There have been hundreds and hundreds and hundreds (and another few thousand) of articles about building and maintaining strong relationships. Typically the same rhetoric is involved (trust, communication, social circles, etc.) and the article praises the merits of maintaining these key traits in order to survive the apocalyptic world of separation/break-ups/divorce. While there are some pieces in each of these articles that are based on solid advice, the portion that each article typically lacks is the most important part: the how/why.
Before delving into the topic any further, one other piece must be understood: what makes a relationship good? Simply stated, a good relationship is one where the couple has a strong sense of each of them as individuals, as well as a strong sense of the two of them as one unit. Further, a good relationship is also one wherein the couple shares a feeling of connectedness, of safety and security, and a desire to make the other happy while maintaining the distinct understanding that each person is responsible for their own feelings (an observation that often goes ignored, with significant others blaming themselves for the way their partner feels).
To summarize further, a good relationship is one where two people feel connected to each other, feel safe and secure with each other, and share a desire to make each other happy.
This leads to the question of "how do we form such a relationship?" There are three basic pieces that every successful/strong relationship must possess, otherwise it will not last: trust, commitment, and vulnerability. For the sake of clarity, each of these is defined briefly here:
- Trust - the feeling and knowledge of relying on another, and knowing that person is honest, caring, and supportive of us.
- Commitment - the simple understanding that no matter what happens, we are in this together.
- Vulnerability - the openness and sharing of the genuine, emotional self.
Building trust, especially when a person's past is full of situations or scenarios where trust has been broken, is perhaps one of the most difficult things to accomplish. Try not to target the big topics exclusively and remember that often the small things accomplish more than they get credit for. For instance, the simple act of calling or texting a significant other when running late, regardless of the reason, lets that person know that you understand their desire to make certain you are safe and that you want to alleviate fear. Taking a moment to send a message during the day letting your significant other know you are thinking of them is too often overlooked as a method of reassurance.
Maintaining boundaries that the two of you agree upon is also vital, such as being alone with a person that your significant other might view as an uncomfortable arrangement or scenario. This one can be tricky depending upon the dynamics of the relationship and the societal norms you and your partner hold, but the idea remains consistent: if it causes unease or uncertainty between you and your significant other, it is not worth placing yourself in the situation. The clichéd examples of being alone with a member of the opposite sex by heterosexual men and women fall into this category. If it is a long-standing friendship in question, talk about it with your significant other and make certain they are comfortable with the relationship before it becomes a source of uncertainty or unease. Understanding commitment, and having that knowledge and security that comes with true commitment, goes a long way toward generating and maintaining trust.
All too often commitment is forgotten as a necessary and vital part of forming, maintaining, and enjoying a strong relationship. Marriage is supposed to be our ultimate expression of commitment to another, and yet in today's society it is often ignored or tossed around as a buzz word instead of being an honest and heartfelt decision. To make a commitment, and thereby to be committed to another, means that two people have decided that they will proceed through life from a specific point in time until one or the other is no longer present. In short, "we are in this together, no matter what happens."
To commit to another is not a decision or action to be made lightly, and it is something that should only be broken under the most dire of circumstances (such as an abusive relationship, or a relationship wherein one's life is threatened). Knowing that one has placed their full trust in another, and has chosen to stand with their significant other no matter what happens throughout life, is absolutely necessary for a person to lower their defenses and become vulnerable.
Vulnerability, like trust, is difficult for many people to willingly pursue (especially if their trust in another was broken at some point in their past), and yet it is perhaps the one aspect of interpersonal relationships that absolutely must be present for a relationship to thrive. This is also the one area that tends to be most difficult for logical thinkers (and from a gender stereotype perspective, males) to understand and accomplish.
Being vulnerable means you are willing to tell your significant other how you feel, without placing blame or deflecting your feelings onto something else. For example, being willing to say "I feel hurt" instead of "You hurt me." In essence, you provide a window for that person to see into your heart and mind in a way that allows the two of you to talk about both of your feelings, and how to go about the pursuit of positive feelings instead of negative ones.
While none of these are exhaustive analyses, they should provide a starting point for being able to build a healthy, strong relationship. To read more about this topic, the following two articles are another good place to begin (and are the articles that prompted this exploration into what is necessary to form a strong, enriching relationship).
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