By Preston Ni, M.S.B.A
Most of us want to meet and settle down with the “right” person, and most of us want such a relationship to last. Have you ever seen an elderly couple holding hands, taking a romantic walk on the beach or in a park? You may think to yourself: “That’s how I want to be when I grow old.”
It’s a wonderful notion: having someone as your mate in a happy and lasting relationship. At the same time, over fifty percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. Between what we want, and the reality of our society, there’s a deep chasm of false hopes and unfulfilled promises. What are some of the most important ideas when it comes to making your love last? Below are seven keys to long-term relationship success.
1. Do You Trust Your Partner?
Trust is the first and perhaps most important predictor of long-term relational success. Without trust, none of the other six predictors that follow will have much meaning. Ask yourself the following questions:
- In general, is your partner reliable and dependable?
- Does he or she keep important promises and agreements?
- Can you count on your partner as the “rock” in your life?
- What about you for your partner?
For some of us, trust is a complicated matter. Some people trust blindly. They are with someone who has shown time and again to be untrustworthy, yet they continue to give that person underserved chances. As the saying goes, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” To allow a chronically untrustworthy individual to be one’s significant other is to create an inherently insecure relationship, which may ultimately lead to disillusionment. Evaluate your partner’s trustworthiness based not upon unproven promises or wishful thinking, but on a strong overall record of dependability.
While some people trust blindly, others have trust issues. Often due to negative experiences from the past, there are those who can’t trust a committed relationship, or the opposite sex, or people in general, or even themselves. In romantic relationships, they struggle to trust their mate, no matter how dependable their partner is. Here, of course, the trust issue is likely within oneself. Ask honestly whether the lack of trust is based on solid evidence or unjustified fears. If the answer is the latter, it may be beneficial to seek counseling and support, to allow oneself to trust appropriately again. Don’t allow fear push away a good man or woman in your life.
“For it is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest that holds human associations together. Our friends seldom profit us but they make us feel safe. Marriage is a scheme to accomplish exactly that same end.”
– H. L. Mencken
2. Are You and Your Partner Compatible in the Dimensions of Intimacy?
Authors Ronald Adler and Russell Proctor II identified four ways with which we can feel closely connected with our significant other. The four dimensions of intimacy are:
Physical – Hugging, kissing, caressing, cuddling, holding, and other forms of physical affection. Physical intimacy certainly includes sexual intercourse, but doesn’t have to. As long as other aspects of the relationship remain sound, physical intimacy between partners can often last a lifetime, even if sexual potency diminishes due to factors such as health, age, and stress.
“Millions and millions of years would still not give me half enough time to describe that tiny instant of all eternity when you put your arms around me and I put my arms around you.” – Jacques Prévert
Emotional – The ability to effectively express and validate tender, loving emotions, in a manner that’s nourishing and constructive, and being able to respond affirmatively when the other person does the same. For example: “How are you doing?”, “How are you feeling?”, “I love you,” “I appreciate you,” “I like it when we talk like this,” “I’m glad we’re spending this time together,” “You’re very important in my life,” “I’m sorry.”
A person’s “heart withers if it does not answer another heart.” – P. Buck
Intellectual – Can brains be attractive and sexy? Absolutely! Especially for those who feel a sense of kinship when they engage in discussions or endeavors with a partner whom they feel is an intellectual equal.
“The marriage was a meeting of hearts and minds both. Madame Lavoisier had an incisive intellect and soon was working productively alongside her husband (chemist Antoine Lavoisier)…they managed to put in five hours of science on most days – two in the early morning and three in the evening – as well as the whole of Sunday, which they call their day of happiness.” – Bill Bryson
Shared Activates – Interactions that build a positive memory bank of shared experiences. Examples include playing, cooking, dancing, exercising, art-making, traveling, worshipping, and problem-solving together. In this dimension, it’s not just the activity that matters, but whether two people are able to bond while interacting with one another.
“When partners spend time together, they can develop unique ways of relating that transform the relationship from an impersonal one to an interpersonal one.” – Ronald Adler and Russell Proctor II
Here’s a quick exercise to check you and your partner’s compatibility in intimacy. List the four dimensions as follows:
Partner A Partner B
Next to each dimension, rank whether this is a “Must” have, “Should” have, or “Could” have for you in your romantic relationship. “Must” means this dimension is crucial for you, without which you would feel the relationship amiss. “Should” means this dimension is good to have, but you don’t necessarily have to experience it every day. “Could” means this dimension is relatively unimportant – you can take it or leave it.
After answering for yourself, next ask your partner to rank, or on your own put down how you think your partner would prioritize. Below is one example of some possible combinations:
Partner A Partner B
Physical Intimacy Must Must (Excellent Comp.)
Emotional Intimacy Must Should (Good Compatibility)
Intellectual Intimacy Should Should (Good Compatibility)
Shared Activities Could Must (Poor Compatibility)
The more “must-must” and “must-should” combinations between you and your partner, the greater the possibility of an intimate relationship.
If there are one or more “must-could” combinations, dialogue with your significant other to see if the “Could” can be transitioned to a “Should”. For example, a partner who’s not very physically affectionate can learn to give a hug a day, or a spouse who’s emotionally reserved can learn to share important feelings when necessary. While some expressions of intimacy may come to us more naturally than others, we’re all capable of learning and growing in new directions.
When left unreconciled. The “must-could” combination, even if manageable in the short term (perhaps due to the intensity of sexual attraction and/or relative newness of the relationship), may in the long run become problematic. Few experiences in a romantic relationship feel more lonesome than an unmet “Must” need for intimacy.
Since relationships are not static, a couple may evolve in the dimensions of intimacy. Even similar intimacy preferences need flexibility to mesh and jell. Understanding one another’s priorities, and connecting in ways that are important to both partners help ensure long-term relational success.
“Complex, fulfilling relationships don’t appear in our lives fully formed. Rather, they develop one encounter at a time.”
“The key to a happy marriage isn’t having a “normal” personality but finding someone with whom you mesh.” – John Gottman
3. What Type of Person Shows Up Within You in this Relationship?
Consider the friends in your life. Do different friends bring out different sides of you? Maybe you’re more reserved with one and more rambunctious with another. Perhaps you’re patient with some and quarrel with others. A friend may trigger your higher or lower tendencies.
Just as a friend can elicit a particular side of you, so does your partner. Consider the following questions:
- Does my better self show up when I’m with my partner?
- Does my worse self show up when I’m with my partner?
- Perhaps it’s a combination of both? If so, what situations tend to bring out a particular side of me?
- Fundamentally, do I like myself in this relationship?
Your honest answers to these questions offer important clues to the long-term health and happiness of your relationship.
“Around people who are positive…I’m happier and able to be who I am.”
– from the Internet
4. Does Your Partner’s Communication Lift You Up or Bring You Down?
Dr. John Gottman of the University of Washington, a foremost expert on couple studies, concluded after over twenty years of research that the single, best predictor of divorce is when one or both partners show contempt in the relationship.
Contempt, the opposite of respect, is often expressed via negative judgment, criticism, or sarcasm regarding the worth of an individual. In communication studies, this is known as being “tough on the person, soft on the issue”. An effective communicator knows how to separate the person from the issue (or behavior), and be soft on the person and firm on the issue. An ineffective communicator will do the opposite – he or she will literally “get personal” by attacking the person, while minimizing or ignoring the issue.
Ineffective communication: “You are so stupid!”
Effective communication: “You’re a smart person, and what you did this morning was not very smart.”
Ineffective communication: “You never do any chores. You’re useless!”
Effective communication: “I noticed that you didn’t do the chores this week.”
Ineffective communication: “You’re always forgetting about me – do you even have a clue?”
Effective communication: “I know you have a lot on your mind lately, and I think it would be good for us to have a date night to reconnect.”
Contemptuous communication works like poison – it destroys the health and well-being of a romantic relationship.