The Third Person in Your Relationship


I rather enjoy getting — or at least hearing — relationship advice. But this was not the case when I was younger.

Back then, I was sure I knew everything. No one could tell me what I didn’t already know. Looking back, it’s almost funny how mistaken I was.

Even though I was quick to dismiss guidance from others, there was one piece of advice I’d gotten during those years that never left me.

I was with some friends at a seminar at my college. The student social committee arranged for a weekend workshop on building and maintaining healthy relationships while in school. So despite my relationship hubris, I ended up at one workshop that weekend.

I am forever grateful that I attended. 

The guest lecturer was a legend in New York City, and wrote a relationship advice column for a prominent local newspaper. His readers submitted questions that ranged from the profound to the absurd, and everything in between. He answered all with the same level of charitable wisdom and care. 

The title of his lecture was “The Proper Care and Feeding of Your Relationship.” Compelling, and thoroughly confusing, title. I had to go. 

And here’s what he said: treat your relationship as if it was a third person. Perhaps consider it a baby when you first get together, and as your relationship grows, so does the baby. It’s a great idea and one I made genuine attempts at with every relationship thereafter. Not all were successful; very few, in fact. But the advice was so solid that I never gave up on it.

Most of us do not approach relationships this way. Most of us think about ourselves: how we will benefit, what we get, what we give, who pays, who calls.

We also think about what we will have to sacrifice, compromise, forego and move on from.

We consider the things from past relationships that we should use to protect us. We wonder how our family will react. We wonder what our friends think. We make ourselves crazy with the Relationship X-Ray Machine.

But we can learn much from parents with children. 

The great life lesson from having children is that they give us a sense of purpose and a meaning that is larger than our little selves. Children teach us how to truly love. We are only too happy to care for and nurture them. We constantly worry we’re not doing it right and always want to do our best.

Their well-being is the most important thing, and we see infinite potential in their faces. We think of them as divine miracles. Their successes are ours, and we feel their pain more than they do. Wouldn’t we want both members in a relationships to care as much? 

So that lecturer was right — a successful relationship does require proper care and feeding after all. It requires sacrifice, a willing selflessness, free of standards and judgements and over analysis.

Relationships need to grow and change and develop into adulthood and hopefully into the golden years, just as we do. The third person in our relationship is our creation.

It’s something that we can look back on years from now and know we did our absolute best to raise a happy, healthy and successful person. 




  1. Terri-838897 April 25, 2013 Reply

    Very interesting….Never thought of a relationship in these terms…

  2. Kate-958830 April 25, 2013 Reply

    Great article! I hadn’t ever thought of a relationship that way but it’s very true. And, it’s not true of just a dating relationship but of friendships or work relationships as well. A friendship requires care and feeding or falls to the wayside. A work relationship (whether you are trying to sell a product, idea or yourself) also requires you to consider it from all aspects such as you would do to support a child…celebrating its success and commiserating with its falls. Nicely thought through here. Thank you!

  3. Stacey-101742 April 24, 2013 Reply

    Great article !

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