Ingredients of a Healthy Relationship Part 1
In my quest to evangelize living a Full Life I’ve had the privilege of working with many people in great relationships. Since happy relationships are essential to a happy Life I’ve spoken to many of them about their relationships, and what made them a success and source of strength on which to draw.
We’ve looked at the individual qualities in a person which increase the chances of creating a great, synergistic partnership. But how two people interact and what results isn’t predictable, and relationships are based on emotions, not logic. What bridges that gap is chemistry, an ineffable quality that makes the sparks fly between two people.
It’s hard to predict what causes chemistry between two people, but it definitely isn’t just physical. It’s a confluence of factors that cause a special connection of souls and meeting of minds.
Whatever chemistry is, the happiest, most empowering relationships I’ve studied do have common qualities and we’ll look at ten of them. Having most if not all of these qualities, someone in such a relationship is almost guaranteed to have a rich and full Life, not one wasted on drama or toxicity.
Here we go!
1. Mutual Respect and Consideration
Respect is a vital key to a successful relationship. You can’t be happy if the dearest person in your Life doesn’t show you respect through how they speak, or what they do.
No matter how long they’ve been together, loving couples speak to each other with courtesy and sensitivity. They don’t speak in anger and are mindful how their actions make their partner look in public. Their behaviour is the same as it would be on a first date. Guys don’t check out other girls and ladies shut players down immediately. Neither will couples of high caliber engage in tantrums, arguments and other crazy nonsense in front of family or friends.
They acknowledge and express gratitude for everything their partner does. They make keeping promises a priority, from tiny errands to returning money. Couples don’t become lax on these things because they’ve been together longer. In fact quite the opposite; as they value each other more, these things become even more important.
One lesson we can learn is that just because someone loves you, it doesn’t give you the right to vent on them when you don’t have the guts to do so to the people who really deserve it – an unreasonable parent, a useless colleague, a bullying boss. The person who loves you is not your punching bag.
Paying attention to detail and knowing important dates like birthdays, addresses and mobile phone numbers by heart, food, clothing or gift preferences, makes people more aware of who their partner is and what it takes to make them feel special. It’s also important for the practice of empathy.
Loving couples respect each other’s dreams and aspirations too. They find out what is important, and then do their best to make them reality.
Make the other person at least as important as yourself in your scheme of things. Think about how you can add to their day. Have empathy and compassion and then modulate your actions and reactions to minimize their burdens.
Questions to consider:
- Does your partner keep his promises to you?
- Does your partner make an effort to support your goals and dreams?
- Does your partner treat your parents with respect?
- Is your partner aware of your likes and dislikes?
- Do you each have your own personal time, space and friends, and respect each other’s boundaries?
- Has your partner hindered your dreams and goals while pursuing his own?
2. Shared Values, Goals and Growth
A full Life in a relationship includes learning, improving, and achieving goals together. Two people grow together as they expand knowledge, share ideas and perspectives, see things in a different way and discover things they never would have alone.
The cul-de-sac of stagnation doesn’t happen. Continued growth ensures things are always changing. Each interaction adds something positive to their Lives.
People who share the value of growth and improvement tend to have other similar values. This is an extremely important and recurring theme. In fact, that’s why common interests are not as important as many think. Common interests facilitate having a good time together. That’s desirable. But values are what keep two people together when important Life-changing decisions must be made.
For example, two people who enjoy dancing, inline skating and movies can have an enjoyable time. But that doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing when deciding if they want children, the role of money and financial responsibilities, or how strong their roots to Singapore are if offered a job overseas.
Values define our uniqueness. Core values are a reference point we base Life decisions on, such as the job we do, how healthy a Lifestyle we lead, what friendship means, how we make decisions and live Life. It guides what we would naturally do. If two people don’t share enough core values, or their core values actually conflict, it will be very hard to spend a long time together.
Questions to consider:
- Has your quality of Life improved since you got into your relationship?
- Have you grown, seen new perspectives, learnt new things, become more mature, kinder, compassionate?
- Do you and your partner have the same clear vision about the future?
- Have you slowly forgotten your most important values, given up on your greatest dreams and goals, and decided to ‘settle’ for less; in some cases, a whole lot less?
- Do you and your partner hold any diametrically opposed values?
- Is your relationship holding you back?
3. Uplifting and Empowering
In a great relationship, couples understand there are both individual as well as relationship goals, and work together to achieve them. When I train close couples, I love seeing them help and encourage one another to learn and improve health and physique together. The vibes are so positive and I feel great pleasure.
Shared goals are not always easy to achieve. Sometimes Life stressors get in the way, like work or illness. Sometimes discipline is difficult, such as the struggle between current consumption and future financial independence. The great couple will lift each other up to greater heights, complementing strengths while compensating for weaknesses, and together achieve goals hand-in-hand.
For personal goals, even when they may not directly be a part of it, support is always there. Having someone special cheer you on with sincerity and genuine love, and with whom to share your joys when you succeed is a great motivator.
In a bad relationship, every interaction is a drag and a constant look at the clock. Each meeting something is lost – temper, time, energy, motivation. It is so draining they lose interest in everything, even things that are personally important to them. Instead of creating a full Life, a bad relationship full of strife, argument and accusation tears it down.
A great relationships adds vitality and energy, not saps it. It brings us to greater heights than we could already achieve alone, not tear down what we have already built. It makes us feel, in a word “Great!” after time together. It helps us sleep very well at night. This is what we want.
Questions to consider:
- Since entering this relationship, what have I given up?
- Have I achieved new heights in any areas of Life after this current relationship?
- Do I feel great and uplifted, or do I feel drained and defeated after each interaction?
- Do we have common goals and aspirations that motivate us to work together at a higher level?
- Am I happy with who I am when I’m with this person?
4. Happy in Company
Some people look forward to a date for the places they’ll be, the food they’ll eat, or the activity they’ll do. They enjoy a relationship if they are being pampered, showered with gifts or chauffeured around.
People in loving relationships look forward to seeing each other. Period. They are happy in each other’s company: in activity, conversation or silence. The where and the what does not matter; they could be eating at a fancy restaurant, a hawker centre, or enjoying a sandwich on a stone bench. It may be something new and strange, like pottery class. It might even be a bit tough and unpleasant, like a 10km jog.
People in a great relationship are happy with anything as long as they’re doing it together.
The closeness they feel comes from sharing an experience; the happiness they derive comes from being happy together; the strength they build comes from being there for each other as comfort, counsel and company when things aren’t great.
People make the mistake of thinking shared activity is the most important thing. In fact centering relationships on a single activity is dangerous. I know couples who bonded because of the passion for something such as dancing or painting. Because the focus holding them together was the activity, not each other, it was dangerous. There is always the temptation from a better dancer, a better painter.
Quite simply, the more shared experiences a couple have together, the more connections they build. It’s the many connections really happy couples have that hold them together. Even if one were lost, they would still have many others.
Questions to consider:
- Are you excited to see your other half, or does meeting fill you with dread?
- Do you find reasons to drag a date out or are you relieved when you finally part ways?
- When you spend time together, do you feel real happiness deep inside?
- After an interaction, have you felt like you wasted your time and wish you had done something else that added to your Life instead?
- Have you while in your current relationship envied other happy couples?
5. Loving Each Other As They Are, Not Their Potential
People have unique personalities, values, aspirations and dislikes. These have formed over many years and define who they are.
In a good relationship, it is this unique set of qualities that make two people attracted to and love each other. When this is the case, both can be your true selves without having to repress anything, fake anything, or force anything. That’s powerful because the focus can be on building something, not correcting or changing who you are.
Many people waste time and emotion forcing and waiting for their partner to change or ‘become better’. That creates a lot of pressure, for both the person trying to change and the one waiting for the change to happen. The person who is trying to change has the pressures of ‘performing’, behaving gingerly, suppressing emotions, and getting even more stressed. The person waiting for the change is stressed not knowing if change is permanent or when the other person might explode and revert to true colours.
If you cannot be yourself in a relationship, don’t be in that relationship. Forcing change to overcome innate incompatibility is like fitting a square peg into a round hole – unnatural, uncomfortable, and tortuous.
The happiest couples are happy with each other just the way they are. So they can be themselves, live authentic Lives with their partner, and have a healthy, stress-free relationship many can only dream about.
Questions to consider:
- Does my partner pressure me to change?
- Do I have to give up certain principles to make my partner happy or just to get a moment’s peace?
- Is there anything I wish my partner would change before I can be truly happy in this relationship?
- Do I feel guilty, angry, or depressed that I can’t be myself in this relationship?
- Am I real in this relationship?
6. Great Communication and Emotional Intimacy
Successful communication of feelings, worries and fears, hopes and dreams creates emotional intimacy. You may share similar values, but without great communication they may not get conveyed. Communicating easily, freely and naturally makes simply talking a pleasure. I love hearing how two loving people with great communication speak, interact, banter and tease.
Having similar language ability is desirable, but in my observations the importance is overblown. All it takes is two people to have a greater than average vocabulary and more importantly, the intent to be open, honest and loving, because those are the roots of great communication.
Couples have conversations about a wide variety of subjects – not just practical issues but day-to-day affairs. Topics span from the serious to the mundane, from real problems to nonsensical, inconsequential ones too. That’s truly sharing because you enjoy talking to someone you love, not just out of necessity. Don’t relegate communication to emergencies. Otherwise, that emergency may well become the relationship.
Many people claim they wish they had someone with whom to “talk about anything under the sun”. The fact is that ability has much do with personal qualities. Things like low self esteem, jealousy, or a volatile nature make talking about “anything” sure recipes for disaster. A common example is a guy innocently telling his wife about a new female colleague, gym user, etc and she immediately jumping on him about potential interest and involvement. This isn’t what you see with happy couples. Quality people recognize these danger signs as a signal to get out.
A compatible sense of humour also spices up communication. Humour is such an important part of a happy Life that if two people can’t share laughter over the same things, it would be hard to bond. Positive people have the ability to laugh, and two people who have much to laugh about together have a positive relationship. When your relationship has more tears and less laughter, it may be time to reevaluate it.
Active listening is very important. Couples make the special effort to register information so they can empathise and support as needed. They let their partner fully express themselves with loving patience so they can understand better. They focus; that’s where the “active” part comes in. They don’t just hear the words but pick up on tonality and inflections.
In arguments, the big picture is that this is someone they love, and it’s not about winning. It’s recognizing when something isn’t that important and sometimes letting the other person win. Even if a point must be made, they are careful to be sensitive at the same time. If you win arguments but do so in a merciless, superior manner, you may win battles but you will definitely lose the war when love turns to hate and the other person leaves. No one wants to feel small and humiliated especially by someone they love.
Successful couples also use non-verbal communication. Picking up on eyes, facial expressions or even subtle body cues makes communication seem almost telepathic. They are so in tune that states and moods are often communicated without words. Non-verbal communication also includes the power of touch. From holding hands to making love, volumes of love and special affection are communicated without always needing verbalization.
Questions to consider:
- Are all your conversations about – or ending in – stressful topics?
- Have you stopped communicating the way you used to? Why?
- Do you feel like your partner understands you?
- When you start a conversation, are you looking forward to an invigorating experience or dreading that it could probably end draining you?
- Do you laugh at the same things?
- Are you attuned to each other’s emotions, moods and feelings?
That’s all for Part 1. Next time we’ll look at another four relationship qualities that help increase chances of success.