Have you ever wondered how ‘that couple’ stayed together all those years? What is it they are doing right? What are the things that contribute to the success of healthy long term relationships? There are a few fundamental things that will improve the chances of a relationships success. Those things include; 1) fighting fairly, 2) healthy communication, 3) similar core values/desires, 4) willingness to compromise, 5) expressing your love and appreciating each other, and most importantly 6) mutual commitment.
1) Fighting Fairly
To begin, one must understand one of the most basic rules of getting along with others. Every relationship has arguments; they are a natural part of all relationships. But how you choose to engage in those arguments is a key factor in whether your relationship will withstand the test of time. You and your relationships benefit tremendously if you learn how to “fight fairly”. What does it mean to fight fairly? If you are the type to pull punches below the belt, name calling, screaming or using a threatening tone, bringing in another person for their opinion, drudging up past history or slipping in that sarcastic comment just because you know it will hurt the other person than you are not fighting fairly. Some behaviors or interpersonal patterns must be decidedly eliminated from your relationships if you wish to have a healthier relationship. Fighting fairly includes, taking time out if you need time to cool off before discussing issues with your significant other. It also entails healthy communication, willingness to compromise, and discussing items of conflict without withdrawing physically or shutting down emotionally. Can you touch your significant others hand when your discussing something where you feel conflict? Or do you pull yourself away the minute a conflict arises.
2) Healthy Communication
Avoid absolute language like “always” and “never”. It means using “I” statements that describe your feelings instead of “you” statements that often make the other person feel attacked. For example, instead of saying to your significant other, “you always come home late, you never think about me?”, you could say, “I feel worried (fill in your feeling) when you (fill in your significant others behavior as objectively as you can) come home late without calling and I would like you to (what do you want or need) call if you are going to be late.” It is important to understand that we must express what we need and take a look at our expectations to see if they are reasonable and fair. If expectations are continually not met than something is not working in the area of compromise or your core values/desires are significantly different and outside help may be needed.
3) Similar Core Values/Desires
A critical component to a successful relationship is determining if you and your significant other have similar core values and desires. If you want kids and your honey doesn’t have the slightest interest in children you want to find this out early. If one of you wants to live in the city and one of you wants to live in the country and neither of you is willing to compromise this match may not be made in heaven. If you believe in undying honesty and your significant other thinks lying is acceptable behavior you may be dealing with some of the more critical “deal breakers”. It is important to clarify the big issues and identify if there are any core values or desires that are vastly different and can’t be worked through. If you go into the relationship seeing these red flags and think “I’ll deal with it later” it is a recipe for disaster. By definition a “deal breaker” is something you believe you absolutely must have in your relationship to be happy. Each person has to figure out what their deal breakers are before they can actively decide if a relationship will work or not. It is mostly about knowing what you want in life and in your relationships. Some other topics to consider when evaluating core values and desires are to look at how each of your view and feel about the following topics such as; money, raising children, sex or sexual issues, division of labor/chores, how you like to spend your off time, monogamy, friendship, commitment, trust, substance use or abuse, anger management and styles of handling anger, and most of all do you both believe in or want a long term relationship.
4) Willingness to Compromise
There are many times where compromise plays a significant role in a successful relationship. If you want one thing and your significant other wants something else, there are times when you both could benefit the relationship by meeting the need of your significant other. It is important to ask yourself, is this something I can compromise on? The way you choose to think about your chosen compromises can help or hinder the relationship. If you choose resignation “Ugh, I have to go to this party because my significant other wants to” versus acceptance “I am choosing to go with my significant other to this party because it is important to him or her”. Just by virtue of choosing the way you frame the thought, you are influencing your feelings about the situation. Many of the perceived deal breakers may not be deal breakers at all if you have good communication with your significant other and can talk things out throughout the relationship you may find very amicable solutions to your differences. One of the biggest questions you must ask yourselves when you are in relationship, is it more important to be right or happy? Sometimes it can be as easy as letting go of the need to the one in the relationship who is “right”. One question to consider when deciding if you are willing to compromise on an issue is, “will this matter to me in five years”, if you find the answer is no it maybe easier to find your way to compromising in that scenario.
5) Expressing Your Love and Appreciating Each Other
The research suggests that couples that demonstrate their affection and love towards one another are more successful. Particularly appropriate when they can demonstrate affection and maintain a positive connection to their significant other when in the middle of conflict. This is much easier said than done, but it can be learned and it is definitely worth attempting to incorporate into your work towards being a successful couple. Focus on what you love about each other. Catch your significant other doing things that you appreciate and let them know how much you appreciate those things. Find special moments in the day to share your love and appreciation with one another and you will find you continue to discover more to love and appreciate. It is important you remember what it was that attracted you to each other talk about those things that you find loveable, kind, warm, fun, sexy and attractive. When you are feeling a momentary lack of love, do something kind for your significant other getting out of your own head and into being of service. A little bit of gratitude goes a very long way. If you sneak a peek at your honey doing something you really love, tell them! Express gratitude in every way possible.
6) Mutual Commitment
This one is simple yet the most important; you both must be committed to the relationship and the work it takes to maintain a health functional relationship. Relationships may only be ‘easy’ in the ‘honeymoon period’ when both parties are on their absolute best behavior, there is tons of mystery and you are still both really getting to know one another. When that period wears off, whether it takes two months or three years that is when you really get to see if you both have what it takes to make this relationship work for the long term. You may trade the butterflies of the unknown for a shared beautiful history when you are in a long term relationship but with mutual commitment the feelings ebb and flow and the hard work it takes to maintain the relationship makes it all worthwhile.
If one of these essential components is missing from your relationship but you have mutual commitment than there is still hope. Seek a qualified counselor to assist you with the other areas covered above. It is often a great tool to have an objective qualified therapist who can reflect back and assist both of you in the process of navigating the road to long term commitment. It is my experience in counseling couples that no situation is hopeless if both people are willing to do the work necessary to make changes to work through the issues that arise in the relationship, even some of the seemingly large ‘deal breakers’. It is my wish that you all have beautiful, fulfilling, love filled relationships in your lives.