Over the years, out of curiosity, because I love hearing people’s stories, and due to the fact that I am in what I consider a very-successful very-long lasting relationship (36 years and counting), I’ve asked many couples: “What’s your secret to thriving together?“ Shared values, common world view, religious ties, fun travels and adventures, and yes, good sex, are some of the characteristics I’ve often heard. These are important – very important – to most couples. Yet, those qualities don’t entirely describe the over-arching secret that makes long-lasting relationships successful.
Successful relationships are healthy relationships built on three principles: they are SAFE, RESPECTFUL and RESOLVED.
Successful, Long-Lasting Relationships are Safe
On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, basic safety, i.e. shelter, food, and clothing is one of the foundational needs. We can’t reach our highest human potential unless we have our basic safety needs met. Safety, however, has other meanings relevant to relationships. We need to feel safe — physically and emotionally — with others before we open up, share, work together, and trust each other. We need to know we won’t get knocked around physically, or emotionally through verbal or non-verbal abuse.
Think about it: The last time you were laughed at, put down or were on the receiving end of sarcastic, derogatory, and belittling comments, how did you feel? What did you do? My guess is that you may have shut down emotionally or pushed back in some way by being defensive, equally sarcastic, etc. Healthy relationships require trust, and trust is essential for partners to freely share personal information, ideas, creativity, affection and love. Trust is diminished when we feel unsafe.
When we feel threatened in any way, we have an arsenal of behaviors that help us feel safe. We lash out with resentment, defend ourselves, shift the blame, make excuses, keep score, ‘go away’ physically or emotionally, or become tough and independent. None of these serve the relationship well. Successful, long-lasting relationships foster an environment where both partners feel safe. How physically and emotionally safe do you feel in your relationship? How safe do you make it for your partner?
Successful, Long-Lasting Relationships are Respectful
In healthy relationships, there is a foundation of respect between the partners. It shows up in every interaction and every conversation. It’s palpable and enduring. Respect is the glue that keeps the partnership alive and well. Respect is when we esteem and honor the other person’s very being — their inner qualities and rights as a human being. Respect reveals itself in the way we view their likes and dislikes, opinions, ideas, and feelings.
Defining respect is a little like trying to nail jello to a tree; it’s a slippery and hard to get your hands around it. When it’s present, we know it. When it’s not, we know that, too.
In successful, long-lasting relationships it shows up in the way our partner honors and accepts who we are, in their consideration of our needs and wants, and in the ways they listen and take us seriously.
Respect within a partnership starts with each person’s own self-respect. We cannot expect others to respect us if we don’t respect ourselves; we cannot respect others if we don’t feel a hefty dose of self-respect. All things start from within and spread outward.
Successful, long-lasting relationships foster an environment where respect is the norm.
In what ways do you respect yourself? In what ways do you show disrespect for yourself? How does respect show up (or not) in your relationship? How do you, as a couple, foster mutual respect?
Successful, Long-Lasting Relationships are Resolved
Just like tying a cement block to a swimmer will cause them to sink and drown, unresolved conflicts and issues are a sure bet to drag down any relationship.
Too often, out of fear of opening Pandora’s box and making things worse or getting someone mad and losing their love, or worry that the other person can’t handle what we have to say, we avoid conflict. We smooth things over, denying to ourselves or them we’re really pissed off, or we stuff our resentment and anger, or we hold off bringing our concern up until there is a “better time.” The challenge is, we can’t just turn off the ‘bad’ feelings without turning off the good ones, too. So, any warm, loving feelings we feel towards the other person are subdued along with the ones we feel uncomfortable expressing, the anger, frustration, disappointment, etc.
As a result, distance and a sense of alienation grow, and over time, if issues are unresolved, the relationship is likely to become yet another statistic of failure. Unresolved conflicts are, in essence, the kiss of death for any relationship.
In healthy relationships, both partners are committed to speaking the truth about their concerns and issues in a safe, respectful manner. Despite their knees knocking and the butterflies in their stomach, they work their way through fear to resolve conflicts directly with the other person. There is a belief the other person is strong enough to handle and work through difficult situations. Unfinished business is cleaned up so that their love can be renewed and flourish.
Successful, long-lasting relationships foster an environment where conflicts and issues are surfaced and resolved safely and respectfully. How are conflicts and issues handled in your relationship? Is there a commitment to safely and respectfully resolve conflicts and issues in a timely manner?