All couples experience a measure of difficulties in their relationship. These come in all shapes and sizes. They might be aspects of the other’s personality that had not emerged until the knot was tied, different expectations, differences in belief and value systems, different ways of dealing with conflict and so on. If the individuals in the couple’s relationship are sufficiently mature, these and other difficulties they may encounter will be overcome in time. If they are at very different levels of maturity, have extremely different expectations or very different ways of dealing with issues, they may find coming to grips with each other to be quite a challenge.
Good marriages (partnerships) are comprised of the following ingredients:
This is the main ingredient for a good and healthy partnership as it enables us to open our innermost self to our partner. Trust can only be established by consistently acting in a reliable and predictable fashion, by being truthful to and dealing fairly with one another. Trust is essential as it allows us to let our partner know who we are (warts and all) in the faith that he or she will treat this knowledge with the respect this courageous step deserves. Without trust a marriage/partnership cannot survive.
Acceptance means honouring our partner despite their differences in personality and character, despite their individual complexities, idiosyncrasies and flaws. Acceptance means recognizing that just because we are different from our partner does not make us any better or worse than them – we all have flaws and require our partner’s willingness to accept our frailties as much as they require our willingness to accept theirs. Whilst trust is the only soil in which the fragile flower of partnership can be planted successfully, acceptance is the fertiliser without which the flower will eventually whither and die.
When we first enter a love relationship we rarely think about the fact that all relationship have their “up” and “down” times. However, we need to understand that no matter how well we get along initially, in order to create a healthy long-term partnership or marriage we will need to make adjustments and sacrifices. We need to be prepared to see the world through our partner’s eyes and help him/her to see the world through ours. We need to learn to negotiate conflict issues and be willing to agree to disagree in certain areas. We need to accept that having a healthy partnership does not just happen, but requires TIME, COMMITMENT and HARD WORK.
This is a vital ingredient for a any relationship and is particularly important for the creation of a happy, healthy and satisfying marriage. It means treating our partner the way we wish to be treated ourselves. It means respecting them as an individual with their own thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, strengths and frailties even when they differ from our own. It means never making fun of or belittling any of their qualities. It also means dealing with relationship conflicts in non-threatening and non-manipulative ways and never using their frailties as a weapon against them.
Achieving a sense of togetherness has much to do with TIME. It requires taking the time to get to know our partner (warts and all); scheduling time to discuss our relationship challenges and to action any agreements we might have made. It means making time to do “fun stuff” together. It also means making any effort necessary to ensure our partner feels precious, cherished and nurtured. This is best achieved by learning each other’s love language. More information on the 5 love languages (as identified by Chapman, G) will appear in a separate article.
As important as it is to achieve a sense of ‘togetherness’ it is also to retain a measure of ‘separateness’. This means understanding and accepting that whilst we’ve chosen to travel life’s journey hand-in-hand, we are neither inseparably entwined with each other nor do we cling to each other like ivy clings to a wall. In other word, we retain healthy personal boundaries that allow us to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ when appropriate and give the other the freedom necessary to retain their individuality. It means having and pursuing individual interests and giving our partner time and space to do the same. A partnership that does not honour the separateness quickly becomes stifling, overwhelming and toxic. It becomes co-dependent.
Effective communication is a two-way street that has a number of components. It requires an ability to verbalise our thoughts and feelings in a non-threatening way and a willingness to listen in a way that lets our partner know that he/she has been heard and understood. It requires an openness to their experience, an ability to acknowledge their opinions (whether we share them or not) and a tolerance for their differences. Talking together enables us to share our innermost thoughts and feelings. It is the means by which we demonstrate respect, by which we encourage and affirm our partner and let them know if we fell that things aren’t right between us. It further enables us to effectively deal with conflicts and allows us to verbalise our needs and wants as well as our hopes and dreams. Communication is the key to all healthy, successful relationships.
Every partnership requires a spirit of tolerance. As our partners neither share our individual histories nor the same experiences or personality make-up, we need to exercise tolerance in areas in which we find them very different to ourselves, difficult to understand or hard to like. Tolerance helps us accept them even if we do not always understand or (even) like them. It enables us to “let them be who they are” and takes away the need, that so poisons relationships, to change them.
Compromise means ‘meeting half-way’. The very fact that we are involved with another person suggests that we cannot always do, have or say things that merely suit ourselves but need to consider the other’s desires, wishes and needs. In order to achieve a healthy partnership, compromise as an absolute “must”.
Being human means making mistakes. No matter how wonderful our relationship may be in general, there will be times when we fail our partner and when he or she fails us. A healthy partnership is able to “weather” such storms through the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness means “letting go” of the offence, which is an ability that is essential to keeping any marriage or partnership intact.