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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Manning

The One You Love Can Kill You . . . And Make Life Worth Living Too

Updated: Nov 18, 2021

Stress, Relationships, and Health Nothing is more stressful than a miserable relationship. Ask anyone who has one. On the other hand, nothing is more satisfying than a loving relationship. Fully one third of the stressful events experienced by young adults are caused by relationships, and interpersonal conflicts account for as much as 80% of the stress experienced by married couples. An unhappy relationship is double trouble. You lose a major source of support and replace it with a major source of stress. The result is that both unhappy people may become ill.

In developing a relationship, it is important to know what makes a person easy to live with. The following are six basic rules. Ask yourself if you are doing your part?

  1. Seek to Love, Not to Change. Care about your partner, but never let interest become interference. Letting people be free to be themselves is a healthy tonic that nurtures and enhances the relationship.

  2. Avoid Being Judgmental and Fault-Finding. Instead, praise your partner for his or her good qualities. This is pleasing and makes a long and happy relationship. As Benjamin Franklin said, regarding a good marriage: Keep your eyes wide open before you marry, and half shut afterward.

  3. Make Peace, Not War. By all means, have opinions, and express your ideas readily. But keep the emphasis on sharing, not winning. If life is a struggle and a contest, don’t let it be with your partner.

  4. Help Your Partner. Try to solve problems, not make problems. This is a basic ingredient of being a helpmate and a basic requirement for a productive relationship.

  5. Love on All Planes. Show love emotionally and physically. Make love the single most descriptive word for your relationship.

  6. Stamp Out Jealousy. In Othello, Shakespeare writes, “Beware of jealousy, it is the green-ey’d monstor.” Jealousy is a destructive emotion that ruins relationships and harms personal health. Refuse to participate.

The relationship between mates is more than the sum of the characteristics of two individuals. Equally important is the quality of the interactions between partners. People in successful relationships:

  • Like each other and consider their partner to be their best friend

  • Agree on roles and like the way their partner is filling his or her role

  • Are sensitive to and accommodating of each other’s needs and moods

  • Are good at resolving conflict and confronting problems directly but avoid personal criticism or blame

  • Are willing to change in response to each other

  • Are committed to each other—they love each other and want to live their lives together

The One You Love Can Kill You I learned this firsthand over lunch. Three background points: We are grandparents, Nancy is bed-bound, and I can’t cook. It was after my fourth attempt to get tomato soup and grilled cheese just right that I lost control of my emotions, something I never thought could happen to me. Failed attempt one brought a cheerful, “Don’t worry, I can make it better.” Failed attempt two brought a, “That’s OK, I can fix it easy.” Failed attempt three included a cut finger and insight on why Martha Stewart has a short temper. After failed attempt four, I was pulling my hair from the roots thinking, “The one you love can kill you.” I had been pushed past my limits. This goes both ways, of course. I am absolutely sure Nancy has been frustrated beyond what is healthy by the one she loves, too. The message is—for the health of your partner, lighten up. Both love and life require it.

Postscript: The fifth time worked.

Help Mates

The importance of helping your mate should not be underestimated if he or she is to live a long and happy life. This message is particularly true for couples locked in a daily struggle to meet the responsibilities of a home and the responsibilities of a job. Many partners join each other at the end of pressure-filled, conflict-ridden, and frustrating days, only to give each other additional stress. What is missing is TLC. The result is physical and emotional wear and tear. Even premature aging, disease, and death can result. The major deficiencies are:

  • Insensitivity to the other person’s problems.

  • Lack of awareness of the impact of your own behavior.

  • The idea that your mate must be perfect to the point that you are intolerant of his or her shortcomings and idiosyncrasies.

The importance of keeping small differences in perspective is perfectly illustrated by the following story:

The Grapefruit Syndrome Author Lola Walters writes:

My husband and I had been married about two years—just long enough for me to realize that he was a normal man rather than a knight on a white charger—when I read an article recommending that couples regularly discuss the habits they find annoying in each other. I talked to my husband about the idea, and he agreed to give it a try.

As I recall, we were to name five things we found irritating, and I started off. After more than 50 years, I remember only my first complaint: grapefruit. I told him that I didn’t like the way he ate grapefruit. He peeled it and ate it like an orange. Could a woman be expected to spend a lifetime watching her husband eat a grapefruit like that? Although I’ve forgotten them, I’m sure the rest of my complaints were similar.

After I finished, it was his turn. I still carry a mental image of his handsome young face as he gathered his brows together in a thoughtful, puzzled frown and then looked at me with his large, blue-gray eyes. “Well, to tell the truth,” he said, “I can’t think of anything I don’t like about you, honey.”

Tears ran down my face. I had found fault with him over such trivial things as the way he ate grapefruit, while he hadn’t noticed any of my own annoying habits.

I wish I could say that this cured me of fault-finding. It didn’t. But it did make me aware early in my marriage that husbands and wives need to keep in perspective the small differences in their habits and personalities. Whenever I hear of couples being incompatible, I always wonder if they are suffering from the grapefruit syndrome.

Solution (RX)

The most satisfying relationships allow each person to be what they are and become what they can be. Fifteen hundred married couples came together in Chicago to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversaries. There were many reasons cited for their long marriages, but the words of one couple reflect the most-mentioned requirements:

Be considerate. Be patient. Always ask; try not to command. Say “please” and “thank you.” Work together and talk things over often. Love each other with all of your hearts.

The exchange of simple affection is the true secret of a happy and healthy relationship. When we are accepted and valued by those who know all about us and like us anyway, we know the happiness involved in a deep and satisfying relationship. To personalize the subject, is there someone in your world who believes that you are a special person and who loves you with all of his or her heart? Do you show your affection as well?

For related learning, read:

The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm

Soul Pancake by Rainn Wilson


Source: Manning, G., et al. (2016). Stress: Living and Working in a Changing World. Martin, TN: Savant Learning Systems.


George Manning, Author Professor of Psychology and Business at Northern Kentucky University LinkedIn

Jennifer Zimmerman, Editor

Freelance editor, writer, and consultant

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