What are the components of a successful relationship? What do couples who have been married for over 50 years have to say about what kept them close? The simplicity of their answers may surprise you. They compromised, were able to put their needs aside, admitted mistakes, accepted their partner’s more challenging sides, and communicated vulnerably.
Being able to put your own needs aside for your partner does not imply that you are codependent. It means that you are flexible. When you know how to take care of yourself, then you can distinguish what a healthy dose of giving is for you. That is often an intuitive call. You simultaneously feel taken-care-of and you are able to bend - be flexible to the needs of your partner. Even when - especially when it requires you compromise or give up on something you want. That doesn’t mean you do it all the time or martyr yourself to someone else. It simply means being willing to adjust to your partner. Being resilient and flexible as well as clear about your own needs.
Being humble means being wiling to admit mistakes. It means pushing past your drive to defend yourself. It means recognizing when you’re angry because really you feel ashamed after you’ve screwed up or hurt your partner (even when it wasn’t intentional). It means taking a couple of deep breaths, taking the time to really consider what upset your partner, what actions you took and why that hurt. Being willing to come back, admit your mistake, and apologize with sincerity are all key to repair. There are often small ways we hurt one-another, or even bigger ones. Nobody is perfect and no relationship goes without injuries. But to be able to repair them is critical. Repair allows for reconnection and enables you and your partner to process hurts that might have driven you apart or led to unnecessary resentment.
Lastly Acceptance and vulnerability. Accept your partner the way they are. They are not a project to be changed or worked-on. We all evolve over time and hopefully, with self-reflection, into more compassionate, mature people. But we should never expect our partner to change their basic personality or temperament. You can of course ask your partner to change behaviors that are hurtful to you or disconnecting to the relationship.
If you do ask for a behavior change, it’s most effective to say it from a place of vulnerability, not blame or finger-pointing. Let your partner know what hurt and why, and give your partner’s motives the benefit of the doubt (this can be hard to do but very helpful). They may not have intended to hurt you or behave the way it seemed to you. Simply express your hurt and sadness in an open way, and your partner will more likely be drawn to you and want to be close to you. Your vulnerability creates compassion and natural empathy in your partner. We are drawn to each-other’s openness and sharing when we don’t blame. True vulnerability creates bonding, closeness, and safety.
Sure, there are many more components to lasting love, but these are the most basic, the ones highlighted by long-term partners. They are also qualities that can be developed. I see them in couples that I work with - and oftentimes it took a lot of hard work to get there. But it’s worth it because increased connection is like a magical elixir that increases contentment and joy not only in our relationship but in our everyday lives.
Katharina Sandizell, LMFT