The 5 ingredients for a happy relationship, part 1
Do you hate “working on” your relationship? Yeah, me too. Jamming love and work together seems a betrayal of our hopes and dreams.
I think that when it comes to relationships, the real issue is the sense that you may be involved in unproductive, conflict-filled busywork that feels like it makes things worse, not better. Well, who’d want to do that kind of work anyway?
So with Valentine’s Day coming up, what better way to celebrate your love than by doing things that keep it alive and healthy? Well, I’ve got a secret for you. Here’s what happy couples do, whether they’re conscious of it or not.
In our book Is He Mr. Right? we talked about 5 essential ingredients for a relationship. You don’t need an A+ in each ingredient, but things do have to be okay in each of them. Sort of the way with a car you don’t need a super-car, but you do need your car to be pretty darn good when it comes to going, stopping, steering, visibility, and comfort.
So what are these essential ingredients of a relationship and what do happy couples do about them? And what can you do about them, so you can give each other the best Valentine’s Day gift ever? Let’s go.
Here’s a brief overview of the ingredients.
Feeling safe. This means feeling confident you won’t be hurt. Not just that you won’t be physically hurt, but that you won’t be emotionally hurt. That you won’t be insulted, ignored, made to feel small. That you won’t be lied to or humiliated. That what’s important to you will be important to your partner.
Respect. Let’s face it: after two people have lived together for even a brief period, they know each other’s flaws and foibles. No one is on a pedestal anymore. Fine. But what we do need, all of us, from our partners is a sense that we have value in and of ourselves, that our partner sees us and values the things about us that we value about ourselves, and that we are worthy—basically and overall—of heartfelt respect.
Fun. Yes, especially when the kids come fun between you and your partner becomes harder and harder to find. That spontaneous feeling of play and joy. But that’s okay. What you do need though is the sense that you can have fun, and that fun often does break out between you. Whatever fun is for you.
Easy intimate connection. “I need you; I want you!” That’s the language of passion and desire. But sustained and sustainable love is all about feeling close to your partner and finding it easy to get close. Finding the “us.” This is a strength of happy couples, but it’s one that all couples can make stronger.
Affection. In case you were wondering, yeah, this is where sex comes in. But for people in a committed long-term relationship, rather than being what the entire relationship is about, as is so often the case at the very beginning of many relationships, after a while sex, particularly good sex, is the by-product of everything else working well. Which is why I’ve put it last. And why I’ve called it affection, because it involves every aspect of your interactions: touch, sound, smell, taste, sight, thought, and feeling. These are hugely important in themselves. And every one of these can create or destroy the desire to have actual sex.
So these are the ingredients of a happy committed, long-term relationship. How do you maintain and strengthen them? We’ll look at the first one, feeling safe, today. Next post, respect and fun. The following post, easy intimate connection and affection.
Can I be blunt? This is only 10% conversation but 90% follow through. If you’re good on the follow through, this’ll be a piece of cake; if you’re not good on the follow through, well, you’re life is already hell, as I don’t have to tell you. Want a good life? Be good on the follow through.
The conversation can be short and sweet. If you were in my office I’d say, “Let’s begin by acknowledging that you don’t feel completely safe. Most couples don’t. That’s okay. You can get better.”
And I’d go on, “Here’s what we’re absolutely NOT going to do. We’re NOT going to talk about the past. I know that’s where all the hurts have happened, but there is nothing, nothing, NOTHING good to be gained by digging up all the corpses from the graveyard. We’re going to be totally forward looking.
“And we’re not going to say anything negative about each other. No put downs. No labeling. Not even ‘describing’ the other in a way that could be interpreted negatively.
“Instead, we’re going to be super-streamlined. Just say one thing you need from the other to feel safer in this relationship. Something you’d like them to start doing or stop doing. One clear simple change. A change you think is do-able to make you feel safer.”
And that’s all we’re asking you do to here. That’s your Valentine’s Day gift for each other. Or at least a big part of your Valentine’s Day gift giving.
Simple stuff. Like, “Stop coming up with psychological diagnoses and theories to ‘explain’ me.” No talking about how the other person’s done this in the past. No put downs. Just a simple request. To which the other person says yes if humanly possible.
Or “No more little lies. I want every word out of your mouth to not only be the truth but the whole truth.” Okay, there was a little reference to the past here. But no point in making a big deal about it because it was immediately followed by a simple, direct request. And, hey, if your partner asks this of you and you feel you’ve never ever told the eensiest teensiest lie in the past, then not lying in the future should be a piece of cake. Don’t bring up the old grievances. Just say yes.
There you have it. Two requests, one from each of you. Both putting you on to a path towards greater safety, which is the path to everything else that’s good. And if you want to go to two more requests each, fine. But don’t get greedy. It’s way more important to see how you do with the first two requests. Remember, 90% of this is in the follow through.
And you’re on your way to happier, healthier love.
Happy couples just ask for their needs to be met, their requests are treated positively, and there’s good follow through in meeting those needs. That’s their day-in-day-out Valentine’s gift to each other.