What Emotional Decision Points Led to Your Good Relationship?
April 11, 2015 5:17 PM   Subscribe

I'm writing a novel, and this is a research question. Essentially, I want to understand, both in general and in specific, what emotional decisions lead to a good relationship. The protagonist and the love-interest have hit it off, and Act 3 is about how their relationship deepens and intensifies. So, I want to know, what choices, and especially what emotional choices, have you made that turned out well?

When I'm writing, I find it useful to base scenes around emotional decision points (thanks to Sokka shot first for coming up with this concept). For me, this essentially means that the character has to make a decision based on their feelings. For example, early in the novel, the protagonist decides to disobey her leader because getting food is more important to her than following orders. Another example is a little later in the novel, where she decides to hurt someone else rather than risking hurting herself. Action follows from these emotional decisions.

People also make these decisions in romantic relationships. A simple example is deciding to talk to someone because they are interesting. A more complex example is deciding to admit a point of weakness, because you're starting to like a person, and you don't want them to find out later and walk away when you really care.

So, I'm specifically looking for example of emotional decision points that deepened / advanced a relationship in a good direction. Setbacks that eventually turned out well, because of how they were resolved, are also excellent. If you can provide example dialogue, that is even better, as examples always help my story brain.
posted by Alex Haist to Human Relations (13 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I think any time you find yourself thinking about your significant other's feelings as they relate to your actions before you take actions that may negatively affect them, you're heading into "good relationship" territory.
posted by xingcat at 5:27 PM on April 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm willing to tell you my experience, but not publicly. You can MeMail me and I will tell you my story.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:38 PM on April 11, 2015

The decision to trust.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:41 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding the decision to trust, but more specifically the decision to expose emotional vulnerability, and the decision to see that vulnerability in someone else and step closer. The decision to communicate about a vulnerable topic. The decision to stop and listen to someone else expressing their desires, even when you want something different. The decision to do something scary for the sake of making your relationship stronger, and the decision not to pressure the other person into doing something you badly want. The decision to lean into physical contact instead of shying away from it. The decision to take a chance and reach out for something you want.

I am a person who finds it much easier to sit and watch from a distance than to make myself vulnerable and open up to others, so... take that into account as you will.
posted by sciatrix at 9:00 PM on April 11, 2015 [19 favorites]

The decision to put up with their crap because the good stuff is worth it. Absolutely key.
posted by kythuen at 10:00 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

The decision to talk (calmly) about what ever is bothering me in the relationship no matter how hard, personal or embarrassing it might be for either person. If they don't handle it well, they are not the person for me.
posted by sadtomato at 10:08 PM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I need to second sciatrix here - that decision has meant that not only in my marriage, but friendships, I've had a very sudden and incredible change over the past two years or so. It doesn't mean every friendship will survive - being vulnerable with people who continue to hurt you is bad - but I have formed more connections in the past two years, deep, fulfilling, nurturing friendships, than in my life up until that point. And even my long term relationship has strengthened and changed with that conscious attempt to be vulnerable with people.
posted by geek anachronism at 11:59 PM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My wife and I just listened to this Ted talk by Helen Fisher about love and it might give you some insight.

One of the most rewarding "dates" we had early on was a snow day where we took a bunch of online quizzes, personality tests, ayurvedic medicine tests, etc and we agreed to be completely open and honest - it's the default for both of us anyway. But we learned a lot and consciously decided to be vulnerable to judgement in a host of different ways - she still remembers my very different response to describing my typical stool for example, considerably different than her own. Talk about intimacy! TMI for most people, but when you are in the early stages of romantic love and building attachment, that kind of thing works.
posted by mearls at 7:16 AM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: How about deciding to defend each other (emotionally) against a hostile party?

My partner and I aren't naturally the most expressive of our feelings. The turning point for me is how we told each other how important we are to each other: snuck into conversation, talked about in the third person, like a simple statement of fact we had known all along.

Her family doesn't approve of me, a big part of it is racial. I told her I was incredulous at what her sisters hoped to accomplish by constantly voicing their unhappiness. "Do they think you're going to suddenly stop being the most important thing in my life?"

Her mother asked her what we even have in common, and she said "he's been my best friend for the last year."

We had never said those things to each other before.
posted by danny the boy at 10:09 AM on April 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

After watching my relationship of 16 years slowly fizzle and die, I made a conscious decision to share my inner secrets and vulnerabilities to future partners (which seems to be a common goal in this thread). I'm learning how to safely reveal my most private thoughts, desires, and feelings. It's a scary thing to do, but it's done a lot to deepen my current relationship.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 11:25 AM on April 12, 2015

Best answer: This previous answer of mine contains a lot of the significant emotional bonding moments in my relationship to the man I was married to for 22 years.

One of the early things mentioned in it is when I was 18 and I was not feeling well and my mother was dismissing me as a hypochondriac. I have a genetic disorder and it was not diagnosed until my mid-thirties, but I was always sick and a lot of people accused me of being lazy or a hypochondriac. That moment was a very big deal to me -- that he backed me and was willing to take care of me.

It paid off in spades because as my health worsened, it wasn't unusual for him to take me to the ER in the evening and go to work on very little sleep the next day. He never once threw it in my face. He was very dutiful. He did talk about how it sucked to go work on so little sleep, but he was never blamey, like it was my fault. He treated it like it was just part of that "in sickness and in health, til death do us part" vow we both took. So I was right to marry someone willing to take me to the ER when I did not feel well. I might not still be alive had I not married him. His dutiful care of me literally helped keep me alive even though I have a condition that is quite deadly.

and Act 3 is about how their relationship deepens and intensifies.

There needs to be something that gives them reason to trust each other. This requires something to happen that casts light on the character of each and that shows they have skin in the game, it isn't just casual fun. It could be a medical crisis and one rises to the occasion or something is revealed that one fears is a deal breaker and it turns out it is not. The romance between the skunk and the Persian cat in Over The Hedge comes to mind: He thinks she is beautiful and he has no sense of smell, so he doesn't care she is a skunk.

So there needs to be some kind of "heavy" moment, whether current crisis or past baggage, and the other party needs to rise to the occasion or be very "meh" about something others have found shocking and a reason to flee, or that type thing.

Good luck.
posted by Michele in California at 3:32 PM on April 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I can look back on a couple of key moments for me and Mr. Darling:

First, about a year after we were married, our dog bit the daughter of a friend of his. It was extremely traumatic both for the child and for the friend group (they sued us and my in-laws), as well as for us when we put down the dog we'd bought ourselves as a wedding gift. But going through that whole experience as a team (two long years of unrelenting crap) was good for us.

Second, about a year after our daughter was born, my husband had what is now called a "quarter-life crisis" (we didn't have that term in the mid-'90s). He was having terrible anxiety attacks and health problems, suffered both physically and emotionally, and decided to close a failing family business which caused both financial loss and some loss of face for us and his parents. We were still very young and it was very overwhelming, and I'm ashamed to say there were a few times I thought it would just be easier to take our daughter and leave. I stayed because I realized he would stay for me if the situation were reversed.

The last galvanizing moment - the one where I thought, well, that does it; I'm in for the long haul - was watching my incredibly immature and self-absorbed sister-in-law wreck a perfectly good relationship through unrelenting, unrealistic demands of her partner while giving back little in return. It made me realize that I was lucky to have found someone who would put up with my crap and love me anyway.

That's not to say that we don't fight - in fact, we have the same fight over and over, to the point where we can now stop ourselves about ten minutes into it and laugh through gritted teeth. But we still like each other, and we love the family we have built together, and realistically no one else would want either of us at this point.

(Also, my father intimated in his speech at our wedding that he didn't think we would stay married, so sometimes we stick it out just to spite him. 24 years and counting!)
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:57 PM on April 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: One decision that has served us well is the decision to never assume bad faith or subtext in conversation; the flipside is that we can always expect to be taken at our word. An example I've used before is that it is unacceptable for A to be angry, B to ask what's wrong, and A to reply "nothing I'm fine" and expect B to intuit what's going on. Acceptable responses include "When you do X it makes me feel bad" or "I'm upset but I don't want to talk about it right now." Harkening back to another MeFi discussion, we are both "ask culture" people.

Some of this ties into the "trust" answers above; when one of us says "Go ahead and do X, I don't mind," the other can trust that is the truth. The same goes for all sorts of other statements.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:33 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

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