Learned: The User Manual is a magic cure-all that heals hearts, ends baldness and creates world peace. Or not.

On my quest to make the User Manual massively useful for anyone, I’ve spent the past year diving into the pantheon of relationship advice and research. I’ve read dozens of books, plunged into hundreds of articles, met with experts from eHarmony to the Gottman Institute, and attended several relationship-oriented in-person sessions.

Whew!

It’s been an era of enlightenment and immersion, and–after a year at it–I feel that I’ve processed enough from my data intake to unpack some conclusions

The User Manual is not a silver bullet. Nothing is. The User Manual won’t be perfect in every application or for every person. It can’t make you kinder or more patient or heal a broken leg and cure consumption simultaneously or even kill werewolves. But it can serve as a governing structure to deepen self-awareness and move toward taking smarter actions–and it’s action that moves us toward growth.

The best thing you can do for relationships is work on yourself. There’s just no replacement for deep reflection (sometimes with a therapist of job coach–don’t be afraid to ask for help) exploring your blind spots then taking action to improve all aspects of your life–which waterfalls into our relationships. For most of us, that’s a lifelong project. But the progress we make in being less reactive, in asking questions instead of attacking or hiding, in ultimately becoming happier with ourselves and weaning ourselves off relying on validation from others is indispensable in relationships anywhere. It makes you less needy, less desperate, more able to give you and your partner precious space to grow–all while you’re growing too. And growth is the point of all this!

If you master one skill, master soothing. Soothe yourself. Soothe your partner. Do all those generic-seeming hippie-dippie things like take deep breaths, meditate, wait, walk around the block, do yoga, go for a run. Taking fuel off the fire moves both of you out of attack mode so your love can shine through. And fighting wrong–viciously, rudely, with a tone that screams you don’t care, or (the worst for me) with penetrating silence–can severely damage relationships.

Analogy time: Losing weight. I’m on Whole 30 now, and veering into the GM Diet next week in an effort to tighten up before my wedding. That’s a short-term blitz–health for the duration will rely on internalized decisions and preferences for eating less and eating right, and ultimately shifting my relationship with food. These diets help me shake off the holidays and reset, but anybody who walks past bakery aromas twice a day (me!) knows they’re unsustainable long-term. (I’m not skipping carbs at my wedding!)

The takeaway: to reach these goals of weight loss and better relationships (or, really, ANY goal), I do a lot better with some form of structure. Most people do. Specific rules make it easier to take action–and taking action is where growth comes from.

The User Manual provides a structure to give you those specifics actions that can make relationships ridiculously amazing. It’s meant as a prompt to help understand yourself, with the practical benefits of helping your partner manage you better–and helping you manage yourself better.

But it’s just one imperfect road to becoming a better partner and person. That objective is much bigger than the User Manual and a life’s work for most of us.

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