It’s hard to know what a good relationship is like until you’re in a good relationship. And I see my single friends get entrenched in ideas about what they want in a future partner. But as I get older, as I experience my own marriage and witness others’ successful and unsuccessful relationships, I think more and more that people need to chill out on their specific requirements. Because I think there are only 3 really key ingredients to making any relationship work.
1. You treat each other with Love, Kindness, and Respect.
My mom always told me to treat others with Love, Kindness, and Respect. And that’s what I expect from others too. And if you’re not getting “LKR” from the most central person in your life, you’ll struggle to find happiness in your relationship. Let’s walk through each of these:
Love is showing empathy and support for your partner. It’s aiming for intimacy and understanding. And it’s wanting to show your partner that you love them. Not everyone says the 3 words “I love you.” — My husband struggled to say that for years. But he expressed his Love for me by turning away from his computer and talking to me, going on walks with me, taking me out to intimate dinners. Saying “I love you” felt empty and meaningless to him (He says it now sometimes just because he knows I like it.) I learned a lot about the different ways people communicate Love from The 5 Love Languages — I encourage you to figure out your Love Language and your partner’s Love Language. Because they might be saying “I love you” when they clean the dishes, and you might be saying it when you buy them a present. How sad to think of all the couples that are expressing Love towards each other, but both are misunderstood!
Laura asked me the difference between Love and Kindness. Love is reserved for your family and close friends, while Kindness is the friendliness and generosity you’d use with strangers. It’s interesting how easily we lose Kindness in our closest relationships. Think of a time that you spoke harshly to your parent or your sibling or your partner. You would probably never speak like that to a stranger! Or maybe you’d jump in quickly to help someone pick up dropped papers or to help an old lady carry her groceries to her car. But you get frustrated when your partner drops and breaks a glass, or you don’t get off the couch when they’re unloading the dishwasher. We could all use a little more kindness. Show your partner Kindness everyday, and talk to them about showing you Kindness right back!
Respect is recognizing and accepting your partner’s differences and boundaries. And not talking down on them or dismissing them. My husband needs a little more time to process things. So even when we’re having a disagreement, I’ll say my point and then I force myself to count to 10 in my head while he thinks. Now in the beginning, of course I didn’t do this. But once I understood that difference between us, I chose to respect it. I’m 100% positive that your partner is not exactly the same person as you. And that’s okay; actually I think that’s great! Work to understand those differences, help your partner set boundaries with you, and ask your partner to respect your boundaries.
2. You are headed in the same direction in life.
Once I crested 25 years old, I saw more and more breakups happen over this issue. Because ultimately, choosing to spend your life with someone requires lining up on major issues. Do you want kids and she doesn’t? Do you want to live in a small New York City apartment and he wants to buy a big house in the Houston suburbs? When you’re young, it’s easier to push off all these big choices into a foggy future. But finding happiness in a relationship as a grown-up requires you to make those BIG decisions and find someone who wants to come along for the same ride.
On the flip side, don’t get caught up in wanting EVERYTHING exactly the same. So what if he likes to play video games and you’d rather go running? Or she likes country music and you live for metal concerts? Find friends that like to do those things with you. Your partner doesn’t have to be your Everything. If he treats you with LKR and wants the kids and likes the same neighborhood, does it really matter if he’s also your best friend / work out partner / therapist ? Work on your individual hobbies and friendships, and focus on the great parts of your relationship (These 3 ingredients!)
Laura adds, it’s important to check in throughout your relationship to make sure you’re still on the same page. What are our goals for next year? For the next 5 years? Next 10? Even if you were on the same page at the beginning, people change! It’s guaranteed that your partner will change throughout your life together. Don’t expect them to be the same person that you started dating, or the same person that you saw walk down the aisle. That’s unrealistic. As Matt Walsh wrote, “Divorcing someone because they change? You might as well divorce them because they breathe.” But communicating regularly and effectively increase the chances that you’ll evolve in the same direction. Never stop working on your relationship! Which leads me to my next ingredient….
3. You both put effort into making the relationship work.
You may have said “Check, Check” to the first 2 items, but this one is vital. A relationship is not a one-way street. You can be the most loving and helpful spouse, but if your spouse expects you to put forth all effort in the relationship… there’s trouble coming down the road.
What does “effort” entail? First, you want the relationship to work. You’re not looking for an exit at every turn. “Well, we had a fight, so I’m out of here.”
You try to understand your partner’s point of view. If you’re approaching a relationship with a “My Way or the Highway” attitude, you’re not putting effort into the relationship. That energy is going towards getting your way, not towards understanding your partner. Now, you may still disagree with your partner. But your disagreement won’t come out of miscommunication and misunderstanding.
If you have these 3 ingredients, you’re in a great relationship!
Relationships are work. But it feels easy if you approach it with love, communication and effort. If you have these 3 Ingredients, try to let go of your other expectations and let yourself enjoy your great (because it is GREAT!) relationship.
Do you have these 3 ingredients in your relationship? Have you seen relationships fail or succeed based on the lack or presence of these ingredients? Do you agree or disagree? Comment below!