trying to “fix” your partner
Even as the culture continues to change around us, as divorce rates soar and unmarried couples choose to live together rather than marry, many – perhaps most – of us cherish the notion of having a lasting relationship. The scientific evidence favors coupledom: we live longer, healthier lives, are happier and less inclined to abuse drugs or alcohol.
We begin relationships like we begin diets: with optimism, enthusiasm and conviction that this will be “the one” that works. In the early days, we open ourselves to new emotions, nurture trust, feel valued at last. We feel attraction and attractive, intimate and fulfilled, committed and joyful. But eventually, the “honeymoon” phase wanes, the bills and laundry pile up, the stresses of work and family descend and the relationship – like the diet – becomes less of a miracle and more of an ordinary process.
So how do we make that transition, allowing “real life” to happen while preserving and even enhancing the richness of the relationship? Couples who have been happy together for decades have a number of things in common.
They laugh together. Humor is powerful glue. Not only is laughing physically healthy, but it is also emotionally cleansing. Things we laugh about together can inspire smiles and pleasure for years – and help to soften the edges of difficult times. Seek out the experiences that you both enjoy, whether it’s watching movies, going fishing, flying kites or walking the dog. Make time to play together, often.
They respect each other. Lasting relationships are built on a foundation of trust. To establish trust, we must each believe that our partner will continue to care about us in bad times as well as good. That they will love us even when we’re ill or upset. That they will value who we are even when we make mistakes. To build that trust, we must show respect for our partner under all circumstances. That means avoiding name-calling, blaming, criticism, mockery and insults, even when we’re angry or frustrated. Rather than taking our partner for granted, we must express appreciation and affection – not just when the relationship is new, but for all the years to come.
They are individuals within their relationship. When we embark on a relationship, we savor that feeling of melting together, joining. We talk about “being one” with our partner. But while individuals in successful couples can enjoy their togetherness, they each have boundaries and unique identities. They are not threatened by the time they spend apart and don’t rely on their partner to fill all their needs. They have activities, interests and friends of their own and they actively work to resolve their own issues rather than trying to “fix” their partner. Within the context of the relationship, they can compromise, share and help each other become stronger individuals. As they do so, they build the strength and endurance of their relationship.
They share. If we want a lasting relationship, we must be willing to communicate. Good partners are curious about each other. They talk together about wide-ranging topics. They listen to each other, ask questions and trust each other with difficult subjects. They don’t always agree, but they know that disagreeing does not threaten their relationship.
They explore. The more we explore and grow, as individuals and as a couple, the more likely it is that our relationship will last. We can explore on our own – talking, traveling, sharing with friends, taking classes, reading – and we can explore with individual and relationship counselors. The better we are at being partners, the better our relationship, and the more likely that it will last.