the ball (whether incompetence or unreliability) – while ending things is the first response, a new relationship might be forged from the ashes of the old. (Shoutout to James Sexton.)

“End it or mend it” – Logan is clear that counseling can help, yet we know it may already be too late if started after trouble brews. Be interesting and interested. Get your space and give it. Be explicit and put in the g-dang work.

Failing any or all of that, it is time to act on breaking up.

Side-additions from my own experience: Warning signs of trouble come from a person not knowing what they want, avoiding speaking candidly about relationship topics or pasts, not making things “Facebook Official” or otherwise public, no pictures or shared posts together, and dramatic changes in communication style.

Breaking Up

The time has come. The grit of it:

  • Plan – Make a plan to execute. When (~2 weeks max) and where (private is optimal; though public is a safe second option). Share your intentions with a friend. Write a letter to yourself if you are going to wait with your reasons of why this is needed now. Have a commitment afterward to get space away.
  • DO IT – Have the talk, make the call, send the text. Delay within reason should things come up. This is not a feedback session – refuse explanations, i.e. answer, “I respect you and do not want to waste your time,” and recall that you ought to have been giving explicit feedback up to this point. 60-90 minutes max before you have to leave for another commitment; later convos are OK, as are breaks during the breakup conversation, yet again they must not detract from the message you are giving.

Be mindful: If the context is wrong (e.g. their parent just died, they have a project due over the weekend, you both have plans for a child’s concert that night), delay. But if the schedule does not have a convenient time, pick the most convenient inconvenient time for you in ~2 weeks.

Regarding shared assets: Marriage, children, and mutual property make this process a whole lot messier. Take care to do what you must to handle this part of the breakup.

How: Dating over months or had the exclusivity talk? Give them the respect of an in-person convo if the reasons of breaking up are safe ones, i.e. no violence involved. Only a few dates? A simple call or text will suffice, such as:

I enjoyed <whatever time, activity, or relationship> with you. I feel we are going in different romantic directions. <Optionally: Can we maintain our friendship?> Giving you my best as you keep accomplishing so much in life.

Whatever or however you do it, be kinder. Be grace.

That said, I say do not burn and balm – you are breaking up with them, do not also be their rescue from or the “nice” support system after the harsh situation you have engendered. Live with what you have done.

Certainly, no breakup sex/intimacy; seek selfcare with others instead! (This can be that get-away commitment planned for before.)

Post Break

Time for recovery:

A huge step for you will be to reframe into a new mental model the situation.

Understanding how much you (and the other person) gain from a breakup helps balm the loss (which will be hitting 2-7 times harder than you might think it ought). An optimistic focus (even about foul events) improves oneself with gratitude and opportunity mindfulness, all great traits to have as a person regardless if in a breakup.

Next, self care. A general life reminder: Schedule in your own self care. No one ought be a bigger advocate of you than you.

Finally, get dating again soon (after you up your flirting skills). Going back out to meet folks with romantic intention is the only way to understand if you are emotionally prepared to continue making strides in this part of your life.

Do We Commit?

Survived some trouble? Like who you are with? See a future together? As always, be explicit, even with yourself by writing the answers to these 11 questions that require a bit of meditation:

  1. Are they are Prom Date or a Partner?
  2. What is their Wardrobe Test result?
  3. How will you grow with them?
  4. Do you admire them?
  5. What side of you do they bring out?
  6. Are they one of the first people you want to share good news with?
  7. Am I OK talking-out and -through my hardships with them? (i.e. they are non-judgmental, compassionate, and can think critically)
  8. Do I value their advice?
  9. What do you look towards or envision as milestones in a life together?
  10. Can you both make tough decisions together?
  11. Do they communicate well and fight productively?

Now read the answers above as you would for the relationship a friend is in. (Heck, put a quality friend’s name at the top of the page.) Sit with these feels and answer: does this feel like the relationship is good with these folks together?

If you are feeling good, be happy and confident in the answers. You are in a good place. You can stay where you are too – evolving commitments is no race (again, going for the “slow burn”).

The numbers are in: those that date for 1-2 years have a 20% higher stick-together rate than those that long-term commit (i.e. marriage) after less than a year of dating. Get at least 3 years together, the stick-around rate jumps to 39%!

So how does a couple continue to bond over that time?

Bond Better

In addition to all the communication tips above, another tool for the box is a frequent trifecta of “us” conversations to have with the partner.

Before each conversation, do some joint, connected, romantic activity beforehand and clear your day’s calendar for after.

For the actual Qs, I direct you to a site summarizing Logan Ury’s take on this subject. The resource goes in-depth on ways to talk about the past, present, and future “us.” (I must say that get-to-know-you activities like this are =superb= bonding tools.)

Aside from conversations, labeling is a big deal in building character and appreciation in relationships. Want someone to be strong? Explicitly call out their actions and give them titles of strength. Want to highlight traits that someone feels they have or want to be seen as? Name ’em. Humans will change in response to identity labels and remember titles, even if it is you for yourself.

I am a dater. I am confident. I am X. I want Y.

Contracts: You don’t need to be married or in business to have a contract. Pull something together informally – a shared computer doc, a paper pad, notecards, a kitchen whiteboard, whatever. Envision together what the relationship is and strives to be. List what folks want. Define, define, define, and be explicit. Revisit on occasion to explore expectations together.

Bonus: Having Those Tough Convos

General to all conversations, Logan offers a preemptive planning guide to figuring out what needs to be said and how to say it in those tough convos:

  1. What is the desired goal / outcome / consequence here?
  2. What is the core 1-2 sentence message?
  3. Tone to use? To avoid?
  4. What is the opener to remove guardedness and encourage listening?
  5. What needs to be said no matter what?
  6. What are possible reactions? My concerns over the worst?
  7. What will be the response to the worst reactions?
    • Example: “I understand I have hurt you and you want to hurt me. I want this to be as minimally painful as possible. Please don’t attack me.”
  8. How will the conversation close?

Despite more than 5000 words later, I cannot say enough good things about Logan Ury’s work in “How Not to Die Alone.”

From making to breaking relationships, this book has earned a dedicated spot on my shelf alongside the likes of “If You’re In My Office, It’s Already Too Late,” “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” “Red Queen,” and “The State of Affairs.”

Tell me what else I should be reading. I adore hearing what things stood out to you in this summary blog post – let me know! For now, cheers to you growing and finding your way through your own modern relationships ❤

Published by

Jimmy Chattin

Processor of data, applier of patterns, maker of games and stories.

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