Putting work into relationships: a metaphor

I believe in relationships being good and worthwhile over a given period of time. If relationship ends, that doesn’t mean it failed. If it continues, that doesn’t mean it succeeded.

People talk about how relationships are hard and require work and sacrifice and effort, and also about how relationships should be easy and shouldn’t feel like work and if you’re spending a lot of effort it’s a bad sign, and sometimes people say both at once, and it’s just very confusing. I know from personal experience that both are true, usually at the same time, and have struggled with this. I finally came up with a metaphor I like.

A good relationship is like water flowing downhill. It just kind of happens. It feels natural. Sometimes you’ll come to a sandy patch, or a block of some kind, and you’ll have to wade through it or push past it, and that can be hard and a lot of effort and sometimes just really, really painful. But even as you do it, it should still feel like you’re going in the obvious direction. Like the hard, painful parts of the work are temporary, and even as they happen, it feels natural to work on it and put that effort in because that’s the direction you’re going anyway.

The kind of work that’s not a good sign is if you feel like you’re trying to push against the current. If being with someone doesn’t feel like the most natural, obvious thing in the world – even when things are hard or you’re going through a rough patch – maybe that’s not the right person to be spending time with right now.

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