Six Healthy Relationship Habits Most People Think are Toxic

By Mark Manson on Thursday September 22nd, 2016

Are traits we don't think of as healthy actually the key to long-lasting relationships?

About six months ago, I wrote a post titled 6 Toxic Habits that Most People Think Are Normal. It became very successful. But the article also elicited a lot of questions like, “So if these habits ruin a relationship, what habits create a happy and healthy relationship?” and “Where’s an article on what makes a relationship great?”

These are important questions. And they deserve answers.

Let’s Talk About Something Different

Granted, I have far more experience screwing up relationships than making them work well, but I still wanted to take a stab at a “healthy relationship” post. I didn’t want to just make it a (yet another) “learn to communicate and cuddle and watch sunsets and play with puppies together” type post. You can find those posts just about everywhere. And honestly, those posts suck. If you love your partner, you shouldn’t have to be told to hold hands and watch sunsets together. This stuff should be automatic.

What makes a relationship greatWhat makes a relationship great?

I wanted to write something different. I wanted to write about issues that are important in relationships but don’t receive enough airtime. Things like the role of fighting, hurting each other’s feelings, dealing with dissatisfaction or feeling the occasional attraction for other people. These are normal, everyday relationship issues that don’t get talked about because it’s far easier to talk about puppies and sunsets instead.

And so I wrote this article. This is the first article’s bizarro twin brother. That article explained that many of our culture’s tacitly accepted relationship habits secretly erode intimacy, trust and happiness. This article explains how traits that don’t fit our traditional narrative for what love is and what love should be are actually necessary ingredients for lasting relationship success.

Outside the traditional relationship narrativeHow do we get outside of the traditional relationship narrative?


There’s this guy. His name is John Gottman. And he is like the Michael Jordan of relationship research. Not only has he been studying intimate relationships for more than 40 years, but he practically invented the field.

Gottman devised the process of “thin-slicing” relationships, a technique where he hooks couples up to all sorts of biometric devices and then records them having short conversations about their problems. Gottman then goes back and analyzes the conversation frame by frame looking at biometric data, body language, tonality and specific words chosen. He then combines all of this data together to predict whether your marriage sucks or not.

John Gottman with wife JulieJohn Gottman with his wife Julie

His “thin-slicing” process boasts a staggering 91% success rate in predicting whether newly-wed couples will divorce within 10 years — a staggeringly high result for any psychological research. His method went on to be featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book Blink.

Gottman’s seminars also report a 50% higher success rate of saving troubled marriages than traditional marriage counseling. His research papers have won enough academic awards to fill the state of Delaware. And he’s written nine books on the subjects of intimate relationships, marital therapy and the science of trust.

The point is, when it comes to understanding what makes long-term relationships succeed, John Gottman will slam-dunk in your face and then sneer at you afterwards. And the first thing Gottman says in almost all of his books is this: The idea that couples must communicate and resolve all of their problems is a myth.

Letting some conflicts go unresolvedLetting some conflicts go unresolved

In his research of thousands of happily married couples, some of whom have been married for 40+ years, he found time and again that most successful couples have persistent unresolved issues, unresolved issues that they’ve sometimes been fighting about for decades. Meanwhile many of the unsuccessful couples insisted on resolving fucking everything because they believed that there should be a void of disagreement between them. Pretty soon there was a void of a relationship too.

People like to fantasize about “true love.” But if there is such a thing, it requires us to sometimes accept things we don’t like.

Successful couples accept and understand that some conflict is inevitable, that there will always be certain things they don’t like about their partners or things they don’t agree with, and that this is fine. You shouldn’t need to feel the need to change somebody in order to love them. And you shouldn’t let some disagreements get in the way of what is otherwise a happy and healthy relationship.

The truth is, trying to resolve a conflict can sometimes create more problems than it fixes. Some battles are simply not worth fighting. And sometimes the most optimal relationship strategy is one of “live and let live.”

Moving on from conflictMoving on from conflict


My girlfriend is one of those women who spends a lot of time in front of the mirror. She loves to look amazing and I love for her to look amazing too (obviously).

Nights before we go out, she always comes out of the bathroom after an hour-long make-up/hair/clothes/whatever-women-do-in-there session and asks me how she looks. She’s usually gorgeous. But every once in a while, she looks bad. She tried to do something new with her hair or decided to wear a pair of boots that some flamboyant fashion designer from Milan thought were avant-garde. And it just doesn’t work.

When I tell her this, she usually gets pissed off. And as she marches back into the closet to redo everything and make us 30 minutes late.

You did not just say thatHonesty is key, even if it hurts

Men stereotypically lie in this situation to make their girlfriends/wives happy. But I don’t. Why? Because honesty in my relationship is more important to me than feeling good all of the time. The last person I should ever have to censor myself with is the woman I love.

Fortunately, I date a woman who agrees. She calls me out on my bullshit sometimes, and it’s honestly one of the most important traits she offers me as a partner. Sure, my ego gets bruised and I bitch and complain and try to argue, but a few hours later I come sulking back and admit that she was right and holy crap she makes me a better person even though I hated hearing it at the time.

When our highest priority is to always make ourselves feel good, or to always make our partner feel good, then nobody ends up feeling good. And our relationships fall apart without us even knowing it.

Tough love can hurt but makes us better peopleTough love can hurt but often makes us better people

It’s important to make something more important in your relationship than merely making each other feel good all of the time. The feel good stuff happens when you get the other stuff right. The sunsets and puppies, they happen when you get the more important stuff right: values, needs and trust.

If I feel smothered and need more time alone, I need to be capable of saying that without blaming her and she needs to be capable of hearing it without blaming me, despite the unpleasant feelings it may cause. If she feels that I’m cold and unresponsive to her, she needs to be capable of saying it without blaming me and I need to be capable of hearing it without blaming her, despite the unpleasant feelings it may generate.

These conversations are paramount to maintaining a healthy relationship that meets both people’s needs. With out them, we get lost and lose track of one another.

Making honesty the foundation of a relationshipMaking honesty the foundation of a healthy relationship


Romantic sacrifice is idealized in our culture. Show me almost any romantic movie and I’ll show you a desperate and needy character who treats themselves like dog shit for the sake of being in love with someone.

The truth is our standards for what a “successful relationship” should be are pretty screwed up. If a relationship ends and someone’s not dead, then we view it as a failure, regardless of the emotional or practical circumstances present in the person’s lives. And that’s kind of insane. Shut up and jump already.

Romeo and Juliet was originally written as satire to represent everything that’s wrong with young love and how irrational romantic beliefs can make you do stupid shit like drink poison because your parents don’t like some girl’s parents. But somehow we look at this story as romantic.

Knowing when to let goKnowing when to let go

It’s this kind of irrational idealization that leads people to stay with partners who are abusive or negligent, to give up on their own needs and identities, to make themselves into imaginary martyrs who are perpetually miserable, to suppress their own pain and suffering in the name of maintaining a relationship “until death do us part.”

Sometimes the only thing that can make a relationship successful is ending it at the appropriate time, before it becomes too damaging. And the willingness to do that allows us to establish the necessary boundaries to help ourselves and our partner grow together.

Shoot myself to love you; if I loved myself I’d be shooting you  – Marilyn Manson

Ending a relationship at the appropriate timeEnding a relationship at the appropriate time

“Until death do us part” is romantic and everything, but when we worship our relationship as something more important than ourselves, our values, our needs and everything else in our lives, we create a sick dynamic where there’s no accountability. We have no reason to work on ourselves and grow because our partner has to be there no matter what. And our partner has no reason to work on themselves and grow because we’re going to be there no matter what. It invites stagnation and stagnation equals misery.


Our cultural scripts for romance includes this sort of mental tyranny, where any mildly emotional or sexual thought not involving your partner amounts to high treason. Being in love is like a cult where you’re supposed to prefer drinking Kool Aid laced with cyanide to letting your thoughts wander to whether other religions may be true too.

Attracted to someone elseAttraction outside the relationship is common

As much as we’d like to believe that we only have eyes for our partner, biology says otherwise. Once we get past the honeymoon phase of starry eyes and oxytocin, the novelty of our partner wears off a bit. And unfortunately, human sexuality is partially wired around novelty.

I get emails all the time from people in happy marriages/relationships who get blindsided by finding someone else attractive and they feel like horrible, horrible people because of it. Not only are we capable of finding multiple people attractive and interesting at the same time, but it’s a biological inevitability.

What isn’t an inevitability are our choices to act on it or not. Most of us, most of the time, choose to not act on those thoughts. And like waves, they pass through us and leave us with our partner very much the same way how they found us.

Allowing ourselves to feel attractionHow do we handle attraction to others?

This triggers a lot of guilt in some people and a lot of irrational jealousy in others. Our cultural scripts tell us that once we’re in love, that’s supposed to be it, end of story. And if someone flirts with us and we enjoy it, or if we catch ourselves having an occasional errant sexy-time fantasy, there must be something wrong with us or our relationship.

But that’s simply not the case. In fact, it’s healthier to allow oneself to experience these feelings and then let them go. When you suppress these feelings, you give them power over you, you let them dictate your behavior for you (suppression) rather than dictating your behavior for yourself (feeling them and yet choosing not to do anything).

People who suppress these urges are the ones who are likely to eventually succumb to them and give in and suddenly find themselves screwing the secretary in the broom closet and having no idea how they got there and come to deeply regret it about twenty-two seconds afterward. People who suppress these urges are the ones who are likely to project them onto their partner and becoming blindingly jealous, attempting to control their partner’s every thought and whim, corralling all of their partner’s attention and affection onto themselves.

Texting another womanWe must allow ourselves to experience feelings of attraction

Looking at and speaking to attractive people is enjoyable. Thinking about attractive people is enjoyable. That’s not going to change because of our Facebook relationship status. And when you dampen these impulses towards other people, you dampen them towards your partner as well. You’re killing a part of yourself and it ultimately only comes back to harm your relationship.

When I meet a beautiful woman now, I enjoy it, as any man would. But it also reminds me why, out of all of the beautiful women I’ve ever met and dated, I chose to be with my girlfriend. I see in the attractive women everything my girlfriend has and most women lack. And while I appreciate the attention or even flirtation, the experience only strengthens my commitment. Attractiveness is common. But real intimacy is not.

When we commit to a person, we are not committing our thoughts, feelings or perceptions. We can’t control our own thoughts, feelings and perceptions the majority of the time, so how could we ever make that commitment? What we control are our actions. And what we commit to that special person are our actions. Let everything else come and go, as it inevitably will.

CommitmentWhat we commit to our partner are our actions


You see it all the time: the man who meets his girlfriend and stops playing basketball and hanging out with his friends, or the woman who suddenly decides she loves every comic book and video game her boyfriend likes even though she doesn’t know how to hold the Xbox controller properly. We all have that friend who mysteriously ceased to exist as soon as they got into their relationship. And it’s troubling, not just for us but for them.

When we fall in love we develop irrational beliefs and desires. One of these desires is to allow our lives to be consumed by the person we’re infatuated with. This feels great. It’s intoxicating in much of the same way cocaine is intoxicating (no, really). The problem only arises when this actually happens.

The problem with allowing your identity to be consumed by a romantic relationship is that as you change to be closer to the person you love, you cease to be the person they fell in love with in the first place.

Spending time apartSpending time apart can be healthy

It’s important to occasionally get some distance from your partner, assert your independence, maintain some hobbies or interests that are just yours. Have some separate friends. Take an occasional trip somewhere by yourself. Remember what made you you and what drew you to your partner in the first place. Without this space, without this oxygen to breathe, the fire between the two of you will die out and what were once sparks will become only friction.


In his famous book The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera said there are two types of womanizers: 1) men who are looking for the perfect woman and can never find her, and 2) men who convince themselves that every woman they meet is already perfect.

I love this observation and believe it applies to not just womanizers, but just about anyone who consistently finds themselves in dysfunctional relationships. They either try to make their partner be perfect by “fixing” them or changing them. Or they delude themselves into thinking that their partner is already perfect.

Am I perfect nowNobody is perfect

This is one of those things that is not nearly as complicated as it feels. Let’s break it down:

Every person has flaws and imperfections.
You can’t ever force a person to change.
Therefore: You must date somebody who has flaws you can live with or even appreciate.

The most accurate metric for your love of somebody is how you feel about their flaws. If you accept them and even adore some of their shortcomings — her obsessive cleanliness, his awkward social ticks — and they can accept and even adore some of your shortcomings, well, then that’s a sign of true intimacy.

One of the best expressions of this idea came from Plato in the form of a myth. In his Symposium, Plato wrote that humans were originally androgynous and whole. There were no men or women. They felt no lack, no uncertainty, and they were powerful, so powerful that they rose up and challenged the gods themselves.

Accepting your partners flawsAccepting your partner’s flaws

This posed a problem for the gods. They didn’t want to completely wipe out the human race as they’d have no one to rule over. But at the same time they had to do something to humble and distract humanity.

So Zeus split them in half. He split each human into a man and a woman and doomed them to spend their brief mortal existence wandering the world looking for their other half, the half that would make them feel whole and powerful again. And this wholeness came not from two perfections meeting, but two imperfections meeting, two imperfections that both complemented and compensated for one another’s shortcomings.

The artist Alex Grey once said that, “True love is when two people’s pathologies complement one another’s.” Love is, by definition, crazy and irrational. And the best love works when our irrationalities complement one another and our flaws enamor one another. It may be our perfections that attract one another. But it’s our imperfections that decide whether we stay together or not.

Featured Image: Rachel Kaye

You can read more in Mark Manson’s upcoming book.

Read Next: Why Mindset is Critical in Successful Relationships




Is it Time to Let Go of your Relationship?


The Neurobiology of Love and Relationships


Why Mindset is Critical in Successful Relationships

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54 Responses to Six Healthy Relationship Habits Most People Think are Toxic

  1. Codependency, where you rely on the other person to fulfill your needs and make your life happy. On the outside it looks like your quite attached to that person, but it become quite toxic.

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  4. Thank you for this, I am printing this and will probably exhaust my highlighter on it because there’s very little fluff here. I do however wish I had avoided reading most of these nitpicking, obtuse comments because it made me realize that this brand of wisdom is lost on most people and that is exactly why relationships that could have lasted fail most of the time. I feel like you just have to screw these fundamental things up and witness the resulting disaster before you realize the importance of enduring the difficulties that forge an enduring bond. I think most people bothered by this article are the types who are constantly putting bandaids on their problems and just having blind faith that they’ll heal.

  5. I totally agree with what this article contains.these advices that included here are essential to a healthy relationship and to each part of it. BRILLIANT!!

  6. It’s a great article, but a pity the talented writer feels he needs to use words like ‘fucking’, ‘shit’ and ‘crap’ to express these thoughts. Let’s keep standards in writing high?

    • Oh please. Why should anyone have to substitute for their original thoughts? If that’s how it was expressed in the writer’s head, that’s what I want to hear, not the censored version. It has nothing to do with the “standards” nor should you “feel the need” to reduce the entire thing to “a great article, but-“… I don’t understand why people expect writers to sacrifice authenticity for every reader’s trivial sensitivities.

  7. I wish you had included some images and examples of non-heterosexual couples. I was wanting to share this with my teenager, but then realized that her experience wasn’t even considered. Other than that I do really appreciate the concepts and truth you have shared.

    • I agree here- in particular with the Plato reference. My daughter would dismiss this article because it would make her feel excluded. Maybe I’ll edit it and paste. 😉

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  9. “Infatuation is thinking that someone is perfect. Love is knowing they’re not perfect, but it doesn’t matter.”

  10. Sad, but number 2 sounds very self absorbed to me. I would hate to think I hurt my Precious Husband in anyway. It has been 38 years this year and I strive to bless him daily not hurt him with my words or actions. The world out there is cruel enough – home should be a soft landing place for all – just my thoughts no one else needs to agree.

    • You are misunderstanding. He’s not encouraging you to intentionally hurt him. The point is, if you really love someone you are honest with them, you don’t lie when they ask you for your honesty, and you don’t enable them to make unnecessary mistakes because you were too worried about upsetting them by telling them they were wrong. By “protecting” them from pain you are only disabling them.

  11. Plato’s Symposium is incorrectly referenced here and made to fit a cishet lifestyle that is exclusionary to readers who do not fit simply into the social construct of heteronormativity. If you are going to reference something, please take the time to actually read it and know about its history.

    In Plato’s Symposium there were THREE sexes: the all male, the all female, and the “androgynous,” who was half male, half female. The males were said to have descended from the sun, the females from the earth and the androgynous couples from the moon.

    So when the Gods divided them up and they were sent across the globe to “find their other half,” this was not just done unto a “man and a woman” as the author erroneously states here. This is a very simplistic and offensive derivative taken out of context.

    The original work is much more inclusive of love on a spectrum, which clearly is not the way the author understood it.

  12. I enjoyed this. My 32 year relationship ended bitterly 5 years ago when he acted on his attraction to someone else then left me to be with her. It’s taken me a long time to process what happened then, and in the years leading up to it, including examining my role in what went wrong. The part about accountability and the relationship taking priority over the people in it in this article, was one of the many things that resonated. It was tough at first but more recently I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with the ‘me’ I’d lost for so long. The past cannot be changed but it can be learned from to improve the future and I found the light irreverent style of this article made me laugh, but also feel optimistic about what is ahead. Thank you.

    • MY husband and I went through that once before. 2 years ago He left me for her but came back soon after. He realized that the grass isn’t greener on the other side.
      I thought we got past it all. I forgave him and her.
      I thought we were stronger than ever.
      Well, he ran into her and her new beau at the library and invited them over. I felt confident and she wasn’t as much of a threat bc she had someone now. (But, she had “someone” last time, too.)
      We were actually kind of having fun together playing video games, cards, dinner etc., until she broke up with her bf! And now she was ALONE again! And he beat her up!
      This was a pattern that I noticed from LAST TIME. But I told myself it won’t happen again. Naw! She’s My friend now too. I sympathized about her enduring his abusive behavior. And she was not at fault. He needs to learn that physical violence is wrong and not acceptable and yes she should testify at his.hearings otherwise he won’t learn…..
      Well, her birthday came up. I asked what her favorite cake was yadda yadda yadda
      I found out my husband and her were sending each other sexts and were planning a secret rendezvous to make up for “lost time!”
      I saw the sexts on HIS phone. I happened to glance over his shoulder to see what he was looking at on his phone and discovered it that way. On HER birthday! At our house!
      After I really looked at his phone I saw they had been sending each other love letters for quite a while. In fact, they were sending them while she was seeing the other guy!
      I felt betrayed to say the least.
      He claims they haven’t done anything physical. He was just having fun. He didn’t mean anything and she
      didn’t mean anything to him. I’m his world, his whole life!
      I demanded that he never see her again! EVER! Fool me once shame on you….
      He totally re
      sisted claiming I was being “abusive” if I wouldn’t let him have her as a friend and SHE was my friend too!
      I said she is NOT a friend To Me.I realized that she acted like she “liked” me.just to get to him.
      I really out my foot down and yes gave an ultimatum her or me.
      He gave in and erased her from his phone and unfriended her.
      That was a week ago and now he avoids me and ignores me.
      I told him that I noticed his chilly behavior. He texted me telling me that I made him give up a friend what else do I want.
      Well, I said I can’t be around her ANYMORE. And it seems we can’t be together anymore. He has violated my trust. I told him I will forgive but I will never forget.

      • Dear Gloriam, I’m so sorry for the painful experience you’ve been through. I hope you can learn to love yourself enough to walk away from anyone who would betray and hurt you repeatedly as he did. When you truly love and accept yourself you will be loved and accepted by others. We tell people by our actions (or inactions) what we think about ourselves and how we deserve to be treated. I wish you the best in all your relationships, and especially the one you’re in with yourself.

  13. More of the same old..
    Ask yourself why a woman
    needs to ask how she looks
    and if you don’t like the
    Boots, she changes them

    Aren’t the boots made for walk-in?

    • Why ask how you look if you don’t want to hear the answer? You are putting your partner in an unfairly precarious and uncomfortable position. Lie, or face your guilt trip. Personally, I would appreciate being saved from a heinous fashion faux pas – and if I was wearing the boots for me and nobody else, I would neither ask nor care what he thought. Why should your partner suffer because of your insecurity?

  14. Hi – when I try to print this the title changes to “Your Vagina is more beautiful than you think”. Although I appreciate the inspiration around that issue and reminder, it’s a bit off-putting when I want to give this to my partner as I think its a great article. I am using the print-friendly version of the website page app from Google Chrome …

    Great article, very helpful … real love is something we can achieve, once we’ve obliterated the blind spot created by concepts of ideal love told to us in fairy stories, when vows are held too absolutely and start to harm us, and romance novels are seen as scripts for how relationships should go or be.

  15. This author should actually read Romeo & Juliet, rather than rely on a potted pseudosummary based on what he recalls other people saying about the plot. If that seems a hard call, read only the first and last scenes, focus on what the Prince of Verona says.

  16. If we are to accept #4 as truth then there is no point in remaining in relationship with another person and tolerating their crap…human beings are social creatures but if they go on with the flow of biology then they should remain single and available and not engaged.

    • You missed his comment about attraction being common, true intimacy is not. Once you are in a truly healthy relationship you know the difference. It took me until age 40 to get it right. Once you do, it’s amazing how much trivial junk doesn’t matter.
      The author isn’t saying cheat, he’s saying it’s common to be attracted. It doesn’t mean to the point of fantasizing about them. My husband and I both stay fit and we can both appreciate someone who takes care of themselves, male or female but neither of us have a desire to physically be with anyone other than each other because of the depth of intimacy we share. Intimacy is more than sex, it’s hand holding, sharing secrets, planning adventures together that are just for the two of us. When you are secure in your relationship, glancing at someone across a room or even sharing a 30 minute conversation with an attractive person does not evoke jealousy- AT ALL

  17. All but #4 really apply to working out child-parent relationships too (especially if your mother is as needy as a relationship partner). #3 is, obviously, my personal fav.

  18. I wonder about the quality of any relationship in which one of the persons spends at least an hour getting ready to go out with the other, and then goes through an inspection “that she wants” before being presentable. Sure, I’ll take your advice.

  19. The article lost me in the “Be willing to to hurt each others feelings” I believe, I own my feelings E.g. My feelings hurt( ME) no one hurts my feelings. I little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing and words are a map and we shouldn’t expect to get where we are going if the map is misleading. For a simple antidote to a healthy mature relationship within all the 4 categories. Please answer this question well. Where am I going? And who’s going with me? A word of caution do not get them ass backwards.
    Kind regards PPP

    • I remember it was philosopher Sam Keene who suggested that all men should answer those two questions — and in the right order.

  20. I was put off by the sewer-language. It might be something you are accustomed to using, but I don’t think it is either smart or funny. It simply implies a limited vocabulary.

  21. Excellent article. I’ve often had thoughts throughout my 26-year marriage that have concerned me…this helps put those in perspective. Thank you. (Editorial comments…the f-word is totally unnecessary and almost kept me from reading further. You could eliminate it or use something like “absolutely” to make your point without risking losing some of your audience. Also, please provide a link to your first article, I’d like to read it.)

    • I found the f word amazing and the whole article came to life. Made it so d from a real person warts and all

    • Life as in the implied non-response (do not respond to everything, all things in a relationship) talked about in the article, does not require us to reply to everything. The same is true in our lives, in our relationships and aptly as applies to reading like this. Could the author have “chosen” to respond differently, to use a different word than the “f***” word? I dont know and honestly I dont really care, be sure it doesnt matter to me. And that really is a deeper point the author is trying to make in the article about relationships and making them instead of finding ways to make them not work. That was the very point of overlooking those Minor irritants of life and of our relationships for the “whole” of the relationship. I’ve been married for what will be 8 years in March and I’ve learned there is enough “wrong” about me my wife could focus on, I’m so glad see CHOOSES to focus on the “rights” and overlook the occasional “errors” or imperfections I have. I do them same about her. But I DO focus on myself and continue to work on being a better me BY learning to stop respond to the wrongs in my life and thinking. To put it another way – it’s not about learning to love more or more patient or more peace, its learning to NOT respond to what is the opposite of love (hate or fear), to not respond to what makes me impatient and to not respond to what is unpeaceful or would “cause me to give my peace away” so to speak. But in doing this my wife also responds the same way AND together we grow AS one together. I often tell others that my greatest blessing is to watch her bloom like a flower not because she is the perfect flower but because I dont concentrate on her imprfects but what makes her beautiful. I believe the author is saying the same.

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