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 their 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 trying to convince people that it in fact was possible to create a truly meaningful and loving relationship that continued beyond the infatuation stage (usually between one day and three years), was not necessarily going to change their minds. The alleged reasons that they often responded with:
I’ve got plenty of evidence to prove that I’m hopeless when it comes to relationships.
I just don’t have what it takes.
I had a terrible childhood that wounded me forever.
There are no good men/women who are available out there.
The good ones are already taken, and the leftovers are losers.
I’ve lost all hope that there are any potential partners who are trustworthy left on the planet.
Either I am or they are too emotionally or psychologically damaged to sustain a healthy relationship.
I’ve concluded that it’s best that I just give up even hoping to ever having a good relationship.
I need to spare myself the heartache of continued disappointment.
I am just too old!
And these are just the top ten!
We have had enough experience with people who felt the same way and who had the same thoughts themselves, but somehow were able to defy their internal mantra that was repeatedly giving them the command to just give up, let it go, don’t get fooled again! Yet they somehow managed to hang in there and found that (gasp) they were wrong! The impossible can happen. It’s true, there’s no guarantee that it will happen but compared to the alternative, giving up, where the likelihood of success is exactly zero, there is at least a possibility that it might. Even if the odds seem to be discouragingly poor, consider that there are things that we can all do that will increase our chance for success.
In 2010 we published our second book, entitled, The Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Stories from Real Couples about Lasting Love. The book doesn’t just apply to married couples, but to anyone who is, or hopes to be, in a committed partnership. We interviewed over 50 couples whom we assessed as having mutually fulfilling marriages and picked out the top 27 to include in the book.
We heard their testimonies as well as their take on how they managed to do it. This was often accomplished in the face of great adversity, including health crises, financial failure, depression, loss of loved ones, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and other challenging life experiences.
We interviewed both partners and included edited versions of the interviews in the book, which contain the essential traits, qualities, practices, tools and skills they possessed that enabled them to co-create what they had achieved together. Although this piece doesn’t contain the details of the stories, many of which are fascinating, surprising, and inspiring, it does include some of the key points that ran through most of their stories. Here are some of the themes that characterized most of the relationships:
- Value: An appreciation of the worth of a fulfilling relationship.
- 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: A desire to learn from and apply the lessons that life experiences offer.
- Life purpose: A sense that one has an underlying purpose in life and that meaningful relationships support that purpose.
- Responsibility: The recognition that both partners play a part in the relationship being where it is, and that each has the power to influence where it goes from here.
- Blamelessness: 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?”
- Skillfulness: The ability to manage differences effectively
- Outside help: A willingness to recognize when it is needed and to enlist it when it is.
- Priority: Putting the relationship at or near the top of your priority list.
- Vulnerability: Non-defensive communication.
- Committed listening: Bringing full attention in your communication with an intention to understand rather than dispute.
- Believing eyes: Seeing another’s gifts and reflecting them back to them.
- Equality: Non-hierarchical, equal distribution of power.
- Generosity: A desire to contribute meaningfully to the lives of others.
- Self-care: A sense of responsibility for your own physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
- Thankfulness: Cultivating and embodying an attitude of gratitude
- Patience: You’re going to need it.
- And last but not least….
- Humor, playfulness, and fun!
This set of guidelines is for anyone who is serious about taking on the challenges of a committed partnership. Consider which of these traits 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 when you commit yourself to these practices, over time, it gets easier and begins to feel more natural as old defensive structures diminish and eventually dissolve. But don’t take our word for it. Try it and see for yourself. And don’t forget to …