Rosenthal: Traits of happy relationships
Eagle County CO, Colorado
I was a devoted, beautiful and loving wife. I was young, 22 years old, and thought that he, 10 years older, would provide security and direction in my life. But our 3-and-a-half year marriage ended. After a time, I fell in love yet again. I am still in that relationship 15 years later.
Doesn’t just being lucky sometimes figure in things turning around or in a relationship working out? Or was it that in the year-and-a-half period between my two marriages I just grew up? Would you ever say that luck and growing up are major factors in the success or failure of a relationship?
” Lucky in Wellington, New Zealand
Dear New Zealand: I would say there are several critical factors that are essential to the success or failure of most intimate relationships, and you hit on two of them. Being a grown-up (which means, among other things, that you treat a relationship as give and take rather “give me” or “I want,” and that you have the emotional maturity to work out differences in a relationship-enhancing way rather than in destructive ways) is extremely important. And most people have a very poor appreciation for how vital luck is in a successful union, because timing has to be right for both, as well as temperament, chemisty, a shared vision for the future and a host of other factors.
Here are some other major factors that are critical to the success of intimate relationships:
– Be nurturing, caring, giving and generous. Don’t we all want someone to spoil us, to treat us as special, to treat our feelings as important? Someone who looks out for you, pampers you, cherishes you and is generous with you?
– Be sensitive to what the other person says is important, and acting as if the other person’s needs, wants and dreams are equal to your own.
– Trust and be trustworthy. Don’t violate trust. Trust is so very important, and it is serious brain damage to regain once its ruptured. Don’t ever intentionally do anything to harm trust ” ever. And if you ever wind up violating trust, bend over backwards to repair it.
– Be a good communicator. This means saying both the good and the bad while always being mindful of the other person’s feelings, needs and wants. It means speaking up ” and it especially means being an excellent listener. Most people who think they are good communicators just talk too much, and that is poor communication.
– Be skilled in handling differences, disputes, conflicts and ruffled feathers. Knowing that there are no winners in a fight between people who love each other, but there can easily be two losers. It is absolutely critical that you learn to handle your partner’s hurt, angry or frustrated feelings effectively. How do you do that? For starters, listen to your partner’s side fully and respectfully with no interruptions. See if you can identify out loud what feelings are being expressed. (“I hear that you are hurt and angry because you feel I didn’t consult you before I made the decision.”) Then ask what s/he would like from you now in order to be OK ” and if you can, do what s/he has asked of you.
– Expressions of warmth. This can be through endearments, affection, sex, cards, phone calls, texts, e-mails, gifts, genuine compliments, going on dates or whispering sweet nothings in your partner’s ear. You get the idea.
There are more I could mention, such as commitment, making yourself physically and emotionally available, spending lots of quality time together, staying connected, maintaining your attractiveness, common interests and shared activities, to name a few. But this is a good start.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303-758-8777, or e-mail him from his Web site, heartrelationships.com.