Why we have to sell our on our relationships–and anything we really want

In my relentless relationship research, I’ve been plowing through every big name book–and plenty of little name books–recommended to me by anybody who’s seriously thought about relationship dynamics. I’m getting recommendations from e-dating experts and friends who hit rough patches, from Google searches and serendipitous library stumbles.

[So first off: Got a recommendation for a must-read relationship book? Let me know!]

“The Dail Lama of Love” Zach Beach recommended Harville Hendrix’s cornerstone book Getting the Love You Want, which is a fascinating read that explores how everybody gets damaged in some way in childhood and how that affects how we select and connect with our partners. In fact, one of Hendrix’s tools for success is something that smells like a partial User Manual–more on that later.

One of his ideas that smacked me in the face is that to address a relationship problem, we have to seal the exits.

That doesn’t simply mean recommitting yourself to making your relationship better, though of course that’s a huge chunk of it. It means saying no to other escapes that we busy ourselves with to avoid doing the hard work of addressing fundamental problems.

To commit to solving relationship challenges, we have to stop wasting time screwing around on Facebook, drinking with friends, working late when we don’t really need to, inventing kid-friendly activities, and any other activity that allows us to shimmy past the heart of the matter. Hendrix also calls out the importance of avoiding major exits, like suicide and divorce, to stay here and focused to work it out.

Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes famously destroyed his ships upon arriving in the New World, so his soldiers had no easy out and had to focus on victory. While that story is partly apocryphal (he didn’t burn the ships, merely scuttled them), the concept is clear: to really focus on rectifying a relationship, you have to try. A lot. And you’re a lot more likely to apply yourself and sell out on your relationship when you don’t have other options.

Or, in the immortal words of Ron Swanson:

Applying the User Manual isn’t easy. Actually figuring out what we need from our partner, asking our partner for help, and then following our partner’s instructions that aren’t intuitive is serious mental work. Behavior change is never easy.

But by prioritizing–and eliminating distractions–we’re a lot more likely to cultivate ridiculously amazing results, both in relationships and in anything else we do.

What exits would you seal off to prioritize your relationship?