Fashion Godfather Tim Gunn never talks about relationships, but Tor Constantino still gleans some relevant—albeit unintended—marriage advice.
As parents of three kids, my wife and I don’t have a lot of downtime (or desire) to watch a lot of television. However, there’s one show that we’ve never missed an episode of—Project Runway.
It’s a reality-show competition where a dozen or so fashion designers must overcome time-and-material-constrained challenges to test their creativity, sewing ability and design aesthetic.
Each week, at least one designer is eliminated from the competition if their creations fall flat for the judging panel, which conducts its evaluations of the garments during an actual mini-runway show.
Tim Gunn (pictured above) serves as a fashion mage, mentor, and motivator to each of the contestants to help them maximize the Project Runway opportunity and their own creative voice.
Gunn is the best thing about that show because of his class, demeanor, wisdom, and unflappable persona.
Over the years we’ve watched, there have been dozens of pithy and profound statements that Gunn has lovingly fired off to help contestants navigate the significant challenges of the contest itself and the ego-induced, often-catty drama of the other contestants themselves.
Gunn’s lauded advice on the show is loaded with insight and practical application.
The contestants who listen to him always seem to advance deep into the stages of the competition, while those who reject his sage sayings, choosing to stick to their own guns as it were, tend to metaphorically shoot themselves and their success in the proverbial foot.
While Gunn’s adages are clearly aimed at the specific situations of the contestants on the show, some of his sayings clearly hit the target when it comes to relationships—these five, in particular are right on the mark.
1. “Make it work.”
If Tim Gunn has a catchphrase this one is it, and there is a lot packed into these three little words. When he uses this phrase it conveys a variety of meanings for a variety of situations that include: make the best with what they’ve got; look at a problem a fresh way; don’t give up; and “I believe in you—you can do it.”
All of those meanings have an application for any relationship challenge you’re facing.
If you’re in a committed, non-abusive relationship, a critical mantra to help you endure through the difficulty is, “Make it work.”
2. “I believe that treating other people well is a lost art.”
This gem is reminiscent of the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” The problem is that we tend to apply this rule with greater frequency when dealing with acquaintances and strangers, while nearly forgetting its application for the family, friends and intimates that are closest to our hearts.
While we obviously need to be kind and polite toward everyone, we need to intentionally hold some of our caring and thoughtfulness in reserve—channel it with intention and specificity toward those who are the keepers of our hearts and most deserving.
3. “Losing gracefully looks a lot like winning.”
This is perhaps my favorite quote from Gunn, because it is arguably the most aspirational sentiment on this list. When we come in last place, lose a loved one, are depressed, have a fight with a spouse, get cut off in traffic … or whatever, we tend to want to cradle the perceived wound we’ve received—real or imagined—and focus on ourselves during the loss.
This quote aspires to something more. It aspires to others outside of ourselves rather than solely ourselves.
This saying resonates because it’s difficult to be graceful when you’ve lost something or someone.
In fact, society and culture expect winners to be graceful in victory—not losers. But when winners are NOT gracious—when they’re arrogant and cocky—that’s when winners are labeled as losers.
The inverse holds true as well.
When you lose, you’re expected to be bitter, angry and sad—that’s totally acceptable. But when you’re gracious, inspiring, hopeful, and optimistic in defeat—that’s otherworldly.
Imagine how shocked you’d be if the significant other in your life reacted gracefully to you when they were at their lowest point. You would be stunned and likely love them more.
Now, switch those roles in your mind and imagine the possibilities that you might manifest in your own relationship.
4. “Plenty of people will try to sabotage you; you can’t be one of them!”
This speaks of being a complete, healthy person who can handle the dynamic tension of life. Everybody talks about finding balance in life, but I think it’s more appropriate to manage the twisting, pulling tensions we all experience daily while not contributing needlessly to that tension ourselves.
The key to making this statement a reality in your relationship is by taking care of yourself but not at the expense of those closest to you. Eat right, get enough rest, take time off to relax and recreate, exercise daily, meditate and/or practice stillness—these common sense activities will recharge your inner batteries so you can energize and bless others.
There’s a reason why flight attendants instruct you to put the oxygen mask on yourself in the event of an emergency. That way you can be part of the solution and help others, rather than being part of the problem.
5. “You need to accept your past to own your future.”
Every relationship and individual has a history—usually that history is bad, good and everything in between. But this rule is very helpful because it doesn’t distinguish between the individual and the mutual relationship.
It requires each of us to accept not only ourselves—warts and all—but our shared past with the significant others in our lives.
When we accept that past—good, bad, and everything in between—it’s a critical step toward building a foundation that can endure through the future. Again, if you’re in a committed, non-abusive relationship that you want to nurture into something more meaningful and lasting—the past needs to be part of it.
I know I have a long way to go as far as implementing these rules within my own marriage and the other meaningful relationships I have with family and friends—but I’m grateful for the unintended relationship wisdom from reluctant relationship guru Tim Gunn.