Spoiler alert: it isn’t always as exciting as the movies, but it IS more gratifying.
Here are 4 guiding principles for a healthy, happy relationship. IMHO.
(for those of you “looking for love”, there is Bonus content below)
- Agreements not Expectations
Everyone has different wants and needs, but like a business, a relationship should be built on shared values. But often times one partner falls short of the other partners perceived expectations. We’ve all heard the Shakespeare quote, “Expectation is the root of all heartache”. Instead of expectations, my recommendation is to have agreements. It may sound unromantic, but it’s a reliable way to support a mutually successful partnership. Once you’ve made those agreements, the real expectation is around adhering to them, and allowing yourself to trust that your partner can and will. It’s healthy to openly communicate about what you each want and need in life and within a relationship. If your partner wants to be in an open relationship with multiple partners, and you want exclusivity, talk about it. If there’s no mutual agreement, just like in business, there’s probably no deal. Many of us barrel through life with unspoken expectations and are bitterly disappointed when the other person works from their own set of expectations. One person will be blindsided, and lashes out, claiming “I thought we were on the same page!” but they’d been making assumptions based on their own perspective. Not actual verbal communication and agreement. Make some agreements and then relax and enjoy a healthy, transparent, trusting partnership.
- Treat your partner how THEY want to be treated, not how YOU want to be treated.
The golden rule is a lovely notion. “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” It’s also outmoded and doesn’t always resonate. Because we’re different people with different wants and needs (are you sensing a theme here?) Dr. Gary Johnson developed a theory that there are 5 love languages. How people show love is very different. How they receive love can also be very different. One person might need small gifts of appreciation like a cup of coffee or flowers from the corner shop. Another person might need to hear compliments on a regular basis. Someone else might need a lot of physical connection from their partner. Another person might wish their partner did the dishes more often, as a show of appreciation. Find out how they need to be loved. Cheat sheet: it’s probably one of these 5: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. And even if it makes no bloody sense to you, work hard to show them that you love them, in their love language.
- It feels better to be connected than to be right.
Often times, during conflict (especially with our partner), we tend to dig in, and become entrenched in our position. We desperately need our partner to see how right we are. We need to explain and justify and rationalize. But all it does is build walls of separation and leave us lonely. Pride isn’t a good long-term companion. I can be stubborn, and often silently repeat this quote during a disagreement, “it’s feel better to be connected than to be right.” There are things we should fall on our sword about, the big things. And of course, it’s fair to want your partner to understand your feelings. But the way you feel is not the same thing as being right. So next time, ask yourself, how important is it? And where is the common ground? And could you partner have a point somewhere in there too? Having different opinions and perspectives doesn’t equal right and/or wrong.
(Google and your mother already hold the position of “knowing it all” anyway.)
And if it’s all feeling too far apart, too intractable, too heated… take a walk. Removing yourself from the “hot” moment, and take some deep breaths. This sends a signal to the reptilian part of your brain (which feels under attack and is currently on high alert, deciding between fight, flight or freeze) that you are indeed safe. From there, you can give your brain a chance to reintegrate the emotional (limbic system) with the rationale logical part of the brain (neocortex). And have that reasonable conversation that seemed so impossible a few minutes earlier.
This is straight science, yo. And it works!
- Together and Apart. Together and Apart.
Do you know a couple that does EVERYTHING together? You know the kind of couple I’m talking about? They hold hands constantly and actually CHOOSE to grocery shop together. OMG. How do they do it? I’m not in that kind of couple. Most of my friends aren’t that kind of couple. I’m kinda envious on one hand. It’s important to have joint experiences to nurture the relationship. Especially things that are shared interests, but more importantly: things that are out of your comfort zone. A cooking class if you aren’t a fantastic cook, or a ski weekend if your last few trips were spent lounging by the pool. In those new, uncertain moments, the excitement (and stress) will release endorphins and create a bonding opportunity. If you’ve been doing the same old “date night” (i.e. dinner at your favorite restaurant, or a movie), mix it up.
On the other hand,… that said, for God sakes, get your own hobbies and see your friends sans partner! Go away without them for a weekend! Differences are good. You’ll continue to be interesting and provocative to your partner because you are doing YOUR thing; you are growing in your own interesting, original ways. And the best part: you’ll be thrilled to see them when you do finally get home. There will be less chance either one of you takes the other for granted.
In looking at all four of these guiding principles you can see “differences” comes up a lot. As a result, verbal communication becomes a critical tool. None of us are mind readers. Keep talking together, keep endeavoring to understand the other person, even when it feels like you’re communicating with an alien. And keep telling them what’s going on for you, even when they look at you like YOU’RE the alien.
For those of you looking for the right relationship, you get half the amount of recommendations. Yours is simple, but maybe not so easy to find. I feel ya on that!
- Be crazy stupid in love with the person at the beginning.
…Because why else would you bother in the end?* Marriage is difficult.You come from different sensibilities, different backgrounds and will go through many identity shifts as individuals and as a couple. Yet, you are somehow expected to miraculously, harmoniously travel a shared path together. There are going to be some bumps. Big bumps. Death. Job Loss. Cheating. Financial strain. Challenges with your kids. Or maybe it’s the smaller, but almost more damaging moments that create distance, disconnection, and discord. Irritations, disrespect, selfishness, not seeing eye to eye on choices, etc. Not to be Debbie the Downer here. I guess I’m saying this shit is hard. You should REALLY REALLY like this person, if you’re in it for the long haul. It’s gotta feel worth it. Otherwise, rolling solo with great friends, a dog, and family with nieces and nephews might be a better alternative.
- Be with someone who thinks as highly of you as you do of them.
Pardon the metaphor, but if the couple is a car, and the bumpy road is their life…The original attraction might be what welds the metal of the car together (for the long term), but the mutual respect and admiration are the shocks. With good shocks, your car can better absorb the painful bumps.
If you have both attraction and respect, the car (couple) might still take a beating, but it will arrive in one piece.
Don’t settle for less. You’re too special.
(*I’m fully acknowledging that I know nothing about arranged marriages or other culturally sanctioned partnerships; I don’t know about how love can grow within those parameters, and am 100% ethnocentric in my WASP POV, for the record).