Marriage Counseling Insights brought to you by California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.
A lot of good things happen during the infatuation stage of a relationship. When you spend time with someone you’ve fallen in love with, your brain rewards you by releasing high levels of dopamine and a related hormone, norepinephrine. They give you a sense of euphoria, and you may notice yourself feeling a bit giddy and full of energy. You might even be so infatuated you can hardly eat or sleep.
Slowly, though, in a mature relationship, a bit of reality intrudes. Whether it’s a minor disagreement about where to eat or who pays for what, a bit of friction is bound to enter every relationship. To get past the minor disagreements — and sometimes major ones — both partners can benefit from understanding what the common denominators are in successful relationships — ones in which both partners claim to be happy over an extended period of time.
Writing for Psychology Today, Randi Gunther, Ph.D., says “In working with couples for more than four decades, I have been able to observe how committed partnerships are influenced by society’s changing definitions of what a quality relationship is. But despite those changing mores and values, I have also witnessed that some characteristics of successful relationships have remained constant independent of those influences.”
Upon reflection, you may recognize some of these characteristics in your relationship. If you spot a couple that don’t hit home, consider how being aware of them might improve things. Gunther’s list includes the following.
“The fair negotiation of resources.” What are “resources?” They include everything from time to affection. Working long hours may be wonderful for your career, but it may take a toll on a relationship. Couples who communicate their priorities and expectations have a greater chance of success when a resource is in short supply for whatever reason.
“Staying current.” Like people, relationships grow and evolve. What you need from your partner one day or one year may (and likely will) change. Communicating changing needs leads to a more satisfying relationship.
“Unselfish love.” Satisfying your own personal needs while encouraging your partner to grow is a truly difficult balancing act — but one worth the effort. “Those of you who have supported your partner at your own expense,” says Gunther, “know how scary it is to risk your own security to give your partner the opportunity to follow what he or she sees as offering more possibilities and altered dreams. Despite your insecurity, you know that it is the right thing to do no matter what the cost.”
“Congruent, authentic and open communication.” Congruent communication means that all aspects — body language, facial expression — are delivering the same message. That means you have to mean what you say — there’s no hiding inauthentic messages.
“The true meaning of trust.” Perhaps the most crucial element in a relationship, trust means that your partner is 100 percent sure of how you will act when you’re not around.
“Triggers from past relationships.” These include everything from your childhood to past romantic relationships. It’s critical to respond to your partner and not to what someone has done in the past — not an easy thing to do.
“Consistent expressions of what is working.” It’s easy to become complacent when things are going well. In successful relationships, both partners verbally express their love.
“Egoless leadership.” Everyone has their own unique talents. Leading when the occasion calls for your talents and following when it calls for your partner’s contributes to a fulfilling relationship.
“Inquiry before judgment.” Listening before talking is tough but important. It helps eliminate assumptions and clarify motives.