Have you ever wondered what makes some relationships successful and others less so? Or why some couples seem to have that “it” factor that makes them seem happy and connected even during times of stress while others have a hard time seeming connected even during the good times?
I have to be honest, I spent many years of my life believing that love was enough and if couples just loved each other they could make it through the tough times and stay connected. Having been in this field for a while now, and working with a lot of couples, I realize just how untrue that belief of mine was. Below are 3 main things couples need to really feel like they are in a successful and healthy relationship that can weather some storms.
- Similar Values and Goals: We often hear the saying “opposites attract” and in a lot of ways they can. In most relationships there can be differences in personalities. One partner for example might feel the perfect Friday night is spent in watching a movie and eating take out. The other may want to hit the town in a big group and not arrive home until the wee hours of the morning. These differences sometimes can be a big asset to a relationship. Each person will bring out another side of their partner and it can lead to a beautiful balance. Where couples run into problems is when they value very different things and what they want for their lives long term doesn’t align. For example, if one of you wants kids and the other doesn’t. Or those who believe in saving for retirement while their partner has a live/spend in the moment approach. These are things that in the moment don’t always feel like a big deal but down the line can become a deal breaker.
- Respect and Compassion: Let’s be honest, it is often our partner who bears the brunt of our exhaustion, stress and emotions. Life is hard and sometimes gets the best of us. While I believe it is important that we acknowledge our humanness (and therefore our ability to sometimes hurt those we love) I do think it is important that we always focus on being respectful towards one another. There will be many challenging moments in your life individually and as a couple. The more we remember that your partner is on your team and treat him/her accordingly, the greater success you will have in your relationship. In addition, we really do need to pick our battles. Your partner will have bad days and so will you. You expect (or should expect) your partner to show you compassion and support in the hard times, and you need to do the same.
- Dedication: Relationships take work, and not just in the hard times. I don’t believe it is realistic to think your relationship can weather life’s storms if you don’t dedicate yourself to regular relationship maintenance. Investing time into being genuinely present with your partner will fill up your relationship bank account. Who doesn’t want to be relationship rich? The truth is that this takes dedication to putting both yourself and the relationship first. You need to make sure you are taking care of yourself so that you have something to give at the end of the day. You also need to make sure you dedicate yourself and your time to working not just on but also in your relationship. Get clear on what your partner needs for support to know that you are invested in him/her. Dedicate time each week (and ideally each day in small ways) to improving the relationship so that when you are faced with a challenge you both know how to dig deep and take care of each other to make it through.
So what should you do if you recognize these struggles in your relationship? My first request is to please give them the attention they deserve before it becomes an issue that demands your attention. Often we want to bury our heads in the sand hoping it will go away but these struggles only become more painful and problematic the longer you ignore them. Sit down and have the scary conversation. Be honest (an absolute fundamental in any relationship). It will absolutely make you anxious, especially because your heart (and maybe your mind) is just going to want everything to feel okay. It will make you even more anxious if you leave it. See if there are ways that you guys can get on the same page. Maybe you discuss openly what you want instead of just assuming you are on the same page or that your partner will change. Get support from a trained professional. If these 3 things are missing, it doesn’t mean you are doomed to fail but there will be some work that needs to be done (fitting given # 3 is dedication) to get you on a shared path that will allow for a successful partnership.