“It just didn’t turn out to be the fairy tale I had so badly hoped for,” taken from Kim Kardashian’s “letter to her fans” regarding filing for divorce 72 days after her wedding.
Relationships are not made for TV scripts; they are lifelong commitments, which help you learn about yourself and your partner as you grow closer through life’s ups and downs. Kim is going to have a very difficult time finding husband number two when it’s apparent she expects her husband to make her happy and behave in such a way that is congruent with how she thinks the marriage script should be played out. Beware, no matter what we tell ourselves consciously, many of us have subconscious scripts of the happily ever after fairy tale of marriage.
Unrealistic expectations and overall assumptions can be the demise of an otherwise good relationship. Even though fairy tale relationships aren’t reality, I’m happy to report that it is possible to have a thriving, passionate and long lasting marriage. Please note, this doesn’t just happen but it is the wonderful result of constant care, creativity and devotion. Marriages are not meant to be disposable just because you aren’t getting what you want, how you want it, when you want it. Marriage is a commitment to yourself, your partner and the relationship you are developing together.
Although there isn’t a one-size-fits-all recipe for relationship success, there is a set of steps that need to take place for your relationship to have a high probability of surviving the test of time:
- Learn to love and take care of yourself before entering into a relationship
- Desire to continue growing personally and emotionally
- Learn what it takes to make your relationship successful
- Choose your partner wisely making sure you aren’t making the choice based on something you are currently lacking
- Be willing to walk away if it is not a good match
- Ensure you and your partner have a similar vision for your life together
- Make sure empathy is understood and valued by both partners
- Choose to continue raising the bar on being your best in the relationship and challenge your partner to do the same
Learn to love and take care of yourself before entering into a relationship.
Easier said than done. What are you doing to be your best in all areas of your life? In order to attract someone who is whole and authentic, you must first come to the table without needing something from someone else. In a healthy relationship, your significant other is not there to take care of you or fix you in anyway. They can support you emotionally, and in times of need, be the strength you need to lean on but it’s not their job to fill in what you are lacking. In what areas might you be lacking right now? And what can you do to improve those areas? Might it be the need to lose a few extra pounds, strengthen your self-confidence, get passionate about your career, a cause or learning something new, find ways to increase your happiness quotient or release some personal ties you are holding onto from the past? Whatever the case, there is no time like the present to work on loving yourself.
Desire to continue growing personally and emotionally.
This is a natural tie-in to learning to love and take care of you. What makes you interesting? In what ways are you an asset as a partner in a relationship? Often people do a lot of work on themselves in order to “get into a relationship” but once they have checked off that box they stop making the time to continue doing their own personal work. Being able to find ways to move forward and keep evolving is important so that the relationship doesn’t become stagnant. Your partner will appreciate your growth. When you feel good about yourself it shows and others see and feel it too.
Learn what it takes to make your relationship successful.
Note that there isn’t a cookie cutter, one size fits all, answer to what makes a relationship thrive but there are some principles at the core of all successful relationships. Mind you, it’s not always obvious what these principles are especially in our society where there is a serious lack of good role models in the realm of flourishing relationships. Many individuals come from divorced or dysfunctional families where their parents may have stayed together far beyond their relationship’s expiration date. More often than not we will need to do some extra homework in this area.
Taking time to detail what you truly want in a relationship, examining that vision to see what is possible and what of those ideals might be unrealistic is important. Learn both your and your partner’s love languages (how individuals give and receive love), communication tendencies, patterns you are bringing into the new relationship subconsciously from your parents’ relationships and your past relationships and, as much as possible, figure out how to proactively argue with one another without doing damage to each other or the relationship. Ironically, one of the number one signs that a marriage will break down is when a couple rarely argues or disagrees. At my company, Joy of Romance, Inc. we enjoy teaching couples these valuable skills in a coaching program called Rules of Engagement. So newlyweds, remember not to gloss over the tough subjects during the honeymoon phase of your relationship. This is the best time to tackle how you will deal with the inevitable future bumps in the road. Use this time wisely!
Choose your partner wisely making sure you aren’t making the choice based on something you are currently lacking.
Watch out for a desire to become a knight in shining armor or to have a knight come to your rescue. When you reach out for someone to fill a gap in your life at the beginning of a relationship you will start with a deficit, which creates an unstable foundation.
Don’t be afraid to ask your close friends and family what their opinions are regarding your partner. Open the door for them to be as honest as possible by saying “If you ever see something that is a red flag with my partner or in my relationship, please pull me aside and let me know. I promise that I will not take it personally but will listen and take it to heart. Whether I act upon it or not, it will be my choice, but I will always appreciate your honesty.” Ask the hard questions that sometimes get glossed over during the romance of courtship. Is this someone who shares your values? Does he/she have your best interests at heart? Are they able to commit to you and your partnership? Pay close attention to the answers to these questions. Be sure to listen carefully to your heart, your intuition and your gut.
Be willing to walk away if it is not a good match.
When you are looking for Mr. or Mrs. Right make sure you are clear on what you want, your must haves and your deal breakers. I encourage you to take the time to write them down and look at this list often. Then once you start a new relationship create a timeline of dates where you promise to check in with yourself, review the list and honestly assess the pros and cons associated with continuing with this partner. When it’s a good fit, this shouldn’t be a difficult decision. Remember that no one is perfect but being with this individual should never violate any of your deal breakers. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions: Will I be happy being with this person the rest of my life? Do I feel like a better person because they are a part of my life? Would I want this person to be the father/mother of my children? Do I like how this person treats others, including my friends and family? So many people wind up just going through the motions because they are so desperate to be in a relationship even though, deep down, they question if they are with the right person. They may feel stuck but somehow have convinced themselves that it’s more comfortable to stay stuck than do something about it. Don’t waste your time or the time of the person you are with if they are not your most perfect partner.
Ensure you and your partner have a similar vision for your life together.
For some reason, people don’t like to ask the big questions in the early days of a new relationship. They don’t want to rock the boat. They prefer to assume the outcome will turn out like the picture they have in their minds. That’s a recipe for disaster. Don’t assume anything. In fact, clarify those points you think you already do know by asking the question again in a new way. Discuss issues like where you want to live, how many kids, if any, you would you like to have, and how would you like to raise your kids when you have them? Also tackle the big question of whether or not you will both continue to work after you start a family? What are your beliefs surrounding finances? How do you plan to save for the future? Do you both want to incorporate a sense of adventure in your lives or do you prefer to play it safe and stay in the box?
Ensure empathy is understood and valued by both partners.
If you have connected with a person who has a difficult time showing empathy be cautious. Empathy is the ability to see a situation from someone else’s point-of-view, understanding their feelings and being able to convey this understanding back to them. It is a crucial skill for being your best in a relationship. Empathy is a difficult thing to learn but not impossible. If there is little sign of insight into your partner’s lack of empathy, this could be a serious problem that could ultimately damage the relationship.
Choose to continue raising the bar on being your best in the relationship and challenge your partner to do the same.
Some of your biggest leaps in your personal growth will happen when you are in a relationship. Places where you could be stuck come up and need to be addressed head on in order to continue moving forward in your relationship. If you can rise above your ego’s initial reaction to challenging situations and shift your perspective to see personal disagreements as both an opportunity to overcome an obstacle together and to grow closer together your relationship will soar. When you or your partner gets triggered by something, pause, step outside of the desire to react without seeing the situation from their perspective and instead use this time to learn about your partner, their needs, fears and find a way for both of you to more clearly understand one another. The more quickly you can address the obstacle and overcome it the more likely you will not have to address a similar issue down the road and in turn your love and mutual respect will grow stronger. During the times when there is smooth sailing, don’t be afraid to ask each other the following questions: “Is there anything I could do to be a better partner?” “In what ways could we improve our relationship?” “Is there anything we could do in the next few months to strengthen our love for one another?”
It is your life and I hope you choose to give your relationships the forethought, care and attention they deserve for you to be your best in partnership. By taking the time to follow the previous steps, you will be giving your relationship the best chance it has for success!