What makes the difference between a great relationship and a mediocre one – a happy relationship and an unhappy one? Don’t we all want to engage in a great relationship? John C. Friel, Ph.D. and Linda D. Friel, M.A. in their book titled The 7 Best Things (Happy) Couples Do, offer some great thoughts to achieve relationship success. I would like to share with you eight points I learned about how to build a healthy relationship.
First, we must know how to pick a compatible partner. And please remember, even though ultimate success requires a physical attraction, being attracted to one another initially does not mean you are compatible as primary partners. Studies have shown we will generally pair up with people (on a scale of 1-10) who are equally attractive to ourselves. We will also search for balance in our partners. For example, if you are shy you will tend to be attracted to someone who is more gregarious. If you are very active you may be attracted to a more laid back personality. You will also tend to fall in love with someone with whom you feel connected. This connection or bond we develop is often because the person we are attracted to possesses similar, positive characteristics to someone who has been very important to us during our lifetime. On the other hand, it is also possible to pair up with a person as an opposing reaction to characteristics you did not like in the influential people from your past.
Second, we must be emotionally full to be successful with the selection process of dating and to build a healthy relationship with another person. In order to be emotionally full will require your inner “self” to contain the following characteristics:
- You must trust yourself.
- You must value your individuality more than the relationship; you must be willing to risk giving up the relationship before your identity.
- You must be able to express your needs and wants and possess the ability to make things happen.
- You must be competent – be able to take care of yourself, possess high self-esteem, and have a circle of friends with whom you are emotionally connected.
- You must know who you are so you do not lose your identity in the relationship.
Third, we must value our own individuality and identity enough to be willing to end it all if our identity is threatened. When you are so dependent upon your partner you are afraid to go toe to toe to protect your “self,” the relationship will become stagnant and die. We are each responsible for our own lives; if we want change, we must be strong enough within our “self” to establish the boundaries to make change happen. As the author says, when each person has chosen to stay in the relationship, rather than settle for a relationship out of desperation and fear, both partners will possess equal exit power. When each partner has equal exit power, they both will work harder at the relationship and take it less for granted.
Fourth, we must be willing to take ownership for the health of the relationship. When friction and relationship failure becomes apparent, we must take ownership of the problem by asking ourselves, “What did I do to contribute to the downward spiral in our relationship?” The ability to maintain intimacy with our primary partner while simultaneously protecting our own individuality is not easy. Those who make the mistake of sacrificing their identity for harmony in their relationship will experience a slow death in that relationship. When we move in the direction of accountability for our words and actions, we open the door to honesty in the communication of our relationships. We must be able to honestly communicate our feelings to resolve disappointment and unhappiness, as well as to experience self-acceptance and forgiveness. Being accountable and honest in our communications is what will build flourishing relationships. We all have the power of choice available to us. If we choose correctly, we choose to hold ourselves responsible for our words and actions.
Fifth, we must live in awe and astonishment every day over the little things about our partner. It is one thing to talk about appreciating the simple things in life but it is yet another thing to embrace the everyday, ordinary wonders in your partner. The way in which we choose to interpret the world everyday determines what we will see. As a result, what we choose to focus on or be mindful of will determine what we appreciate.
Sixth, we must have the ability to soothe our fears, hurts, shame, and loneliness. Fears, hurts, shame, and loneliness are all normal emotions we all experience, but they must be dealt with in a healthy manner. These feelings can be harmful to a relationship when we are not aware of why we are feeling these emotions because we tend to express our hurtful feelings in nonverbal, negative actions. Hurtful, shameful, lonely feelings tell us when we have been damaged. The ability to soothe our hurtful feelings is what establishes one as a mature adult, someone who is capable of being in a healthy relationship. Having at least one person in your life with whom you can receive support and have intimate, honest, communications about your feelings is the most effective soothing agent. It is these healthy connections with another human being that gives us trust and hope in our lives.
Seventh, we must be able to embrace change, disappointment, and loss. We all have needs and wants but our inability to deal with reality and personal desires is not healthy. Life will always offer us failure, change, and loss; it is how we learn and grow from our disappointments that enrich us. When we feel we are entitled to what we want, we can become self-absorbed and hurtful in our relationships. We must learn to accept we are less than perfect, embrace our flaws, and learn to live in peace with ourselves before we can bring harmony to our relationships.
Eighth, we must be sexual in a healthy way. Healthy relationships do not use sex for intimacy; sex has the power to distort a relationship, especially when strong emotional and intellectual intimacies have not first been fully developed. For those couples who have strong emotional and intellectual connections, a healthy sexual relationship is defined by bringing pleasure to your partner and allowing each person to freely express their will and desires.
To build a healthy relationship requires each person involved to be complete, self-confident, whole individuals. Each individual must hold themselves accountable for the success of the relationship; in other words, you must decide to be responsible for making the success of the relationship a priority in your life.
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