- Marriage and relationships can be challenging.
- Therapist Hal Runkel shared three surprising insights about modern marriage, from the importance of displaying vulnerability to the importance of being able to live independently.
- This post is part of Relationships 101, a series which aims to help us all be happier and healthier in love – and to stop fighting over who should take out the trash.
There were multiple moments while listening to Hal Runkel where I could easily have shouted, “Preach, Hal!” but instead scribbled furiously in my notebook.
Runkel, a marriage and family therapist based in Atlanta, Georgia, visited the Business Insider office for a video interview in May 2017.
He’d made appearances on TV and radio before, so it’s no surprise he was easy to follow – but more than that, it was obvious he’d thought deeply about every relationship issue I brought up, both in the context of his own quarter-century-long marriage and in the context of relationships more generally.
Since that interview, I’ve been thinking about a few novel insights Runkel shared:
To stop a conflict from spiraling out of control, let your partner know they have hurt you
Inevitably, conflicts between romantic partners get out of hand when one person says something that cuts deep and the other person responds with something equally hurtful.
Runkel said there’s one word that can stop an argument like this in its tracks: “Ouch.” As in: “Ouch. That one hurt. I don’t know if you were meaning to hurt me; I don’t know if that’s what you were going for; but that’s what you did.”
According to Runkel, “ouch” is a word that doesn’t get used nearly enough in marriage. That’s because displaying vulnerability – while key to a successful relationship – can also be incredibly difficult.
Ideally, once you let your partner know they have wounded you, the two of you will be able to take a step back and talk about what’s really bothering you.
There’s no such thing as ‘getting’ your partner to help out with chores
I asked Runkel about an issue too many modern couples face -how to encourage one partner to pick up the slack around the house – and he responded immediately:
“Whenever we start off a question with, ‘How can I get someone to do more of this?’ we’ve started off on the wrong foot,” he said. “Because already, we’re trying to get manipulative, literally trying to manipulate this other person to do what we actually need them to do. And it will always backfire.”
No adult wants to be told to do the dishes – and anyway, what you really desire is for your partner to want to do the dishes.
So Runkel shared specific language you can use instead (note the display of vulnerability again): “It hurts me when it seems like I do more than you do. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that, and I don’t know if this is some unspoken arrangement, but I’m not going to do more than my share anymore. What you do after that is up to you.”
Your partner will never complete you
Yes, it’s something people say in movies and in social media posts announcing their engagement. But Runkel thinks the idea that you need your partner, or that your partner makes you a whole person, is incredibly misguided.
For one thing, Runkel said, “When was the last time you actually respected a needy person, much less found them attractive?”
What’s more, each partner should want the other, and should always be making the choice to stay with the person. The relationship shouldn’t be a necessity, in that you should each be able to function independently.
Of his own marriage, Runkel said, “I don’t need my wife, which frees me up to want her.”
If you want to attract the other person, he added, what you should be saying (at least to yourself) is: “I could live without you, but that’s the last thing I want to do.”
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