Those of you who follow my articles know that I stress mutuality and try to steer clear of excessive opinions about lifestyle choices. Every relationship has its own quirks and nuances, needs, demands, and strong points. The notion of success in love perhaps evokes ideas of being a great seducer, but I thought it would be valuable to look at some of the traits and qualities people tend to anecdotally report as being important to the success of their varied and multifaceted relationships. What are the “must-haves” in Loveland?
Trust – this one seems to be indispensable. Almost every person I have spoken with states this quality as priority Number One. While some people trust readily at first and then try to prevent it from being chipped away, others take time to build trust, based upon the actions of their partner. It has the unique distinction of being the only quality that, once lost, is very difficult to regain. It seems therefore imperative to take care of this essential ingredient. However, frequently it is assigned solely to the person who should be giving it; that is, each person is expected to trust the other. Ironically, less thought is given to the cultivation of a trusting atmosphere, and in this way, being trustworthy. You might say, “Hey, wait a minute, I AM a trustworthy person!” What I am driving at is that trust is really a collaborative venture, and just as much as we would expect or demand it, we might also be sure and look at whether we are supporting it and warranting it to be given to us. Ambiguity, hostility, impatience, contempt, annoyance, inconsistency, dishonesty, and contentiousness, all damage the ease with which our partner might otherwise find us trustable. We would not then want to turn to them and lash out at their seeming trouble with trusting us. We would in fact be making it even harder! Sometimes it is our very own selves who are not tending the garden, so it is valuable to look not only at our partner’s nature, if they tend to be a paranoid, non-trusting type, or if in fact we ourselves are perhaps doing something that might make it harder for them to do what they really do want to do. Either way, this element cannot be disregarded, and both sides of the equation need to be addressed.
Communication – this is not only a quality or act, but also a skill. Active listening involves not only avoiding interruptions and quick reactions and defenses, but also taking our time to relay back to the person what they say, paraphrasing at each step, to let them know that we really do understand their words. This not only helps us to comprehend better when there are misunderstandings or conflicts, but also helps our partner to feel cared about and held in positive esteem. We all want to feel understood and valued, and our words to be heard and received, even when they are uncomfortable sometimes. Acknowledgement, patience, and reflecting back what we hear, all help to let the beloved know that we are there, and we are listening. Here also it is best to avoid the two communication killers: eye-rolling, and the dreaded exclamation of indifference: “whatever.” These are sure to destroy any hope of connection when negotiating feelings and thoughts.
Respect – probably this goes without mention, but nevertheless it is critical. It goes farther than just respecting each other’s need for space, boundaries, or whatever their requests may be. It goes even beyond etiquette and politeness, although I am sure many of you may find yourselves less respectful toward your partner at times than you would be toward a friend. But isn’t your lover more than a friend? The trouble here can show up with intimacy, we might sometimes treat the partner as though they were extensions of ourselves. If we are hard on ourselves, we might be hard on them, too, and sometimes without good cause. Respect therefore requires attention to the fact that there really is another person over there, with their own hopes and fears and attitudes, and respect will help us to see them in the moment, as they are, and not as our image of them might grow to become. Also it helps to nurture a supportive environment for communication and trust, naturally. In fact, all three of those work together to maximize interactive success.
Friendship – over time, lovers may come to expect certain things from each other, duties around the house, caretaking of children, sexual gratification, and so on. In these cases (and similar ones), our lovers may begin to take on the quality of a utility or tool, an object for our personal service. This is a condition that may breed resentment, and if communication is also suffering, then those resentments will be unspoken, and will accumulate. That is a time bomb waiting to explode, and when it does, neither of them even knows what happened or why they fight so much. With friends, we usually make decisions together easily, respect each others needs, and are able to have good times together often, without much argument or fuss. With our lovers, this can be even more possible, but it requires attention to how we treat them, what we ask of them, and if there is a clear attitude of shared fairness. It is common to hear that our lover is our best friend, and while no relationship can be without conflict entirely (and sometimes it can even strengthen a bond), nevertheless a loving connection need not be more fragile than a friendship.
These are five of the top values that men and women of various ages list most often when speaking of relationship success. Of course there are others, and they all have some effect on each other. The question to ask ourselves sometimes is not “Why is my partner not more respectful or trusting or communicating?”, but rather, “Am I providing the best possible conditions to receive the same qualities I offer?” Two people, after all, are involved…