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Rule 11 - Couples Rulebook

Remember the “seven-year itch?” Not the 1955 movie with Marilyn Monroe, but the old psychological theory that explained why the average relationship tended to last about seven years. Well, turns out that the theory was only true in the last century. These days, the seven-year itch has become a two-year tickle.

For young people today, the average relationship is down to less than three years—about two years and nine months—and there are plenty of things to blame for the dramatic change. Social media, urbanization, and television have all had a significant influence.

One of the biggest threats to the modern relationship is the ready availability of options that always look better than what we’ve got. When trouble hits a relationship today, people can be instantly surrounded by hundreds of potential mates. In the past, we would turn to a close personal friend to vent relationship frustrations, but now people tend to turn to their instantly accessible social network. That means more people are venting or fishing for support on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. A user that posts about a job interview, relationship spat, or tough exam will generally receive supportive responses from their community of “friends.”

That quick support on social media leads our unfortunately primitive brain to believe that we are surrounded by potential mates that care for and value us. In the face of such glowing outside competition, our partner barely stands a chance. Relationships tend to collapse in the face of these ever-present, outside challengers. Why not dump the partner who isn’t being actively supportive right now and find a nice, supportive new mate, right?

Throw in the fact that everybody else’s relationships are vacations, dining out, and romantic beach walks on their social media and we’re screwed. When our brain begins to believe that other people are more compassionate than our partner and other relationships are better than ours… it can be tough to come back to reality. Before the internet, when you were frustrated in a relationship you would turn to a close friend for advice or support. Now, we can easily jump on the internet and find relationship advice that justifies dumping this moody partner for what our mind thinks would be a more pleasant partner.

When it comes to the difficulty of modern love, there’s more at play than just social media. Our brains are evolving in complex ways. We’ve become wired for constant stimulation. From televisions to computers to smartphones, we’re a species that is constantly stimulating the receptors in our brains. We’ve gone from Hooked on Phonics to hooked on electronics. Our comfortable partner barely stands a chance against the non-stop, 24-7 presence and excitement of Game of Thrones or Words with Friends.

Modern love is tough (Rule 11) but if you focus on making sure that you’re individually solid (Rule 6 - Fix You First), then you’ve got a chance to survive all the craziness out there. Remember, other people don’t make us happy or complete us. Find relationships by looking for people that have interests similar to your own. Find someone who understands your uniqueness.

Modern love is tough but it isn’t impossible. In fact, one advantage of social media and urbanization is that you’re much more likely to find a left-handed, redhead who shares your love of sushi and Star Wars. Those connections early in a relationship can be critical to making things better when the relationship hits a rough patch.

If both partners understand the challenges and are committed to the same goals, then things can work out. If you’re in a relationship that is struggling, it’s important to talk to your partner about why you got into the relationship in the first place and what you hope to have in the relationship in the future. If you can align the roots and the future, then the present trouble will always seem more manageable. The keys to making it work are to find the connection points. When both partners feel connected by shared experiences and a shared vision, then things get a lot easier. Plus, when we have that battle-tested past and better vision of the future in mind, we can better value our partner for what they’ve helped us through and what they’re helping us achieve.

And don’t forget to turn off the smartphone and the television because they’ll steal that connection if you’re not paying attention.

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