What matters most in a successful marriage and long-term relationship?
1. Meet Each Other’s Emotional Needs
A good fit is the most important and easiest first step. Do the days go by quickly, is conversation easy,do you agree about life, do they have your back, are you loving, do you two sleep comfortably together, do you feel they functional? If you get a “Yes” on all of these you are lucky. Love and appreciate your partner. Let’s look deeper to why these things work.
To feel happy with your partner depends on how they meet your emotional needs. Understand your emotional needs first. Generally our emotional needs are:
- Connection. Feeling appreciated, understood, common values and good intimacy.
- Security. Feeling safe, trust, commitment, focus and reliability.
- Status. Feeling socially superior, important, fun and intellectually challenged.
Understanding emotional needs is important to see how others interact with you. Ask “why” in response to your and your partner’s actions and responses. Why is my partner rejecting me? It may be because you are not meeting their need for connection and appreciation or their need for status or for security and trust. It is impossible to respond if you do not know what is motivating someone. To understand your needs, ask “Why?” about your motivations, “Why did I react this way?” The first couple answers are usually not the right ones, keep going deeper until the answer feels honest. Emotional needs are revealed over time.
The priority of our emotional needs shifts as we get older. It is not uncommon to have two out of three as dual priorities. In our 20s we may seek status and connection. More so connection in our 30s and security and commitment in our 40s and 50s. Look for someone who fulfills your emotional needs where you are at. Whether you are looking for a life partner vs. someone just to hangout with and date shifts your emotional priorities too.
More of one need may cancel out another. Some may want commitment and security and feel less of a need for connection, etc. Find the right “balance” between the three. Trust your gut instincts first.
Find out what really matters to you and your partner. What you can live without: marriage, family, spirituality, recreation, diet, the biggies. Know your needs before you get serious. It can take a few years to find what matters to you. Ask yourself “either, or” questions. “If I did not have this but I really had this would I be happy?” This is a good way to drop somethings that may be confusing you about your core needs.
A good fit is important. When you have a disagreement and begin to question the relationship, go back and look at how you fit with your partner. If they are still there, be grateful and give your beloved a second chance.
Look for “life patterns”©. For example, people who have been married forever have a different pattern than those who have never been married or had children. The focus of the decision making is different. Solid married couples strive to make each other happy, that is a given for them. Independent people prioritize their personal needs. Its all good, find out where you fit.
Rise in love, literally. If they are you true love they will catch you by loving you too. Somehow your partner has to sneak past all of your defenses and worries to merge with your heart. The way to do that is to not think, that is why they invented falling in love.
Add an intention to grow as individuals to your romantic relationship. Relationships formed to satisfy our personal needs eventually fail us. When two people come together with the intention of growth, they enter a journey of evolution to expand more than they could alone.
Intention is focus and commitment. We need to have the same commitment to our beloveds as we do for our children. If we do, together we will ride over many of the challenges life brings us. Commitment does not run dry when a string of unmet needs arrises.
It also means owning your stuff. We all make mistakes. If you cannot own anxiety you cause your partner or angst you have because you have not lovingly asked to have your needs met, then you may not be ready for a serious relationship.
Love means admitting your mistakes, asking forgiveness and correcting them quickly. Commitment also means not dropping your partner because they made a mistake, they will cut you some slack next time you make one too.
My neighbors have been sweethearts since elementary school. When I asked K what the secret to their successful marriage is, she replied without hesitation,
You have to want to be mated.
This is a biggie. If you choose someone who is wishy washy about life partnership but you aren’t, maybe move on. It comes down to priorities. We have many priorities in life, but being in love, having a family is a mindful intention that affects the rest.
3. Compassionate Communication
If you are in a relationship that fits, then prioritize communication for the long-term. Good communication is a two way street.
Love, engagement and 60 seconds can save a marriage and prevent a divorce. What I once would have given to hear these, “I love you, our relationship is the most important thing in my life, I feel this does not fit in the budget right now and could you get the kid’s breakfast so I can journal in the morning, that would be great honey!”
For some, these might be hard things to say. The moral is, bring up needs early with love while they are small. If you get resistance, do some loving digging. You inquire, “Why can’t we sell this expensive house and downsize?” They lovingly reply, “I hear you, I checked with the realtor, we have so much debt and prices are low, we would not have enough money left after we sell to buy another house, we should wait. But I agree with you to sell it asap, I love you, should we rent a room?”
When couples set on a course, the hard part may be changing it once you have set sail. But, that is how you avoid the storms, so please change course.
Another tip, if you are just cruising along and have not had a relationship discussion for a while, maybe it is time to have one. Plan a quiet time, make it romantic and have a check in over tea, pillows and candles. If there are no unmet needs, make it a love-fest.
Don’t spring something important on your partner. Instead, make a request to talk about it. For example, “I love you, may we find a time to talk about the kid’s grades this week, when can we sit down and brainstorm.” The communication is subtle and important. Avoid just dropping the bomb, “I need to talk to you about something, the kids grades, let’s talk now.” Let your partner know what your need is and give them time to process.
This brings up another point, do not mention a need without also having creative solutions. Don’t just unload a problem, make it easy for you two to find a solution.
You may also have an issue for them to just witness and not offer solutions. If so, state it, “I wanted to mention I am having a challenge with this and I just want your support and no input at this time, hugs I love you.”
Here is the kicker, when you combine good communication with intention to selflessly love the other, you communicate much better in conflict. This is where most relationships make or break it. If you both own your part, know you both love each other, plus let go of the small stuff, you can make it through disagreements being more in love than when you started. State your truth, know you partner loves you, strive to make the other happy, then go make love and appreciate how lucky you are.
Healthy communication also requires practice, I use Nonviolent Communication (NVC) techniques as my model. When you can express your needs, sleep on it and come back the next day still more in love with your partner that they let you express yourself, you have succeeded.
4. Do Not Let Conflict go Unresolved
The important thing is to bring up your needs early. If an issue is gnawing at you for months, you are in trouble. Even if your partner did something dead wrong, you must bring it up if it matters to you asap. Sometimes you just may need to clarify. “I love you. Did you mean this, if so, it makes me feel this way. Can we talk for a bit about it?”
Otherwise you are as much to blame for weakening of the relationship as your partner is for making the mistake. Moral of the story, little things become big if they are allowed to go on for too long. If you made the mistake and your partner brings it up, own it, apologize and resolve it quickly. Avoid going negative, stay positive to keep the energy flowing.
5. Love is Important and Coats All
As Don Juan said, “Find a path with heart.” Being loved alone is worth living for, as is having someone to love. Too often we get lost in the dialog of our personal drama. It is a mistake to dwell there too long and lose someone that you love and who truly loves you.
Life is short and the list of those who love us unconditionally is even shorter. Pay attention to those who love you even if you are uncertain, they are your angels sent from heaven above.
If you get out of synch and are starting to question your relationship, remember why you got together with your mate in the first place. Maybe make some weekly space to check in or tantric communication, meet each others needs. If you really need to reconnect, go somewhere fun for a weekend and talk about some of the fine time you had together and fun plans for the future.
6. Support and Taking Turns in Life
“Now it’s your turn honey to get your degree, I’ll work and I’ve got the kids.” How sweet is that? Throughout life there are challenges and it sure helps to have some one to share the load. Be as generous to offer to step in as you expect from your mate. Lead by example. The love you take is equal to the love you make.
7. Thick Skin
This goes both ways. We need a thick skin to hear honest truths without throwing in the towel. But we have to offer our input lovingly as well. There is a balance. Instead of, “The food could use some improvement.” How about, “Let’s take some cooking classes together!”
We all want a relationship that avoids arguments. For the sake of the relationship, have a loving discussion instead of an argument. When you know your partner is committed to you and loves the sh*t out of you, it can make the hardest conversation easy. When you have all of the above together, you are in the place of “loving security”© where anything is possible. Avoidance as a coping strategy can lead to trouble.
8. Maintain Trust
Trust can override everything. Once it is broken it might be put back together with care. But if it is broken again, it may be lost forever.
The corollary is, if you know your partner loves you, has shown they honestly care, are a solid friend, you might ask yourself, “What was their motivation and underlining emotional need?” vs. “Where is my boundary set?”.
After meditating on these things, you may find they did not have bad intentions and are a solid friend. Or your boundary might have been set a little too tight based on your emotional need or past experiences. If this is the case, circle back and talk about each other’s needs going forward. You maybe be able to work it out with a better understanding of each other’s needs and a more solid relationship.
This should actually be number one, but I wanted you to read the rest first. Your love is your best friend. You enjoy their company and switching off between what they like to do and and what you do. Every couple naturally has some difficulty. Conflict is easier to resolve because you are genuinely happy with each other and have mutual respect. Your partner truly has to be your friend to cooperate and work things out over the long hall. As your partner’s friend, you are gentle, adaptable, make allowances and understand. Friendship makes life together more fun.
Tips From Friends
One of my best friends and in a happy long-term partnership J offers these three words of wisdom:
Tell them you love them more than life, that they are the most beautiful woman/man you have seen, never argue.
I really respect what J has to say, he is a good friend. I think that is a nice summary. It shows your heart is fully invested, you greatly appreciate you partner and you will always strive to use non-violent loving communication.
A couple quotes I admire form my NVC coach S:
The more anger towards the past you carry in your heart, the less capable you are of loving in the present.
Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.
Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.
From lastly my friend L.
Just follow your heart.
I wish you all the joys and happiness that you and your loving life partner can bring each other.