Almost everyone struggles with questions about the viability of a relationship or a marriage. Doubts about the person or the relationship can occur at any time in the life cycle of the relationship. These are the most important reasons for staying the course. We start with The Big Three – friendship, love, and no deal breakers. These are the cement for a healthy,workable relationship.
- Friendship – Webster defines a friend as someone you are fond of – an ally and supporter –someone helpful and reliable. In successful marriages, this is the foundation of the relationship. You know each other well, you enjoy each other’s company, and there is a spirit of mutual support. Would you choose your partner to be a best friend?
- Love – I believe there are two measures of love in a relationship. Most of us think of love as a feeling. I believe love is both a feeling and a behavior. If you are confused about the relationship and your feelings – if you have doubts – get out of your head and go to your heart. Or connect with your higher self through meditation or prayer. Ask your heart or your higher self how you feel about the person and the relationship. Love is also a behavior. Do you practice loving acts on a daily basis? Is love demonstrated through acts of kindness, affection, generosity, self-sacrifice, understanding and empathy, support and encouragement?
- No Deal Breakers – What are your deal breakers in a relationship? How about the 3As – Abuse, Affairs, Addiction? Only you can decide. Most problem areas in relationships are negotiable. Meaning, in a healthy relationship we can work through and compromise on many areas of conflict: the kids, money, amount of time spent together, the in-laws, and so on. Are your deal breakers realistic? Is there something going on that you truly cannot live within this relationship?
- Trust – The human infant will only develop into a healthy, functioning adult when basic trust is established with a nurturing, consistent parent figure. Our closest relationships – our love relationships – will only develop into stable, satisfying unions when there is basic trust in the attachment. Can you rely on your partner to be honest, loving, and to be faithful to the relationship? If there is a lack of trust, could that start with you? Do you have trust issues because of your prior life experiences?
- Commitment – Commitment is closely related to trust. When commitment is present you know you can count on your partner. There is a sense of willingness, obligation, and intention. Commitment implies an investment, emotionally and physically, in the relationship. There is a “normal”, fluid movement between full investment and something less than that for almost all couples. Does your relationship go through normal, moderate cycles of commitment? Or is there a chronic ambivalence – a long standing distance?
- Common Interests – Can you imagine a friendship with someone with whom you have nothing in common? Most likely, when you first met, there were things you liked doing together. If you’ve grown in different directions, it will be important to find new activities that you both have an interest in pursuing together. And even more important than any particular activity, is the way you interact with each other when you do things together. Do you actively pursue common interests together, and does this enrich your relationship?
- Connection and Affection – There is a consistent bond of affection and connection in successful relationships. Happy couples tend to touch, hug and kiss on a daily basis. They have rituals of connecting with affection when they wake up, when they go to bed, and when they leave and return home. When there are fights, these couples stay connected – they make eye contact, they keep talking, and they even touch each other with affection. On a scale of 0 – 10, with distant being the zero and full connection a ten, where is your relationship?
- Partnership – Relationships are co-created. You are both, in a sense, “equally” responsible for the relationship. In a true partnership, you are able to work cooperatively together to manage all the tasks of living together (including child rearing, financial management, chores, etc.). You cooperatively resolve conflicts when possible, and compromise when necessary. Do the two of you work together as a team?
- Respect – You have a sense of positive regard for each other. You appreciate and admire your partner’s words, deeds and acts. Are you proud to include your partner in your circle of family and friends?
- Fun – Similar to common interests, when you met – when you were first dating – you probably had fun together. Life, and relationships, can be difficult and challenging. Most of us have too much stress in our lives. An ability to have fun together, to laugh at your situation, and even to play together is an important ingredient in a healthy relationship. Are we having any fun yet?
If you are satisfied with all ten of these, congratulations! You must have a very healthy, happy and satisfying relationship. If you have serious problems in most of the 10 areas, this relationship is probably not a good fit for you.
The Big Three – friendship, love, and no deal breakers – will probably need to be present for this relationship to survive.
Difficulties in any of these areas are commonplace in relationships. The good news is that most of these problems can be repaired. If you are having difficulties in more than 2 or 3 areas or a serious problem in even one of the Big Three, you may need professional help. Couples counseling can be very effective, and if one person in the relationship is not willing to attend, individual counseling can help.