This guest article from Psychcentral was written by Aaron Karmin MA, LCPC.
Pause for a moment and think about your relationships. What thoughts come to mind? How do you feel about your relationship? Your relationships generally provide great happiness and satisfaction for you. Or, because of high levels of conflict and unfulfilled expectations, your relationships may be a source of great anxiety and frustration. Another possibility is that life for you has become so hectic, that you never seem to be able to connect with others as you once did. Do any of these situations sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. Many people relate to one of these descriptions.
About half of all marriages in the United States end in divorce. It is obvious that many people do not get married and live "happily ever after." However, marriage continues to be an important goal for most Americans. In fact, over 90 percent of adults will get married at least once in their lifetime. Most spouses start out full of hopes and dreams and are truly committed to making their marriage work. Yet as the reality of living with a less than perfect spouse sets in and the pressures of life build, many individuals feel less romantic and do not find as much satisfaction in their relationships. All relationships change over time. But with hard work and dedication, people can keep their relationships strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying relationship?
Consider the positive aspects of your relationships. What are you doing that works well and brings you and others joy and happiness? If you have a satisfying relationship, be that with a spouse, sibling, child, parent, or friend, chances are that your relationship has high levels of positivity, empathy, commitment, acceptance, love and respect. These are some of the characteristics that researchers have found to be common in successful relationships. Let’s look at each of these factors.
- Positivity — Experts on relationships have found that the main difference between stable and unstable relationships is the amount of positive thoughts and actions people engage in toward each other. Through careful observation of hundreds of couples, researchers have come to the conclusion that successful spouses have far more positive, than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity, criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc., the relationship suffers. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting air time and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners. The key is balance between the two extremes.
- Empathy — Another characteristic of a happy relationship is empathy. Empathy means understanding a person’s perspective by putting oneself, in his or her shoes. Many researchers have shown that empathy is important for relationship satisfaction. People are more likely to feel good about their marriage and spouse, if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships, when they perceive that their spouses truly understand their thoughts and feelings.
- Commitment — Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. However, in most Western cultures, individualism is highly valued. Individualism focuses on the needs and fulfillment of the self. Being attentive to one’s own needs is important, but if it is not balanced by a concern for the needs of others, it can easily lead to selfishness in marriage. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires, are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships. However, when spouses are committed to investing in their marriage and are willing to sacrifice some of their own preferences for the good of the relationship, they usually have high-quality marriages.
- Acceptance — One of the most basic needs in a relationship is acceptance. Everyone wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouse, parent, child, sibling or friend truly accepts them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in relationships because people cannot accept each other and try to demand change from one another. And when one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance. However, research has shown that change is much more likely to occur when people respect differences and accept each other unconditionally as they are right now.
- Mutual love and respect — Perhaps the most important components of successful marriages are love and respect for each other. This may seem very obvious — why would two people get married who did not love and respect each other? The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage often suffers as a result. It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying.
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