Every relationship is a world unto its own and every person has a very singular, subjective idea of what makes a relationship a happy one.
Relationships expert (and best-selling author) Harriet Lerner, however, espouses the idea that there are certain qualities that nearly all happily-ever-after love stories possess, at least those she has observed in her many years of experience as a counsellor. Pull out your pencil and take note: how many of these qualities do you and your loved one share?
- The ability to apologize: Lerner once told Forbes that ‘I’m sorry’ were “the two most important words in the English language.” These words heal, they let our partner know that we care about the fact we have hurt their feelings, that we are committed to not repeating an action that has caused them pain. ‘Sorry’ should not be a word we utter infrequently; pride should not stand in the way of attempting to heal small, daily wounds that can deepen if we refuse to acknowledge hurt.
- Taking the time and effort to make your loved one feel special: There are many small details which, taken together, let our partner know we do not take them for granted. They include bringing home a treat you know they love, letting them know what they mean to you and spending time with them on a hobby that brings them joy. Usually, your partner will let you know the type of actions that make them feel most loved – ensure you love them in the way they best understand.
- Respecting differences: Loving our partner means recognizing them as an independent human being who may have different tastes, hobbies and opinions. We should respect these differences while maintaining a strong emotional connection with our loved one. Each should maintain their core values and beliefs without fear of rejection by their partner.
- Knowing how to listen: Lerner believes that many of us suffer from ‘listening deficit disorder’. When we listen to our partner during a discussion and cannot wait to give our point of view, we are often not really listening, but rather, just waiting for our turn to talk. Clearly, if both partners fail to listen to how the other feels, a communication block arises.
- Not being overly critical: Good relationships arise when both parties work together as a team. When we are overly critical with our partner, knocking down their self-esteem, it can be very hard to maintain a positive, loving environment. Rather than criticize your partner’s qualities during an argument, voice your wishes about things you are not happy with, during a quiet, calm moment. Focus on the action rather than the person. Let them know how important they are to you, even during tense moments. This will bring down stress levels and encourage better listening.
- Speak simple: Try to find the simplest, most honest way to let your spouse know how you feel. Keep it to the point and don’t repeat your point of view incessantly; your spouse probably heard you the first time and may be taking time to assimilate what you just said.
- Don’t pursue a distance: We all have our own styles during an argument. Some of us pursue; we need to feel close to someone and fix the issue immediately. Others are distancers; they do not feel comfortable arguing and tend to run away from the scene or emotionally distance themselves. If you are a pursuer and your spouse a distancer, try to bring up important points during non-emotionally-charged moments. If you press for a solution ‘right here, right now’, your partner will only seek more distance from you.
- Be committed: It is amazing how let down we can feel when our loved ones fail to follow through with a promise, even if this promise was to take us to the movies, meet us for lunch one day, or take out the trash! When you say you’ll do something on the weekend, make sure it gets done; otherwise your word loses value and your partner can feel like you don’t care enough about them to do the things that are important to them (even if they don’t seem that important to you).
- Take it easy: In the same way that you should avoid rushing into a relationship, you should also try to set reasonable expectations. You can’t achieve all the above in a day, or even a week; aim to improve little by little and above all, remember that you can only really change yourself, not your significant other.
We want to thank Helen Burt for her contribution and this amazing article