Relationship success is something that many of us strive for. Sometimes, this elusive “Holy Grail” escapes all but the very few. I have written here before about the Four Pillars of a functional relationship and how that is the basis if the relationship is to sustain itself long-term. While the four pillars of trust, honesty, respect and meeting needs are essential elements, they are not the only factors that go towards making a union function as well as it can. There are others. One could name communication and listening skills as very clear examples and yes, these are very important on a daily basis. Listening and communicating with your loved one are key. Top of some lists would be shared interests and values and rightly so. Every one asked the question “What makes a relationship successful?” would have a different opinion. Here is mine. As a therapist who has worked with couples for many years, I have identified three additional factors to the ones described above which are in my opinion major reasons why couples stay together for the right reasons.
Most people are emotionally dishonest for various reasons. A bold statement, maybe but in my experience it is a true statement. Look at this quote:
“Most of us feel that others will not tolerate emotional honesty. We would rather defend our dishonesty on the grounds that it might hurt others; and having rationalised our phoniness into nobility, we settle for superficial relationships.” from Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? by John Powell.
In my work as a couples therapist, I see this as a major barrier to a couple being on a road to recovery. By being emotionally dishonest, we are missing out on connection with others and indeed ourselves. We are missing out on living an authentic life and we hide and lie what we are truly feeling. In a relationship, this can break trust and lead to resentment, leading to angry outbursts and disagreements. Being emotional honest means recognising and accepting when you are being defensive, for example or hiding what you are truly wanting to say. So it starts with you being emotionally intelligent and aware.
There is a big difference between physical and emotional intimacy. One-night stands and casual sexual affairs are physical but often lack an emotional content. Many couples who are in conflict can still have physical intimacy which is often outside of the emotion they are feeling. For a relationship to maintain itself long-term, physical and emotional intimacy is a must. To have true emotional intimacy with your partner, you must be willing to take emotional risks by sharing personal stories and feelings. There must be a level of trust that these expressions are not to be judged or used in arguments later. Intimacy is words and actions, and sharing feelings and experiences – pain and sadness, as well as happiness and love, hard work and humour, really listening to your partner or allowing them to be vulnerable or to cry.
You will often hear people say about new partners that they have a “connection” but what does this really mean? A relationship only exists because of connection. You cannot create connection by just forming a union with someone. Connection means taking the time to forge a shared set of positive emotions that create a bond. In creating that bond through careful and considerate communication, one partner finds out all they can about the other and vice-versa. Creating connection means to allow vulnerability on both sides and both partners are allowed into the sacred place of what makes their partner tick. According to Susan Johnson and Hara Estroff Marano, authors of the article “In the Name of Love”, “We fall in love when a strong attachment bond is formed. We stay in love by maintaining the bond.”. This bond is maintained through trust, emotional availability, focus on partner in a healthy way, working as a team and fighting fair in conflict.