8 (OF 14) Essential Elements of Healthy Love Relationships
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Recently, I heard a speaker joke, “Marriage reminds me of houseflies on a screen door. There’s a bunch trying to get in, and there’s a bunch trying to get out.”
Relationships look good from the outside, but once we get on the inside, we’re often stumped about how to have them work.
In 1982, I noticed that there was one common denominator that appeared to be at the source of all unworkability in human relationships. That common denominator is that we don’t know how to resolve our emotional upsets with one another. We either physically or emotionally distance ourselves, or we attempt to force our way on the other. When we deal with emotional upsets fully, our relationships flourish. When we don’t, they die off.
There are many useful “positive” approaches for enhancing love relationships, however, I find these approaches fall short if we aren’t dealing with emotional upsets head on. Of course, nobody likes dealing with emotional upsets. Because emotional upsets are so uncomfortable, we all tend to avoid dealing with them completely. Unfortunately, what we resist persists. What we don’t deal with will hang around until we adequately deal with it. The 14 essential elements outlined here and in the next article will provide guidelines for getting a handle on emotional upsets.
Make note that each element I’ve listed truly is essential. If you and your partner can’t answer yes to each question below, I wouldn’t count on your relationship being healthy over time. For those of you who are dating, or are deciding whether to commit to an exclusive relationship, these 14 elements are crucial to discuss with that potential partner. I don’t recommend establishing a relationship with someone who wouldn’t be in alignment with every one of these elements.
Be forewarned. These approaches are not the easy route. On the other hand, the benefits of adopting these approaches far outweigh the work.
1. Are you making the health of your relationship a priority? As much as we hope the challenges in our relationships will just go away, that won’t happen until we put remedial attention where it’s needed. The health of your relationship has got to be more important than TV, a vacation, a new car, golfing, remodeling the house, putting the kids in a private school or buying them everything under the sun.
Ultimately, when we talk about health, we’re talking about the health of each of you as individuals. The relationship is merely a catalyst to get yourself emotionally and psychologically healthy.
2. Are you willing to grow as a person? A love relationship is a great place to be stretched to become more of who you want to be. Your partner WILL push your buttons—sometimes a number of your buttons at the same time. That’s the bad news. The good news is that getting our buttons pushed allows us the opportunity to grow past our old, unworkable ways. More good news: When we bring into the light that which has been hidden and has been interfering with the quality of our lives, we are able to bring humor and playfulness into previously difficult situations.
3. Do you recognize and accept the fact that all relationships include a certain amount of personality differences and “head-butting”? Our culture promotes the idea that with little or no preparation and planning, we’ll find ourselves attracted to the right person, and all will work out easily from there.
Because of these fairy tales, when we begin to have conflict with a partner, we think we’re in the wrong relationship. I believe that conflict and upset are to be expected. The resolution of problem areas brings the gifts we value most in relationships—love, joy, growth, passion, playfulness, appreciation, trust, and friendship.
4. Are you committing to putting every significant emotional upset on the table until you come to a place of understanding and resolution? I encourage couples to make the above agreement with their partner: “As soon as either of us notices there is emotional upset and/or we are feeling distant, this is our cue to start addressing the emotional upset.” I have found that the source of the trouble can always be traced back to an internal issue, such as, a misunderstanding, an unconscious limiting attitude, an emotional reaction from childhood, or not exercising one’s right to stand up for oneself.
5. Are you willing to use a third party expert when you can’t clear up an emotional upset by yourself? Resolving conflict can be virtually impossible without assistance. It is so much easier to call in someone to help untangle a difficult issue, than to try to do it yourself. [Note: Check out the page on my website “Choosing a Professional”.]
And, as a rule of thumb, do not discuss your relationship challenges with anyone who is not clear that both of you are playing key roles in the challenges (i.e., a friend or relative). You run the risk of: 1) solidifying your skewed vision of the problem since people tend to agree with you, and 2) the person you’re venting to usually develops a lifelong negative attitude about your partner. I’ve seen many instances where the people in conflict have resolved their differences, but the person who heard all the negative details never changed their attitude of the partner who was talked about.
6. Have you agreed to never end the relationship based on upset feelings? You can’t feel safe if you feel your partner might leave the relationship when an emotional upset is especially unsettling. If you don’t feel safe, you will avoid dealing with emotional upset. The emotional upset will get a foothold on your emotions and will effectively kill off the quality of your life and your relationship. If you have an agreement to stay in the relationship until an upset is resolved, you bring a level of safety in the relationship. You also give each other permission to bring uncomfortable topics to the table.
Make a commitment with your partner to resolve any emotional upset before a decision is made about ending the relationship. At the point of true resolution, there’s usually a renewal of love, rather than a desire to end the relationship. (This commitment also includes enlisting the assistance of an expert, if you can’t clear an upset by yourselves.)
7. Are you living by the Golden Rule? As a guide for honesty and integrity, treat your partner the way you’d like to be treated. I recognize that we all have lapses where we aren’t being our ideal self—from being rude and insensitive, to being angry and resentful. We can apologize, talk it out, and reconnect. What I’m mostly referring to here is agreeing to never do something that you’re sure would hurt the other or would hurt the relationship. This includes lying, cheating, or physical and emotional abuse.
Obviously these unkind and disrespectful behaviors harm the spouse. However, they also harm the offender. You can’t feel good about yourself when you’re treating someone in a way that you wouldn’t want to be treated. Furthermore, if you have secrets you are keeping from your partner, you cannot--and will not--make progress towards reducing emotional upsets in the relationship. Until secrets are out in the open, you or your partner will be an emotional time-bomb waiting to explode at the drop of a hat.
8. Are you honoring the role of sexual chemistry? Sexuality is a central component of being human. It is a drive that, if ignored, can wreck havoc in one’s life.
I recognize however, for some people, for various reasons, sexuality has ceased to be an important aspect of their lives. I’m sure there are those who become a couple with the understanding that sexuality is not part of their relationship. However, for those of you who are interested in sexual relating, make sure you both have a strong desire for one another. It is easy to fool yourself into thinking that the chemistry will come later, or that your friendship chemistry is sexual chemistry.
Note: If the sexual relating isn’t working well with you and your partner--and it has worked well in the past--there’s a very good chance that something is unresolved in your relationship or in yourself.
This is a brief outline of 8 of the 14 essential elements for a healthy, lasting relationship. Although the work of a relationship can be a daunting mountain to climb, having clear guideposts that guide you through the rough spots will help you stay on track. The benefits to you, your spouse, and your family will be more than worth the work.
Bill White, M.A., is a love relationship coach for singles and couples in Tucson. He has a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. Bill offers coaching by phone, e-mail, or in person. He can be reached at 520-319-9132 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You are offered a free, no obligation consultation to find out what Bill does, for Bill to find out what you want, and for you to discover if there’s a match. Brochure-type information and articles are available via e-mail and at his web site www.thehealthycouple.com.
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