Over the years we’ve heard from a lot of disenchanted people who have felt very pessimistic about their chances of creating a fulfilling long-term partnership. Some of the most common assertions have been: “There are no good men/women out there who are not already taken”, “I don’t know anyone who has a great relationship and I’m not willing to settle for a mediocre one”, “I’m too messed up to create a healthy relationship” and Maybe I’m just one of those people who isn’t cut out for marriage.”
We realized that reassuring people that it in fact was possible, wasn’t going to be enough and decided to provide some evidence to back up our claim. We interviewed over 50 couples with exemplary relationships and heard their testimonies as well as their take on how they managed to create deeply fulfilling relationships, often in the face of great adversity including health crises, financial failure, depression, loss of loved ones, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and various forms of family dysfunction in many of their childhoods. In response to our question about how they managed to fulfill their dream, often despite the odds, a number of themes ran through their stories. Here are the most common:
- An awareness of the value of a fulfilling relationship.
- A commitment to give the time, energy, and care that the partnership requires to thrive.
- Enlightened self-interest. Trusting that what one invests in the well-being of their partner ultimately, enhances the quality of their own life.
- Life-long learning is a desire to learn from and apply the lessons that life experience offers.
- A sense of one’s life purpose that is separate but supported by their relationship.
- Responsibility. The recognition that each plays a part in the relationship being where it is, and that we have the power to influence where it goes from here.
- No blame. Rather than seeking to find fault with another, the focus is on questions like “What can I do that might help to move us forward to a better place?”
- Learning and practicing the art of skillfully managing differences.
- A willingness to seek outside help when needed .
- Making the quality of the relationship a high priority.
- Vulnerability. Relating to each other non-defensively.
- Committed listening. Bringing full attention to interactions without interrupting, judging, correcting, or advising unless specifically requested.
- Believing eyes. Seeing each other’s gifts and beauty and reflecting them back to them.
- Equality. True partnerships are nonhierarchical, based on an equal distribution of power.
- Generosity. This refers to generosity of spirit where one’s concern extends beyond one’s own needs and desires.
- Self-care. A commitment to invest time and energy in the relationship without neglecting one’s own needs.
- Humor, playfulness, and fun. Making time for play, pleasure and enjoyment.
- Gratitude. Cultivating and embodying an attitude of gratitude. This may be the most important item on the list.
This set of guidelines is for anyone who is serious about taking on the challenges of a committed partnership. Consider which of these factors you have already sufficiently developed, and which ones could use more of your attention. Feel free to add your own criteria that are unique to your circumstances. Great relationships don’t get created overnight, but with a clear intention, old defensive structures can dissolve and be transformed into life-enhancing practices. But don’t take our word for it. Try it and see for yourself. What have you got to lose?
Parts of this article have been taken from our book The Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truth from Real Couples about Lasting Love. Its chapters are filled with nuggets of practical wisdom that any couple will find useful.