My wife and I were having breakfast last Sunday at our favorite spot, after our morning walk with our pooch. We got to talking about what successful relationships were made of. I was delighted that she came up with some great ideas about what successful couples do. I must say, I could not have said it better. So I whipped out my trusty iPhone and jotted down her thoughts. One of the things that I try to impress on couples is that I am in it with them and if I can’t make it work at home, then I would not be in good conscience trying to work it out with them. Of course, the trick is to implement these ideas. Not so easy. We should continually work to regain our balance and employ these ideas whenever we feel the hot metal of anger and irritation coursing through our veins.
The following are her suggestions:
1. Be Willing to Look at Yourself. This is the number one thing that successful couples do. If one or the other person in a relationship cannot or will not take a step back and consider what their part in a conflict or problem might be, it will never be resolved. Only when both sides of an issue are expressed and understood can full recognition and resolution be found. The flip side of that are couples who never find those solutions and eventually the weight of it will topple a relationship that may have begun with so much love. If one person needs to be right or constantly prove their rightness by winning the argument they are doomed to distance and resentment. In all the work I have done with couples when one or the other person is not able to look at their part in a problem, the relationship rarely, if ever, survives.
2. Realistic Expectations. If you expect your relationship to be perfect, that it will make you happy all the time or will always be loving, you are expecting too much. Relationships are relentless and foster irritation and disagreement. We can’t expect them to be running smoothly all the time. There is an adage that the bigger the wedding, the shorter the marriage. The reasoning behind this is about really high expectations. The main consideration with expectations is that the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
3. Sense of Humor. Humor has a way of taking the tension out of a stress-filled moment. Many a time we have found solace in the funny comment or the goofy expression that was placed smack in the middle of what could have been a very bad moment. Finding a sense of humor together and looking for something humorous is a terrific way to break the pressure of the moment. This is not to say that we should take serious discussions lightly — not at all. But for those times when it’s not really about much other than being tired or stressed from our day, it can be a little miracle in an otherwise difficult moment.
4. Keep an Open Mind. Opening our mind up to new ideas, our partner, and whatever we may think we know is a very important way not only to learn something and show some respect for the other person’s right to have a different opinion, but to let others know they are getting through to us. Not knowing allows us to let in other ideas, understand the other person, and allow ourselves to change. Only when we have an open mind can we truly become better people.
5. Develop the Ability to Listen. Nothing productive can happen in any discussion if all we are doing is waiting for our turn to speak. Learning to slow down and not only listen, but be able to talk about what is being said from the point of view of the other, is of course what has to happen for any issue or problem to be solved. Active listening is the ability to respond to what is being said before you press your point of view. The tendency to defend or counter with something they did before you acknowledge your partner only prolongs the discussion and prevents problem solving.
6. Integrity. The word integrity comes from the word integrated. Integrity means that we live by standards that are important to both people in a relationship. Honesty, reliability, responsibility and consideration are the bulwark of all healthy relationships. When people don’t do what they say they will do — don’t show up, don’t clean up or grow up — there are problems in their relationships. We want to feel like we are with an adult who can take care of themselves without making us do their dirty work and clean up their messes. It’s one thing to get married, but it’s an entirely different thing to be married or be with the same person for many years. Integrity is the knowledge that we are living and being with a person for whom we have the greatest respect because they take care of business and have morals and principles that they live by.
Obviously, there are many more important qualities that successful relationships have, and certainly healthy people tend to have a better time of it than those with serious emotional problems, drug problems and family issues. Not everyone is blessed with a good upbringing and two loving parents. It’s not what we got, but what we do with it that counts in the end. If we have to work things out that didn’t go right for us, then so be it. It’s not a death sentence, but it is something we have to take responsibility for. Our responses belong to us; we own them no matter where they come from or what someone else did to trigger them. We can’t blame our difficulties on others if we want a better life. Once we take the reins, we can steer ourselves in the direction our heart wants us to take.