Relationships—especially loving ones—are meant to go forward in achieving shared goals, enhancing mutual values, establishing parameters, and discovering new paths to increased intimacy. A relationship can stand still and meet minimum stands for comfort and convenience. Or both partners may give one another plenty of space to pursue their separate objectives. These are viable choices that are not uncommon.
But most of us would probably agree that the ideal is for each partner to have at least some of their emotional needs met within the relationship. For this, we need to get beyond the small talk. A relationship by definition is a connection and exchange between two people. This means confronting the tough issues, so a healthy relationship can grow.
Psychotherapist Thomas B. Haller, co-author of Couple Talk, emphasizes the link between the words you choose and the way you say them to the wellbeing of your relationship. He lists five principles that you and your partner must agree upon to facilitate effective communication:
- Commitment. Agree to stay committed to problem-solving.
- Respect. Use language that indicates the highest regard for your partner.
- Listening. Seek to understand what your partner is feeling and thinking.
- Ownership. Agree to be responsible for your own actions and words.
- Conversation. Communicate your needs clearly and concisely.
Ideally, couples need to make time to talk without distractions on a regular basis, and nip problems in the bud by discussing potential difficulties at an early stage. Any relationship can improve if each partner pays more attention to the other, and reviews his or her own actions, before finding fault with the other. Further, each needs to be non-judgmental in listening to the other, and show a genuine interest in what the other is experiencing. Then both will be working as a team in making the best of the relationship.
There are no winners or losers in a fair argument: the objective is always win-win. Listen carefully to what your friend, loved one, or partner is trying to say and never dismiss his or her thoughts. Keep the discussion positive and don’t let it get heated; if it does, take a time out. Be honest and direct about your own feelings, but express them in a caring manner and use body language that matches your words. In other words, walk you talk.
While these ideas seem reasonable, common sense is not always easy to apply when dealing with the human heart, which is unfathomable. Long- term relationships, and in particular romantic ones based on intimacy, need to be nurtured to survive, because they involve two human beings. Relationships are as fragile as the feelings invested. French singer and actress Vanessa Paradis said, “Love is the strongest and most fragile thing we have in life.” Trust doesn’t always come easily, nor do I think it should. For me, at least, love is a learning process—one of give and take.
That said, loving relationships should be fun and, in fact, they are. Maybe the suggestions herein sound like a lot of work. I can guarantee that living by these principles is a lot less work than trying to maintain control over another by insisting you’re always right. At the same time, it’s humiliating to remain in someone else’s control. For the most part, control is just an illusion, accomplished with bullying and deception. The resulting imbalance is damaging: in fact it ultimately destroys most relationships.
Any relationship is more dynamic when it’s based on mutual respect for the real feelings of both individuals. Manipulation is ineffective compared to the honesty and openness required to achieve a caring union of equals.