Are relationships really this simple?

I want your thoughts on this one.  Please.

After a three hour flight and a day at the office, I was sitting at the hotel bar with a friend, a drink and a plate of nachos.  Nachos without cheese, by the way, which I think is fundamentally wrong…


A woman sits next to us and is listening to our conversation, which is ranging across various mutual friends and the state of their relationships, as well as our own. Unfortunately, a few of them are going through the difficult process of divorce.  As we break our conversation to add barbecue pork tacos to our order (it was just that kind of night), she leans in towards us with, “I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation.  I am just fascinated by that.  I really don’t understand why people think relationships are so hard.”

As someone who reads, write and coaches around relationships, and two adult beverages into my evening, you can imagine that I found this intriguing.

Mary had been married for 32 years.  She lost her husband last year due to illness. They have two boys, both grown and into their own careers and relationships.  Mary is a local, but at the hotel because she’s in between moving from her five-bedroom family home to a smaller, two bedroom townhouse with her cat, Fred. She needed a few days between leaving one house and entering the other.  Mary showed us photos of Fred and talked about her marriage.  She shared a lot of lovely details, but the secret to a happy marriage she summarized it in three key points.

  1. Priority
  2. Sex
  3. Money

Mary was genuinely baffled that anyone might think relationships were more complicated than that.

Hmm. So.

Point one: Priority. Perhaps it seems obvious but we tend to lose sight of it once “life” starts to unfold.  But consider this: the kids, the pets, the house, the job… they’re all the extras.  And they’re nice and all, but marriage is about the two of you.  You create the rest as an extension of your couple-hood, not to replace it.  The kids will leave.  The pets will die. The house and job will change. But your marriage partner (life partner, significant other… it’s not about the certificate, it’s about the commitment) is meant to be permanent. As we raise our families and climb those career ladders, we are focused play-dates and soccer games and how our kids are doing in school.  We’re up late checking email one last time, creating yet another boring PowerPoint, all for the possible promotion or raise. We’re sacrificing our most valuable resource – our energy – to these outside forces that impact your relationship, but they aren’t the relationship.  This isn’t about a monthly date night. This is about making the conscious choice, every day, to put your relationship first in your life.

Point two: Sex.  Sex is the ultimate form of personal communication. If you can sustain a hot chemical romance, as Mary did for 32 years, then that suggests that intimate communication can indeed help you transcend your more mundane, fully clothed communications.  After all, if you can work through the inevitable embarrassments of being wholly naked – physically and spiritually – with another human being, isn’t negotiating what’s for dinner or when the trash is to be taken out somewhat simpler?  So much less is at stake. This is the foundation of intimacy – a physical and spiritual nakedness that is all about the two of you. And nothing else.

Point three: Money. This is the one external factor that people do have very strong emotions and reactions about. For our various reasons, we attribute a sense of safety to money.  So how we manage our money, and how our partner manages money, can be very impactful to the harmony of a relationship.  If one’s spending habits is constantly threatening a sense of security for the other, or if one’s frugality rubs against the other’s idea of fun and freedom, you will have regular, predictable friction in your household.  This is not about how much money you have.  The important piece here is how you make decisions about money – how to spend it, how to save it, where to keep it. The usage of money is another form of communication – and it can be a destructive one if you’re not on the same page.

So the question stands: if you put your relationship first, develop the closeness and intimacy to have a fantastic sexual relationship, and you have respectful agreement for managing the most significant external factor in relationships, then really… what else is there?

I tossed this out at a another friend, and she pointed out that neither of those things matter if, for example, you’re married to an alcoholic.  I agree.  But I also posit that if you’re married to an alcoholic, at least one of your is not putting the relationship first, annd you’re probably not enjoying the best sex nor in alignment around your finances.   So in essence, Mary’s priority, sex and money assertion still applies.

I’m sure there are other angles I am not considering here… but so far, every time I come up with a different use case, I come back to the alignment of priority, sex and money.  It doesn’t solve all other issues but, if those three things aren’t in alignment, perhaps you don’t have much hope of solving the other issues anyway.

So my question to you is, is it really this simple: priority, sex and money?

What do you think?  We’re not judging.  We’re discussing.  Have we over-complicated our relationships with our long lists of everything we’re looking for in our soul mates?  I would love for you to post your ideas below.

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