By Laura J. Schaefer, Match.com
In love, many people speak in terms of “winning” and “losing” — as in, “she married a real winner” or “he lost his first love by focusing too much on his career.” That might work in the movies or on TV dating shows, but in reality, true love isn’t a competition where human beings are prizes to be lost or won. If you’re more interested in learning the secrets experts know for building healthy, lifelong relationships, read on…
Rule #1: In any successful, long-term romance, happiness is a two-way street
The problem with calling yourself or someone else a “winner” in love (or life, for that matter) is that it automatically implies that someone else is losing. If you’re in a relationship where this is the case, it won’t last — and it shouldn’t, either. Certified relationship educator Dr. Pat Love, author of The Truth About Love: The Highs, the Lows, and How You Can Make It Last Forever, says: “When someone immature talks about winning, it seems to me this person means, ‘I’m getting my way. I’m in control. You are doing what I want you to do.’ This concept rings a bell because it is part of human nature to want things to go our way.” Younger adults are trained to be competitive in a variety of areas, especially their careers — but applying these tactics to your love life can have the opposite effect. “My way or your way is not always what’s best for the relationship,” Love continues. “If you talk about a successful relationship, you’d never think it was one-sided rather than benefiting both partners.” Finding a way to have a relationship that meets someone else’s needs in addition to your own is the real victory.
Rule #2: Respect means always being open and honest with each other and accepting your partner as-is
Ever dated someone who wouldn’t introduce you to mom and dad or refused to have you over because “my apartment’s always a mess” — even months after you’ve become exclusive? We’ve all had our moments trying to impress someone new, and yet, we all know that love shouldn’t be that much work. Marty Babits, LCSW, co-director of the Family and Couples Treatment Service in New York City and author of Power of the Middle Ground: A Couple’s Guide to Renewing Your Relationship, says: “A happy, respectful relationship means that the way you appreciate and acknowledge each other allows each of you to be who you are without having to lose yourself in order to share that romantic connection.” In other words, if you can’t be yourself around your partner, you’re already losing at love. Babits asks, “Can you speak about your feelings, make yourself vulnerable and feel both support and interest emanating from your partner when you do? Can you speak openly of your hopes and dreams? If the answers are ‘Yes,’ the relationship may have potential to blossom.”
Rule #3: Overcoming life’s challenges together requires good communication skills for both partners
A healthy, fulfilling relationship takes some effort, because two people — no matter how compatible they are or how strong their attraction to each other — are going to have issues and differing expectations at some point. The easy way for dealing with problems might include moving on to a new partner, stonewalling (otherwise known as “the silent treatment”) or keeping separate social circles, but the only way to really resolve relationship issues involves talking things out together. According to Maryanne Fisher, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada and coauthor of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Chemistry of Love, “The research shows that happy couples in healthy relationships communicate openly and frequently. If one waits until there is a problem to [say anything], then the only communication is going to be when something is wrong. Each person also has to listen, though — it’s not simply the act of communicating that is important, but also [hearing and] receiving it.” Take the time to regularly connect with your partner in conversations over matters large and small (and be present when you’re doing so) if you want to keep your romance alive and thriving.
Rule #4: True love requires willingly giving and taking in equal measures
If you really want a successful relationship, don’t keep score on which partner has done more for the other. “If you research the word ‘love’ in Western literature, you come up with something like: ‘Love is a response to getting your needs met.’ The problem with this paradigm is that it does not hold up to rigorous research. You can get pleasure from getting your needs met, but never happiness,” Dr. Love observes. And what is the point of being in a relationship with someone if it doesn’t make you happy? Sure, finding someone to rub your feet sounds like relationship paradise, but true happiness requires some give-and-take from both partners. Dr. Love continues, “If you look up the word ‘love’ in Eastern literature, the definition varies decidedly. It goes something like this: ‘Love is the wish to make someone happy.’ Wow, a very different approach! In this model, you can see how everyone in a relationship wins.”
Rule #5: Real relationship success comes from bringing out the best in each other
Relationships aren’t competitions; rather, they offer springboards for both partners to become more than they could on their own. Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and author of The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up with Your Friends, says: “In a healthy, happy relationship, each person brings out the best qualities in the other while finding a way for your relative weaknesses to be neutralized — and even embraced. Compatible mates are able to motivate each other to reach their full potential as individuals.” Dr. Maryanne Fisher agrees: “If you are in a relationship and are trying to decide if it’s a good one, think about how you feel. Does the person drain you, or energize you? Do you like [this individual] as a person and like how you are [when you are together]?” A great relationship should provide the support each person needs in order to become, as Oprah Winfrey would say, his or her “best self.”
Laura Schaefer the author of The Teashop Girls and Why We Fall Out of Love: Experts and Real People Talk about the Reasons Relationships Fail.