But being in a loving relationship is not an unattainable wish or an elusive goal. It is something we can co-create with someone who shares our relationship vision. It is something we can create when we know what the required ingredients are.
Sadly, not many of us had great role models when it comes to romantic relationships. Growing up we witnessed disharmony, emotional distance, tension and unhealthy levels of conflict. Adults weren’t prepared for the lifelong task of relationship or knew how to create one that benefitted both partners.
We know more nowadays. We have learnt and we continue to learn. Relationships are now seen as a living environment for safety, love and growth – individually and as a unit. The benefits of relationship greatly outweigh the challenges and difficulties we frequently experience.
When we are committed to being in a romantic relationship, it helps to remind ourselves of the healthy ingredients required to create, maintain and nourish a loving relationship. It is then possible to set intentions aligned with our core values and behave accordingly.
Respect is the basis for any relationship. In unhealthy and unloving relationships respect is lacking.
Respect in relationships refers to respecting each other’s individuality, differences and boundaries. It is about not making each other wrong for being different and not expressing our opinions in critical ways. We protect our partner’s sense of worth and esteem by relating to them in respectful ways and speaking to them with tact, consideration and respect.
Healthy relationships require both partners to maintain a sense of individuality. This prevents unhealthy enmeshment and codependency from developing. We communicate our individuality by setting healthy boundaries in kind and honest ways.
If we want a healthy relationship, we need to value our own and our partner’s individuality and healthy separation. This also enhances our interest in each other and our desire for each other.
We feel unloved, unappreciated and devalued in a relationship that lacks respect. Relationships that lack respect generally lack gratitude and appreciation for each other. The other person is seen as a means to an end and not as a person in their own right. The lack of valuing one another leads to disrespectful and often abusive behaviours. The overall outcome is low relationship satisfaction and often relationship breakdown.
Warmth sets the temperature in our relationship. It is fuelled by kindness and fondness for one another. Gentleness and softness in approaching each other allow us to feel relaxed, open and comfortable with and around one another.
It is easy to relax and create an atmosphere of trust and comfort when we are together.
In the absence of warmth, a cold sharpness and harshness will leave both partners feeling unsettled and in a state of threat. We don’t feel close to each other and this negatively affects the emotional and sexual intimacy we experiemnce in our relationship.
Openness is vital in relationships as we need to show up and allow our partner to get to know us. After all, if we don’t allow ourselves to be seen, how can we expect someone else to fall in love with us?
We need to be brave enough to show the other person what’s true for us and what is going on for us. To open up safely ourselves we need to be attuned and connected to This transparency with each other will enable us to create an environment of safety and vulnerability, main components of emotional intimacy.
When we lack openness with each other, we withhold our truth from each other. Conversations will feel formal, stunted and devoid of any meaning. The way we are with each other will feel clinical and uncomfortable.
Relationships that are experienced as practical lack openness and therefore trust and safety. These kinds of relationships feel superficial, stale and unfulfilling and are at risk of being ended by either drifting even further apart or through affairs.
We need to address problems with openness as a matter of urgency. Usually the problems are both within the individuals as well as within the relationship. When we struggle with openness, we need to address our own problems with hiding, shame and inhibition and may also need to challenge a partner (or ourselves!) that may be judgmental, negative and critical.
Honesty is essential for creating trust within a relationship. When we are honest with each other, we build a solid foundation of trust that gives rise to a sense of security.
Honesty allows us to get to know each other better and helps us to become more attuned to each other. This then increases our familiarity with one another and allows us to feel comfortable in each other’s presence.
Healthy communication, something that is vital in healthy relationships, also requires honesty. Talking to each other openly, honestly, freely and respectfully allows us to tackle whatever shows up for us and deal with life’s naturally occurring challenges such as conflict, individual problems or challenging situations.
Personal Growth & Responsibility
Personal growth and development are detrimental to the success of a relationship and sadly often overlooked. It is easier to blame our partner than it is to take personal responsibility for our contribution towards relationship problems.
Stopping the blame game and looking at what we are or aren’t doing that contributes towards the relationship challenges and problems we experience are signs of emotional maturity.
Relationships can thrive when we own our insecurities and fears instead of pushing our personal responsibilities onto our partner. We are committed to relational health when we are committed to personal growth.
Compassion is the antidote to taking our partner’s state of mind personally and feeling offended by their internal and private experience.
With compassion we can tend to our partner’s suffering whenever they struggle with insecurities and fears. Instead of seeing those struggles as a personal threat, we remain emotionally available to each other when we need it the most.
When our compassion is underdeveloped or difficult to cultivate, we take our partner’s moods personally and easily feel offended. This often leads to unnecessary conflict at times when at least one partner already struggles, feels low and is in need of their partner’s support. This dynamic lead to a closing down of vulnerability and openness and we stop seeing our partner as a source of comfort and reassurance.
A healthy relationship requires mutual affection and a reciprocal expression of it.
Both partners like each other and feel liked. There is a strong focus on each otherwise likeable traits. We see the good in each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt.
A healthy relationship requires us to truly like each other and deeply care for each other. We have each other’s best interests at heart and actively create a meaningful, enjoyable and fulfilling life together.
Most people in healthy relationships see their partner as their best friend.
Consideration plays a crucial part in a loving relationship. We generally do not feel loved when we feel that we don’t matter to our partner.
We show someone that they matter to us when we consider them and our impact on them.
When someone shows us that we matter to them, we feel valued. We understand that we have a special place in their life.
Considering our partner is not about doing whatever they expect or want from us. It is not about playing games, being demanding or giving in. Instead, it is about considering our partner in our choices and decisions. It is about considering our impact on them.
We admit that we are no longer a single person making decisions based solely on our own wishes and desires. Instead, we communicate that we now also prioritise our partner. We consider their wishes, desires, concerns and preferences when making decisions about the life we create together.
When we consider our partner, when we include them in our decision-making, we communicate that we value them and that they matter to us.
Knowing that someone cares about us in that way leaves us feeling valued and loved.
Everything that is meant to grow and thrive needs care and attention. We need to nurture it.
When we put time and effort into our relationship, we nurture it.
Nurturance requires our presence and attunement. We cannot develop bonds when we are not present. And we cannot know what inputs are required when we are not attuned.
The best way to nurture our relationship is by giving each other time and attention. This communicates that we value and prioritse each other. It also helps us to get to know each other better – something that never ends.
To show that we care about our partner and the relationship we have together we must put effort into creating a loving relationship.
Not doing so communicates a sense of not-caring and neglect. There is no prioritising or valuing of our partner when we are not present or pay attention to other things or people.
The Desired Results Require Our Loving Input
Most couples believe that their relationship problems are caused by the other partner. Problems centre around money, sex, household chores, parenting and time spent apart amongst many others.
These problems are what bring couples to therapy. Our attention then goes to the problems and finding possible solutions.
Sadly, this is a superficial and symptomatic approach that will not yield long-term results.
What needs addressing is what we put or don’t put into our relationship.
If we focus on creating and contributing the above components, there will be fewer symptomatic problems to address.
What our relationships need is an environment to thrive in. An environment that is created by the input of respect, warmth, openness, honesty, personal growth, compassion, mutual affection, consideration and nurturance.
Instead of continuously tending to what we believe to be broken, we should start to address how well be contribute these components.
We may seek and want the results of trust, connection, emotional safety, intimacy, fun and adventure, but we cannot reap these rewards without sowing the necessary seeds.