What does it take to make a relationship last? Love? Respect? Passion? An ability to forgive? Kindness? Certainly these are key ingredients for a healthy relationship. But even when these qualities are present, some relationships still end. When I talk to women who are in happy relationships, most of them start out with how great their husband or boyfriend treats them. Almost universally, “He treats me well” is the first thing out of a woman’s mouth, especially in a new relationship. And that’s great. The person you’re in a relationship with should treat you well, and you should expect nothing less. But there needs to be more.
So often in love, women focus on how their partner makes them feel. When you think of the person you love, you probably focus on how he acts around you. Maybe he’s thoughtful and surprises you with flowers, or rubs your feet after you’ve had a long day. Maybe it’s something as simple as calling when he says he’s going to call, or taking the time to listen to you. But many women fail to focus on how their partner acts outside of their relationship. Who is he as a human being?
When I read Nathaniel Branden’s book, The Psychology of Romantic Love, I felt like I was hit by a lightning bolt. Branden suggests that admiration is the most powerful foundation for a relationship. If you admire your partner, not just for how he acts with you, but for how he operates in the world as a whole, it helps strengthen your love when it is inevitably prone to falter.
“To ask, “Do I admire my partner?” is to risk discovering that I may be bound to him or her more through dependency than admiration, more through immaturity or fear or “convenience” than genuine esteem,” writes Branden.
It’s an interesting concept, and one I must admit I never examined in my own relationships until I read Branden’s work. It’s fascinating how self-centered love can be sometimes. We focus more on how our partners treat us, how they make us feel, than on who they are as people on a whole. I once spoke with a woman who told me her boyfriend treated her better than any man before ever had, but outside of their relationship, I knew him to be rude and disrespectful. It’s no wonder their relationship had problems. If you don’t admire the core of who a person is, it’s hard to sustain a relationship.
If you’re currently in a relationship, I encourage you to make a list of everything you admire in your partner. If you’re currently single, write the same list for a partner you would like to be with. Remember, you are not writing down his actions. You are writing down his basic, fundamental, human qualities. So you wouldn’t write, “he always remembers to take the trash out,” or “he always pays the bills on time.” You would write, “he’s thoughtful, he’s hardworking.”
If you’re in a relationship, does your list come up short in any areas? Do you admire your partner for the person he is? Do you wish he was different? It’s important to remember that maintaining admiration for your partner does not mean you put him on pedestal. But it does mean that you like and respect who he is and how he carries himself through the world. When I reflect on long term relationships of my own that have ended, it wasn’t because the spark faded. It was that I no longer respected my partner. If you can’t respect the way a person lives their life, let alone admire them, it’s hard to keep any relationship going.
Mutual admiration is a hallmark of mature love. It is something not simply arrived on by chance, but actively cultivated. It’s important to focus on what we admire in the people we love on a daily basis. If we neglect what matters most, we may lose sight of the foundation of our love. I’ve often found that what I most admire in my partner is what I most lack. While I have a tendency to worry and overthink situations, I admire my partner’s ability to take life as it comes and approach problems with acceptance and an easygoing nature. His strengths counteract my weaknesses, and vice versa.
The best partner will complement you and bring out your very best. When you are with him, you will begin to see untapped possibilities within yourself and in the world. In any relationship, you will face inevitable hard times and your love will be tested. Reflect on any relationship of your own that has ended, and you will know the following to be true: where admiration is found, love will be sustained. But where it is absent, love will die. For each and every one of you, I wish for love to be sustained in your lives, and for admiration to flourish.