What Ingredients Go Into a Perfect Relationship?

I want to warn everybody that here, as in all of my other posts and comments, I offer an opinion inspired by my worldview. People who find this worldview upsetting or disturbing should feel free to move on to other resources.

You know these annoying people who meet, click instantly, and become obnoxiously inseparable? Those two creatures who, years into a relationship, hide in a corner at a party or sit at a restaurant, chattering away like they haven’t had a chance to talk to each other for a decade?  Who – if they are very considerate – make efforts not to tell everybody about how they finish each other’s thoughts and have the same dreams? Who seem to be so completely different, yet somehow manage to remain together and have lots of fun over the years? And who behave like this charming couple from Chapter XII of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat?

What is it that makes these couples work and preserve their feelings for each other for years?

Two things: a powerful sexual attraction plus a coincidence in what I will call family scenarios. A family scenario is a pattern of relationships between family members that exists within each family and is reproduced by each generation without even being consciously aware that such a pattern exists. When I started researching my own family scenario, I discovered, to my infinite surprise, that most of the things I was going through were not that unique. My mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great-grandmother (and probably all those women who came before them) already dealt with these issues, felt these emotions, experienced these situations, and even said the same words.

So here is what I discovered about my family scenario:

  • it usually involves one gregarious, authoritative, slightly (yeah, right) domineering partner and one kind, gentle, patient partner.
  • one of the partners is usually involved with languages and writing while the other works with numbers (mathematics, statistics, accounting).
  • one partner is usually autistic and another mitigates his or her autism.
  • one is usually creative and messy while the other is meticulous and organized.
  • there is usually an ethnic or a class difference between the partners.
  • one has a very close relationship with their extended family while the other has none.
  • one is sarcastic while the other one is sincere and honest.
  • one attracts a huge social circle without even trying while the other one needs no social circle.

As you walk through life with your scenario, you look for a person who will want to play the role of the other partner in it. So when you meet a person who needs somebody precisely like you to play the starring role in their scenario and they are eager to play a role in yours, you click like two pieces of a Lego puzzle. The more points of coincidence there are in your scenarios, the stronger your relationship will be.

Of course, if you analyze your scenario and decide you are very happy with it and don’t want to change it, like I did, then things are easy. It becomes more difficult when you realize that your scenario sucks and decide you don’t want to perpetuate it. People usually try to address this situation by applying their willpower. Which is pretty much as silly as trying to stop overeating or cure depression with one’s force of will.

A guy I know grew up with an abusive alcoholic father who beat both him and his mother into a bloody pulp. When the guy grew up, he hated alcohol, abhorred alcoholics, and decided never to follow in his father’s footsteps. Twenty years have passed since then. He is now a violent alcoholic who is probably never sober enough to remember his youthful resolutions.

Pretending that the scenario isn’t there is pretty much like choosing not to believe in climate change. It isn’t going away no matter how many times you tell yourself it’s all a conspiracy by nasty people who want to keep you down.

The very first step on this journey is, of course, finding out as much as you can about your family history and analyzing it in terms of patterns you can spot. If you see, for example, that women in your family usually have a three-year-long first marriage, that’s a pattern that is worth noting. Such knowledge is central for understanding why one always keeps ending up in a certain type of relationship without trying to. This is why I always say that people who conceal their children’s true paternity from them are the vilest jerks imaginable. They effectively rob their children of a chance of engaging in this sort of analysis.

P.S. I really hope people will not start responding to this post with “I’m nothing like my mother!” This will be very boring.


34 thoughts on “What Ingredients Go Into a Perfect Relationship?

  1. This is why I always say that people who conceal their children’s true paternity from them are the vilest jerks imaginable. They effectively rob their children of a chance of engaging in this sort of analysis.

    So you don’t think the “relationship meme” is only transmitted by growing up in a family with the scenario, like this man with an alcoholic father. Do you think character traits and tendencies to play a specific role are inherited like eye color or height? If there are different scenarios from both sides of family and even different among relatives from one side, how is a role chosen? Can’t it be switched to a role of another close relative?


    1. I agree with El on this one. Meaning I believe that if the adoptive parents never make a child doubt her (“wrong”) origins and the child believes these people are her biological parents, the child will perpetuate the family scenarios of the adoptive parents, not biological ones.
      All those stories where an adoptive child feels “something” despite adoptive parents’ best efforts just mean that the adoptive parents’ efforts were not best enough.


  2. In my case, my father is very, very dominant, authoritarian and conservative.My mother is very meek and retiring. At least this is how it was until recently, when he had his stroke. Now the dynamics are changing somewhat, not just because of his helplessness, but because of my father’s neurological changes as a result of the stroke. He no longer seems authoritarian but a master of black comedy and my mother seems to have found an extremely pragmatic dimension to her soul. As for me, I’m quite aggressive but libertarian. If someone gives me a lot of space — and by that, I mean a HUGE amount of space — I can be very enjoyable to be around. My husband of ten years is also, personality-wise, left libertarian, so our relationship has been rock solid. I think I get my dark and dominating streak from my father’s Portuguese aristocratic side. My mother’s genetics are softer and more considerate.


  3. Who – if they are very considerate – make efforts not to tell everybody about how they finish each other’s thoughts and have the same dreams?

    You’ve reminded me of 1 out of 2 favorite Wislawa Szymborska’s poems, which is unsurprisingly called “True Love”.

    True Love

    True love. Is it normal
    is it serious, is it practical?
    What does the world get from two people
    who exist in a world of their own?

    Placed on the same pedestal for no good reason,
    drawn randomly from millions but convinced
    it had to happen this way – in reward for what?
    For nothing.
    The light descends from nowhere.
    Why on these two and not on others?
    Doesn’t this outrage justice? Yes it does.
    Doesn’t it disrupt our painstakingly erected principles,
    and cast the moral from the peak? Yes on both accounts.

    Look at the happy couple.
    Couldn’t they at least try to hide it,
    fake a little depression for their friends’ sake?
    Listen to them laughing – its an insult.
    The language they use – deceptively clear.
    And their little celebrations, rituals,
    the elaborate mutual routines –
    it’s obviously a plot behind the human race’s back!

    It’s hard even to guess how far things might go
    if people start to follow their example.
    What could religion and poetry count on?
    What would be remembered? What renounced?
    Who’d want to stay within bounds?

    True love. Is it really necessary?
    Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence,
    like a scandal in Life’s highest circles.
    Perfectly good children are born without its help.
    It couldn’t populate the planet in a million years,
    it comes along so rarely.

    Let the people who never find true love
    keep saying that there’s no such thing.

    Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.


  4. And one more important condition – the partner must be willing and able to grow and change with you, especially if you change a lot while in a relationship via addressing your family scenarios. Via psychoanalysis or some other kind of therapy.
    I actually subscribe to somewhat extended view, according to which kids inherit not just some patterns of behavior / patterns of reacting to different situations in life, they inherit a development level. Development level in terms of how successfully the person manages to integrate his autonomy needs and attachment needs. Because integrating those needs is what one needs to sustain a relationship.
    So the kids leave the family with the level their parents achieved, and then find partners with similar level (but maybe different manifestations). People with too different levels just do not click enough for a long-term elationship. They annoy each other too much.


        1. Wait, where did the 1st divorcee inherit it from? Why can’t a child of divorced parents inherit his aunt/ grandparents/ second marriage of a parent / etc. scenario?


          1. Potentially, yes, depending on circumstances. But if there is an absent parent in the scenario, this is bound to make an impression in some ways.

            I wrote you an email. Or at least I think it was to you. 🙂 🙂


      1. Then they inherit it from the one parent they have. And if that single parent is so perpetually single that there is no second parental figure for the kid to inherit something psychologically, then this in itself is an indication that the one available parent did not achieve that high integration of autonomy and attachment needs.


          1. One can solve those issues “before” only to certain extent. Some of the issues must be solved while in a relationship.


          2. I honestly don’t understand how and what and why this poor child is supposed to solve. How does it look in practice? Not have this relationship at high school or college because you are from a single parent family and thus problematic untill, may be, you pay lots of money for professional help? How one is supposed to deal with issues, if one hasn’t had any relationships yet?

            Some women even choose single motherhood after a certain age, others arrive to it without intending to. I can’t believe ALL those children are going to have horrible personal lives, unless they go into psychoanalysis or whatever. I am sure big part are happy, just as big part with not divorced parents gets divorced itself.


            1. Why is it that I’m getting all these aggressive comments today, I wonder.

              El, every single part of your comment came from you. I never said anything of the kind. All I’m saying is that – in my worldview – analyzing the path your parents and other ancestors have taken is a very useful thing. It is not my goal to pass judgment on what’s “a horrible person life” for OTHER people. That is solely for them to decide.


              1. Sorry. I sounded too agressive here.

                You talked of addressing “important aspects of a problematic family scenario” in order to be in a happy relationship. What does addressing mean? May “analyzing the path your parents and other ancestors have taken” yourself and deciding what you want be enough? If no, then logically it does mean no happy family without professional help.


              2. I just really resent the suggestion that I have anything against divorced people and single parents. I am divorced, for Pete’s sake.

                The point of this analysis is not to condemn anybody but to figure out what pitfalls might await one and what one might expect to encounter.

                An example: in my family, we have this pattern of a short (3-year-long normally) first marriage or serious relationship. Then, a divorce and a very long deeply symbiotic relationship.

                Since I was a child, my plan was to remain a single woman with many lovers forever. That’s what I wanted and aimed for. That’s what I enacted with my dolls. But guess what? I have now repeated the pattern of my family. BEFORE I even found out about it.


        1. *then this in itself is an indication that the one available parent did not achieve that high integration of autonomy and attachment needs.*

          I can’t fully agree with it since I’ve seen more than one single mother, who are happy being single and feel no need to search for a relationship. If a single person may be happy to be single without huge problems, why is a single parent not given this opportunity?


          1. We are talking about the fact that a child of a single parent will not have a model of happy couplehood to rely upon. If they don’t want to be part of a couple anyways, then all is perfect. If they do, they will have to address this part of the family scenario.


            1. Aren’t there many models of happy couples? F.e. my grandmother’s happy family life wasn’t like her mother’s. I think that one can talk till tomorrow, but at the end there is no substitute to finding a decent, suitable partner and learning together.


              1. and this is why I prefer that “development level” argument to “family scenarios”. With family scenarios there is too high chance to get entangled in all the details and all their possible meanings.
                No offense to anybody, if “family scenarios” help you – this is great. In the end these are different conceptualizations of the same thing anyway.


              2. “I think that one can talk till tomorrow, but at the end there is no substitute to finding a decent, suitable partner and learning together.”

                – Yes, it’s better to be healthy and rich than even poor and sick.


          2. The subject we are discussing is “what goes into perfect relationship”, not “what goes into being happy while single” 🙂

            To dispute what I am saying you have to bring up not just an examples of happy single mothers, you have to bring up the examples of the children of happy single mothers who (children) somehow have achieved that balance between the autonomy and attachment.


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