What goes into making a relationship successful? Relationships are a lot of work and that will never change. It is about wanting to have a close, loving, emotionally safe relationship with someone we are attracted to, value, respect and with whom we want to share our life. It is a garden that must always be nourished or it will grow WEEDS. (Although this discussion focuses on Couples, with modification it can be applied to all relationships.)
Relationship skills are most often not taught in school. So how do we know how to be in a relationship? Our knowledge of relationships begins in early childhood: How we saw our parents interact with one another. How we saw them interact with us as children, and with our siblings. We watched them be affectionate or not. We watched how they argued and resolved conflicts or stuffed them inside to never be spoken. We watched how they dealt with emotions; both positive and negative. We saw how they managed their expectations about how the world works, whether life is basically good or fraught with challenges and disappointments.
Our parents or guardians learned all of these things through their own experiences in their childhood, and their grandparents’ childhood and theirs before them. It is a generational inheritance on the emotional and psychological levels. It is not our parents’ fault if we experienced unhealthy ways of being in a relationship. They related to one another the only way they knew how.
So how do we grow our relationship garden into a healthy, nourished, and fulfilling bond? In working with couples for many years I have identified various indicators that were often struggles for them to achieve. Knowing these indicators does not mean it is easy to practice them. We not only have often learned negative and unhealthy ways of coping, but we have learned to feel emotionally protected and insulated from hurtful experiences. While this insulation may feel better to us, it also competes with our desire for emotional intimacy, closeness, and having our own person in this world: someone who values, respects and helps protect us from the hurts.
I have turned these indicators into a Relationship Checklist that identifies various concepts and processes that are common to couples who have developed close, emotionally fulfilling romantic relationships. The checklist has also helped couples identify what prevents that emotional closeness and safety from developing.
Next blog: The Relationship Checklist – Part 1