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Finding lasting love with the “right” person is high on most people’s wish list. Finding your ideal partner is just the first challenge, knowing whether they are a “keeper” or one to leave before they do any damage is the second and if that wasn’t difficult enough the third and longest challenge is how to maintain a loving inter-dependent relationship over time and through the many significant challenges of daily living.
How is it so many people get it so wrong? Why do so many relationships appear to be great at the start, but deteriorate often quite quickly into something which is at best disappointing and at worst destructive and toxic?
I have worked with many people in every stage of the relationship game. Those who yearn for love and who are lonely. Those in the first flush of a relationship where there are high levels of attraction (and hormones) but lots of unresolved issues, those facing a break up or dealing with a painful parting and the challenge of getting their lives together again, those who are struggling to make their relationship work, who love one another but are finding communication or something else a challenge and of those who have created a wonderful relationship over years but face a life without their other half through bereavement.
Through my work helping people to create, manage and maintain loving relationships I have identified six key ingredients which have been universally present in great loving, lasting relationships, and at least one of them has been an issue where relationships have had difficulties.
6 Key Ingredients to a lasting loving relationship:
These are not in any order of priority, as it is the cumulative effect which makes the relationship so powerful and successful.
- When you are with your partner you are the best version of you. They bring out the best in you, and want the best for you. They believe in you and boost your confidence. They never put you down, belittle you or make you feel small. They are your most loyal supporter, ready to encourage and support and at the same time keep you grounded and realistic. You value their opinion and take it into account but know your opinion counts too. You have equal status within the relationship and even though you both have different strengths and weaknesses you each add value to the other.
Think about the way your partner talks to you, their tone and whether they make you feel good about yourself. Do they listen to what you have to say with interest? – of course you need to pick your moments, during a cup final is not a good idea
- You share the same values in life – that does not mean you have to agree on everything. Indeed, things work well when couples can enjoy a lively debate and hold their corner, where both parties respect each other’s opinion and can agree to differ. But at the deepest level couples need to know that you share similar values particularly around fidelity, trust, love, money, sex, bringing up children etc.
Have you and your partner talked about your core values and why they are important to you. It is really helpful to consider this individually. Having created the list put them into priority order. Then compare your lists. They may have differences and that’s fine. It is in the discussion around what you value and why, that you really discover how closely compatible you are.
Once you have identified the values it is really useful to help your partner understand how you experience their values.
E.g. "I feel loved when you……."
"It makes me feel …… when you ……."
An honest and open discussion about what makes you feel loved and valued and where things don’t work for you in an even voice at a time when you are having a calm loving conversation is so much more helpful rather than trying to share your distress in a crisis when things get heated and you are likely to handle things in a negative way.
- You love one another unconditionally. Many people offer and withdraw their love on a barter system. If you do this for me, in that way then I’ll love you. Of course, it’s much more subtle than that but the underlying message is the same.
Many people get together, believing that they will be able to change the things which irritate them in their partner once they are together. It is the kiss of death to creating a loving inter-dependent relationship. Unconditional means you love all of them, of course it doesn’t mean you have to like all their behaviours, but you love them no matter what.
The only person you have total power over is yourself. You are your responsibility. You are totally responsible for your emotional wellbeing. It is not your partner’s responsibility to make you happy.
Interestingly, if you change the way you approach things, it often has an impact on other’s behaviour. If you want to change a behaviour, it is far better to praise and reward the behaviours you want, rather than nagging and criticising the ones you don’t.
- You communicate effectively and often! I think it is helpful to remember that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. If you listen twice as hard and as often as you talk it will help enormously. Actively listening requires your full attention not only to hear the words but to appreciate what is going on behind them.
Whist people may use the same words they often mean different things. Imaging one person is speaking apples and the other bananas. They are both talking the language of fruit yet they appear very different. Successful couples create a third shared language which is based on mutual understanding.
Understanding how one’s perspective actually changes the reality you experience is really helpful here, particularly when you couple it with the capacity to consider that, motive is not always the one you assume. Most people do not deliberately hurt others, the hurt is unintentional. They are just too busy dealing with their own stuff to realise that in the process the other person is upset.
- The most successful couples are great friends. They treat one another as you do a valued friend. There is a shared experience which is built over time.
When things are going well they enjoy one another’s company, have shared interests and some individual interests too. There is a real honesty and a shared trust which is rock solid.
When something goes wrong in life they offer support and comfort. They can whether the inevitable storms because they like one another. If there is a disagreement it is aired, lessons are learned and they move on. They are generous with praise, forgiving and ready to trust and show their vulnerability.
Create a list of the things you think make a great “best friend.” Think of the attributes and behaviours you would expect form your best friend. Consider as wide a range of situations as possible and make your list as comprehensive as you can.
Think about the way you behave when with your partner. How well do you measure up to your Best Friend List? How do they? This is a useful exercise to do individually but it is a great activity to do with your partner.
- Couples who laugh a lot together, who are playful and have fun do really well. Laughing is an incredibly powerful way of bonding when both parties are laughing with one another rather than at someone’s expense.
It is so easy to lose those precious moments especially with the pressures of work, managing the children, the house and the expectations from the extended family. Creating opportunities to be together on your own may need some creativity and a great deal of determination but they are well worth it. Every relationship requires nurturing if it is to thrive and being aware of the need to cherish one another vital.
What should you do if your relationship feels as if it is missing any of the key ingredients?
There are lots of options but all of them will require some action from you. If you do nothing, then nothing will change. It’s your choice. It is entirely possible to change things for the better.
If you want to improve and strengthen your existing relationship, that is entirely possible, and getting some help can make things easier.
A great relationship requires a significant emotional investment, but it is well worth the effort.