This guest article from Psych Central was written by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Being in a good relationship takes work. So does starting one. But it’s absolutely worthwhile. Not only does it steer you in the right direction for a fulfilling relationship, it also helps you get to know yourself.
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Here, Mark E. Sharp, Ph.D, a psychologist in private practice who specializes in relationship issues, shares what makes a good relationship and how you can prepare for one.
What Defines a Good Relationship
In a good relationship, according to Sharp, both partners feel connected. They respect each other and their differences, enjoy each other’s company and feel a sense of security and safety, he said.
Sharp said there’s also a good balance between wanting to make your partner happy but knowing that you’re not responsible for their feelings. He believes that relationships consist of three things: each person and the relationship. And couples in a good relationship have a strong sense of “we.”
Take the example of one partner getting a new job in another city. Both partners wouldn’t just consider the effect on them as individuals; they’d need to consider the result on their relationship as well, he said.
Preparing for a Good Relationship
One of the biggest barriers people face in preparing for a good relationship is vulnerability – or lack thereof. Many people prefer to wait to open up until they can trust a potential partner. This makes sense, especially if you’ve been burned before.
But many people construct sky-high, sturdy fences, and don’t feel comfortable sharing a smidge of themselves. And many get defensive, Sharp said.
That translates into paying attention to everything that’s wrong with a potential partner or creating inconsequential rules for rejection, he said. For instance, you might exclude an entire group of people based on their profession, interests or a physical attribute like height.
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Attraction is important, but “if those rules are very strict and very rigid, it is often a case of either setting up walls or barriers for connection or looking for some sort of external validation [such as] ‘I want people to see me with this hot person so they know how great I am.’”
And, as Sharp said, “Nobody is perfect so you can find a reason to not pursue a relationship with everyone.” Plus, not opening up at all can be a turnoff. “If you don’t open up some emotionally you come across as someone who is distant and not particularly interesting,” Sharp said.
People usually have a hard time being vulnerable and fear rejection because they put the relationship on a pedestal, he said. “Some people depend on the validation, or love, of others in order to feel OK about themselves. That puts a lot of pressure on the relationship and makes rejection more intolerable, leading to a more protective, and less effective, stance toward relationships.”