How do you have a successful relationship? Why are some relationships happy while others fizzle and fail? Are there particular reasons why certain relationships are stronger than others? Yes, there are!
Last week I wrote an article revealing that I’m 36, still single, and for a very long time haven’t had much of a clue when it comes to relationships.
I came across “attachment theory” which helped me understand that I’m an “avoidant type”, which is someone who seeks to maintain their independence and has trouble getting close to people.
Just a few weeks ago Mark Manson, one of my favorite authors in the self-development space, published an article explaining the same exact reasons why relationships are successful.
This article helped me to finally understand why I’ve been single for so long. I can relate with Manson because he’s refreshingly honest and shares my frustration with many concepts shared by the new age spiritual movement.
Seeing as the domain of relationships is one area in my life where I consider myself far from successful, I wanted to find out more.
How do you have a successful, happy relationship?
To find out the key factors of a successful relationship, Manson asked his email subscribers to respond if they had been in a happy relationship for 10+ years. Almost 1,500 people responded.
Manson found that everyone’s answers were extremely repetitive, in a good way. These “were all smart and well-spoken people from all walks of life, from all around the world, all with their own histories, tragedies, mistakes and triumphs.” Yet they all said pretty much the same things.
Which means that these 10 reasons must be incredibly important, and actually work in creating a long-lasting and happy relationship.
Here they are.
1. Be together for the right reasons
Before revealing what the right reasons were for staying in a relationship, Manson’s readers shared some of the wrong reasons:
- Pressure from friends and family
- Feeling like a “loser” because they were single and settling for the first person that came along
- Being together for image – because the relationship looked good on paper (or in photos), not because the two people actually admired each other
- Being young and naïve and hopeless in love, thinking that love would solve everything
For a relationship to work, both people need to have a genuine, deep-level admiration for each other.
A healthy relationship involves two people who already love and value themselves. You must love yourself before you can love someone else. A relationship cannot be a way to fill a void in your life.
2. Have realistic expectations
According to Manson, in ancient times people considered love to be a sickness. Parents warned their children against falling in love and doing something silly in the name of their emotions.
The reason is that love make us feel incredible inside, but also makes us highly irrational.
Think of that high school friend who left school, sold his car and spent the money to elope on the beaches of California. Or your work colleague who quit her job on a whim and moved to a different country because she met a traveling backpacker.
In many of these cases, unbridled love tricks us into doing irrational things based on our desire to procreate with someone. That’s what nature does. It gets us to make short term decisions to the detriment of long term planning.
True love, according to Manson’s research, is a choice.
“It’s a constant commitment to a person regardless of the present circumstances. It’s a commitment to a person who you understand isn’t going to always make you happy – nor should they! – and a person who will need to rely on you at times, just as you will rely on them.”
When two people in a relationship are willing to stick it out for each other through thick and thin, then you know that the relationship has a good chance at being successful.
This form of love is much harder, but ultimately more satisfying.
Each partner must be reliable enough to be able to support the other when they feel down, and to cheer them on when they need the encouragement.
Relationships can be a lot of work.
3. The most important factor in a relationship is not communication, but respect
This flies in the face of a previous article we published where we suggested that the most important factor in a long lasting relationship is communication.
Communication is important, but Manson noticed from his research that people with marriages lasting for 20, 30 or even 40 years cited respect as the most important factor.
Communication will always break down at some point. Conflicts are unavoidable, and the only thing that will keep you going is a deep sense of respect for each other.
You need to have the kind of respect where you hold each other in such high esteem and believe in each other – often more than you believe in yourselves – trusting that your partner is doing the best with the circumstances they are dealt in life.
Respect is synonymous with trust, and they are both the lifeblood of any successful relationship. All healthy relationships contain mutual respect. When two people respect one another, they support and trust one another, while appreciating each other’s need for space and independence.
4. Talk openly about everything, especially the stuff that hurts
This is where communication remains so important.
Manson receives hundreds of emails each week from readers asking for relationship advice. They explain what they’re struggling with in their relationship.
Manson responds the same way each time: “Take this email you just sent to me, print it out, and show it to your partner. Then come back and ask again.”
If something is bothering you in a relationship, you need to be able to communicate it directly to your partner. You also need to be able to feel that you are comfortable to talk to your partner if there is something bothering you. This is how you build trust and intimacy.
5. A healthy and happy relationship requires two healthy and happy individuals
As mentioned before, a healthy relationship involves two people who love and value themselves. It is crucial that there be mutual respect as well.
The key point here is that each person in a relationship needs to have their own identity, their own interests and perspectives.
Attempting to control your partner (or submitting to your partner) in order to make them or you happy will end up backfiring. It destroys your individual identities and make you both miserable.
Instead, it’s better to take your own happiness into your own hands. As one of Manson’s readers wrote:
“Don’t ever give up who you are for the person you’re with. It will only backfire and make you both miserable. Have the courage to be who you are, and most importantly, let your partner be who they are. Those are the two people who fell in love with each other in the first place.”
When you encounter controlling behaviors in a partner, this relationship can become toxic, if it isn’t already. You are better off on your own than to be in a toxic relationship.
A relationship is a give and take on both sides. If one side is giving more because the other side is expecting to take relentlessly, then this relationship is doomed for failure.
6. Give each other space
One of the most popular themes in Mason’s responses was the importance of two people having space from one another. They could, for example, have:
- Separate credit cards
- Different friends and hobbies
- Separate vacations
- Separate bathrooms or bedrooms
Many people are afraid to give their partners too much space out of the fear that their partner doesn’t want to be with them anymore.
But this desire to control someone else is a form of disrespect. It doesn’t let your partner be who they are.
7. You and your partner will grow and change in unexpected ways. You need to embrace it
One theme that came up repeatedly in Manson’s responses was that people change over time. Rather than trying to stay the same, the most successful relationships understand this and embrace the other partner as these changes occur.
Some of the longest lasting and successful relationships in Manson’s survey group managed to survive and thrive through some extraordinarily challenging changes, such as: changing religions, moving countries, death of family members (including children), changing political beliefs, changing sexual orientation and in a few cases gender identification.
These relationships continued to survive because the partners’ respect for each other meant they could each adapt and allow each person to flourish and grow.
However, because people can change over time, sometimes it can be time to say good bye when things are not working anymore.
It’s not easy, which is why you want to know how to fight.
8. Get good at fighting
John Gottman is a highly regarded psychologist and research who has analyzed married couples for over 30 years, figuring out why they stick together and why they break apart.
According to Manson, Gottman dominates the field of why people stick together.
One of Gottman’s counterintuitive conclusions mirrors the findings of Manson:
The couples that are good at fighting together, stay together.
How a couple fights can drastically affect the dynamics of a relationship.
The reality is that people will always disagree numerous times over the course of a relationship. The couples who can successfully deal with conflict are the ones whose relationships will thrive.
The bad way to fight is to do one of these four things:
- Criticize your partner’s character
- Be defensive or shift the blame
- Show contempt towards your partner
- Threaten to withdraw from the argument or ignore your partner
Instead, follow some of this advice:
- Never insult or name-call your partner
- Don’t bring previous fights into the current one
- If things get heated, take a breather
- Remember that being “right” isn’t as important as both people feeling respected
Ultimately, “fighting” is about having enough respect for someone that you genuinely want to understand their perspective and where you both differ. You don’t need to think in the same way, but you do need to respect how your partner thinks.
9. Get good at forgiving
If you’re going to embrace fighting in order to deal with conflict, you need to get good at forgiving. This is how you make fighting a productive part of a relationship that helps you replenish the love as you both move through life.
As one reader wrote:
“Been happily married 40+ years. One piece of advice that comes to mind: choose your battles. Some things matter, worth getting upset about. Most do not. Argue over the little things and you’ll find yourself arguing endlessly; little things pop up all day long, it takes a toll over time. Like Chinese water torture: minor in the short term, corrosive over time. Consider: is this a little thing or a big thing? Is it worth the cost of arguing?”
10. Sex matters… a huge amount
This point was reiterated hundreds of times in the responses sent to Manson.
The nature of sex varied between the couples, but it was crucial that each partner felt sexually satisfied. This may come from experimentation, living out fantasies or committing to frequency. Whatever each couple wanted for themselves, the crucial point was that each individual needed to consistently feel sexually satisfied.
Communicating with one another regarding what works and does not work sexually is important. Each partner must be able to express how they feel about sexual fantasies and how they desire to experiment.
Sex doesn’t just keep the relationship healthy. It can also be used to heal relationships. When things get difficult, some couples commit to having sex every day for one week. Then, as if by magic, things improve.
What do you think of these 10 factors to a successful relationship? Have they been crucial to your relationship, or would they have helped to repair a failed relationship? Let me know in the comments.
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