On the old saw that “relationships take work”:
I think of this in terms of maintenance vs. repair.
All relationships take maintenance, just like cars. For a car, you have to put gas in it, and change the oil, and wash it, and get the engine checked, and rotate the tires. If you don’t, your car will stop running, no matter how good a car it is.
For a relationship, you have to treat your partner with respect and kindness (even when you’re tired and stressed, or mad), consider their needs and wants as well as your own, pay attention to how they’re doing, speak up, respectfully, when you have a problem, and listen honestly when they do the same. You have to make time and energy for you as a couple — date nights, pursuing mutual interests. And if you pay attention to maintenance, when a serious problem does come up (and it does), you have the foundation to weather it.
On the other hand, “relationships take work” should not be used as an excuse to do the relationship equivalent of buying a 20-year-old beater with faulty brakes and no floor, and pouring all of your money and energy into trying to get it to run, because you’re never going to get a reliable car out of it.
If your partner doesn’t care about whether you are happy, doesn’t regard you with respect and doesn’t think there is a problem (or vice versa), all the work in the world isn’t going to make a healthy relationship out of the two of you. If you have to work to put up with them or enjoy their company in the early stages of the relationship, it’s unlikely to improve.
As a corollary, sometimes it’s a great car, just not one that serves your needs. If you have four kids and live in a snowy climate, you’ll regret buying that sports car, no matter how good it looked.
J. Carolyn Hax Sept. 2, 2011 Column