I recently read a great article by a writer named Mark Hanson who asked thousands of his readers about what they have learned in their relationships and what makes them work and he put together the collective wisdom of many couples who have figured it out.
Number one was be together for the right reasons.
Some wrong ones were from family pressure, feeling like a loser for being single and just settling when something came along. Being together for the image because it looks good on paper or in photos, but not for mutual admiration. And of course don’t get married when you are too young and naive and think love will solve everything.
Another wrong reason was to enter a relationship to try to fix yourself, using their love to try to soothe your own emotional problems.
Have realistic expectations about relationships and romance. That feeling of going gaga and massively in love like in the beginning is not realistic over time. Finally the happily ever after messages in the children’s movies is starting to change. It is normal to feel intense love and gratitude one day and wonder why am I with this person the next. Everything flows in yin and yang and if you stick with it, love will come back. A love that’s alive is constantly evolving. It expand and contract, mellows and deepens. It’s not going to be the way it used to be, or the way it will, and it shouldn’t be. Remember that there is a biological drive of the body to make babies, and the instant falling in love is part of that scenario. The person you attach yourself to must be someone you genuinely respect and enjoy being with.
Long term love is unconditional. You can’t love only as long as they help you feel better about yourself, or that you will give to them as long as they give to you, that you will make them happy as long as they make you happy. This type of conditional love prevents any true deep level intimacy from emerging.
Most people think that communication is the most important thing in relationship, but many reported that more important than that, and even love itself is having respect for your partner. Conflicts are ultimately unavoidable, feelings will always be hurt. Humans are fallible, but having high esteem for each other and trust that your partner is doing his or her best with what they’ve got Is most important. Without this bedrock of trust you will doubt each other’s intentions, judge their choices, encroach upon their independence , and feel the need to hide things out of fear of criticism.
So don’t speak negatively about your partner to others, speak to the partner. Respect yourself as well and respect your differences and that you have an equal say in the relationship.
Talk openly about everything, especially the stuff that hurts. Right near respect is the ability to have trust. Make promises and stick to them. To build trust after it has been broken is to have a proven track record over time. First you must own up to previous mistakes and set about correcting them.
A healthy and happy relationship requires two healthy and happy individuals. The key word is “individuals.” That is two people with their own identity, interests and perspectives and things they do by themselves on their own time.
So give each other space. In a famous Kahlil Gibran poem in the Prophet often read at weddings says something like, the strings of a lute are separate so they can sing together and the pillars of the temples are spaced apart to give strength, and cypress and the oak don’t grow in each others shade.
Believe it or not, good couples know how to have a good fight.
One researcher could accurately predict who would get divorce by analyzing them having a fight. Those who are mostly likely to split up would do one of four things.
- Criticize their partners character, like calling them or what they did stupid.
- Defensiveness or shifting blame, like “I wouldn’t have done that if you weren’t always late”
- Contempt, like putting down your partner or making them feel inferior.
- Or stonewalling, withdrawing from an argument or ignoring the other.
So never name call, insult, belittle or demean, as contempt is the main predictor of divorce. Don’t bring up past fights or arguments in the current one. If it is too heated, take a break, walk around the block, breath deeply then resume when you are more calm. Being right is not as important as being respected and heard. Even if you are right, if your partner feels unloved, there is not a real winner. Don’t argue over little things, of which there are many, choose your battles.
Forgiving is the key. Once an argument is over, it is over, don’t bring it up and rehash it again, leave it in the past. I had two friends that almost got divorced over the last presidential election. I gave such simple counsel, you have loved each other for decades, focus on the love and don’t bring up or argue about political beliefs. She felt I saved her marriage.
Don’t stop doing the little things, they add up. The going out to dinner, the flowers, the I love you’s, doing chores, the holding hands. I have seen many men who do these things while dating, but as soon as the ink is dry on the marriage contract, it all disappears, only to resurface temporarily when the woman talks of leaving, and then it subsides again soon afterwards.
Many parents feel that all the energy has to go to the kids, that they are everything. The relationship is first and will continue when they are gone. Modeling a loving partnership by your actions is probably the most important thing you can teach them about relationships
Sex really does matter in a love partnership. When the relationship is bad, with unresolved problems and unaddressed negative emotions, then the sex is often the first thing to go out the window. I have seen many couples, even if they are not very old, people in their 50’s and 60’s who have no loving touching at all. They become like roommates, staying together out of habit. When sex comes back, often the love is rekindled.
Divide up the labor in running a household, but it doesn’t have to be 50/50. Find out which chores you enjoy more and which less. It is even ok to have occasional meetings where you discuss responsibilities and air out any frustrations and make agreements. If there are children or teens at home, have family meetings where everyone is sharing and giving and airing grievances.
Finally never forget there is a flow of yin and yang. You must ride the waves in a long term relationship. Just because it is low for a few weeks, don’t bail, in a few more weeks or even months it will swing the other way, and after enough repetitions of this cycle you gain faith that it will work out.
If your parents didn’t model good relationship hygeine, then there is no shame in seeking a counselor that can help you with the messy, imperfect and very frustrating issues that come up in any relationship.
So keep on loving and learning, for often we grow more through relationships than we do on our own.