By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW
I have often heard it said that the best partner will compliment you and bring out your finer qualities. When you are with him or her, you will begin to see untapped possibilities within yourself and in the world. However, in any relationship, you will face difficulties and your love will be tested.
That said, if your expectations are for an effortless relationship, you might be at risk for throwing in the towel at the earliest sign of any discord. Think of how many good relationships have been discarded before they matured, dismissing a life partner while searching for a soul mate.
The idea of a soul mate is romantic but also damaging because healthy relationships are developed and don’t just appear. Author Lisa Arends explains: “A fulfilling relationship occurs when both partners are open and vulnerable, creating an environment of mutual understanding, and intimacy. It takes time – often lots of time – and effort to reach this point.”
In Hold me Tight, Dr. Sue Johnson, explains that we all have raw spots (in our emotional skin) that are tender to the touch and deeply painful. Sue Johnson explains: “A responsive partner helps us work through our painful feelings.” It is natural to feel exposed as we allow ourselves to fall in love and it takes determination to work through each partner’s vulnerabilities and wounds.
Jena and Trevor, in their mid-thirties, have navigated many challenges together such as Jena’s trust issues and emotional baggage leftover from her ex-husband’s infidelity.
Jena put it like this: “I didn’t realize how fearful I was until I was with Trevor. Because he was worth me working on myself and being aware of my mistrustful feelings. Thankfully he has been very patient, the only patient person I have dealt with. And he’s helped me to be more trusting.”
Jena and Trevor’s successful ten-year marriage illustrates how a supportive partner can help you deal with the unpredictable, ever changing aspects of life as your vulnerabilities are exposed and you face challenges or disagree.
What is the secret of finding a healthy relationship? In his book The Relationship Cure, distinguished observer of marital relations, Dr. John Gottman writes: “It’s not that these couples don’t get mad or disagree. It’s that when they disagree, they’re able to stay connected and engaged with each other. Rather than becoming defensive and hurtful, they pepper their disputes with flashes of affection, intense interest, and mutual respect.”
After all, there is no such thing as a perfect partner. Nonetheless, you might want to ask yourself this question: Is there something about the way that he or she treats me that makes me a bigger and better person? If the answer is no, ask yourself: Am I settling for less than I deserve in my relationship?
Mira Kirshenbaum’s book “Is He Mr. Right?” offers a valuable model for looking at compatibility. One of the central premises of her groundbreaking book is that chemistry is the best way to figure out if someone is right for you. Surprisingly, she’s not just talking about sexual chemistry but also the feeling that you enjoy being around your partner and have fun together.
5 Dimensions of Chemistry according to Mira Kirshenbaum:
- You feel comfortable with each other and it’s easy to get close. In other words, you feel that you can be yourself.
- You feel safe in the relationship. This means that your partner doesn’t have significant mental health issues, can take care of him/herself, and you feel free to express your thoughts, feelings, and desires openly. You are comfortable being vulnerable and honest with your partner.
- It’s fun to be together. Kirshenbaum writes, “Couples who do have this dimension of chemistry going for them have a shortcut to intimacy and a buffer against the stressful times we all face.”
- You have real affection and passion for each other. This is where sexual chemistry comes in and it should go hand and hand with affection.
- You feel there’s real mutual respect. You accept, admire, and respect each other for who you are. According to Kirshenbaum, if you don’t have respect for your partner, it will eat away at chemistry until you have nothing left.
Are you wondering if you are wasting your time in a relationship that is wrong for you? Here are seven signs that can help you decide if your relationship is worth pursuing.
7 signs your relationship is healthy:
- You admire your partner for who he or she is as a person. You like and respect who they are and how they carry themselves through the world. If you can’t respect the way a person lives their life, let alone admire them, it’s hard to keep any relationship going.
- Your partner is trustworthy. He or she calls when they say they will and follows through on promises. It’s impossible to build trust in someone who does not keep their agreements.
- Your partner makes time for you on a regular basis. He/she makes you a priority because they value your relationship. Even when he/she is swamped, they stay in touch. This includes regular communication to show they’re thinking of you.
- Your partner accepts you for who you are, doesn’t try to change you, and accepts responsibility for their actions. Life is messy at times. While it’s natural to assign blame when things go wrong, in a healthy relationship partners take responsibility for things they do to hurt each other, apologize, and make amends.
- Your partner is your cheerleader and listens to you. He or she listens more than they speak. Your partner asks you questions about your hobbies, friends, and family. He/she doesn’t make you feel badly for being in a bad mood or having a tough day.
- Your partner is affectionate. They’re comfortable holding hands and showing other signs of physical affection in private and in public.
- Your partner talks about your future together so you can create a shared vision of your relationship. Don’t waste your time on someone who doesn’t include you in his or her future plans. Author Howard J. Markman Ph.D. writes: “Couples can choose to protect their relationship by setting aside time to enjoy each other, renewing their sense of closeness and togetherness.”
Foster Admiration and Friendship with Your Partner
There is recent evidence that happy, lasting relationships rely on a lot more than a marriage certificate and that the secret ingredient is friendship. Look for qualities you admire in your partner and remind yourself of these admirable qualities regularly.
When it comes to matters of the heart, where admiration and respect are found, love will be sustained. But where these things are absent, love will die. Finding a partner who likes and respects you as much as you do him or her will give you the best chance of finding lasting love.
Follow Terry on Facebook, Twitter, and movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parent’s Breakup and Enjoy a Happy Relationship was published by Sourcebooks.
This blog appeared previously on HuffingtonPost.com