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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante    

Eight ingredients of a strong relationship

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” – 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7

As we head into February, the month known for love and romance, this infamous bible verse is a basis upon which to reflect on the quality of our romantic relationships. I’ve had the gift of meeting and working with many couples. Sometimes, we cross paths professionally because they have a common goal that they want to work towards, or a conflict that they want to resolve. Sometimes, they are in my personal life and I observe how they interact with each other.

If I had to answer the question of “What makes a couple successful?” there are indeed some basic strengths that power couples have:

1. Both partners are kind to themselves and others

People who are confident in themselves will in turn, not likely see their partner with a critical eye. Those who are compassionate can recognize the troubles that others have, and so are more likely to want to help rather than blame. Aside from striving to be patient with each other, one meaningful way to grow together as a couple is to discuss how you can be charitable. Donating to the poor and sick can be a great way to feel that you as a couple are contributing to society.

2. You laugh together

Humour is an antidote to stress, anxiety and fear. Laughing at yourself and with your partner adds joy and an appreciation for life. The spotlight then is on positivity. Some studies support that playfulness and a sense of humour is one of the most attractive qualities in a mate. This makes sense even from an evolutionary perspective; someone who is playful is not aggressive in nature, so is someone safe to be around. A person who has a sense of humour conveys the feeling of being young, and hence is a good partner to have children with.

3. Each person is humble and forgives

For minor first-time offenses (e.g. forgetting about your promise to take out the garbage), it is good to forgive and forget about it – this will likely result in the same attitude from your partner when you make a mistake. With repeated and serious offenses, couples should talk about the problem, express hurt, and talk about the consequences and how to earn trust again. This is not always the easiest choice because it requires humility and feeling vulnerable. But the couple then moves towards true forgiveness, rather than getting angry, defensive, or ignoring the problem. This also lessens the likelihood of “tallying” or keeping score of all the things that your partner has done wrong, which only results in resentment and frustration.

4. You notice when good happens and acknowledge it

We teach young children to say “thank you” to show appreciation, but sometimes we forget to do this with our partner. When we express gratitude, we become more kind and affectionate towards our loved one.

5. You share your emotions

In my work with couples, I often hear different versions of, “we don’t talk about anything deep or meaningful.” Discussions about the household chores and schedules are not enough to sustain a strong bond with your partner. Strong relationships involve open and frequent conversations about when and why each person is angry, sad, happy or scared. In addition, there is no sense of feeling criticized when one does share their feelings. A sense of being close to your loved one will lead to conversations about future goals and dreams with each other.

6. Less attention paid to other attractive people

According to Psychology Today (August 2015), when there is solid commitment between two partners, other people do not seem as attractive. A “block” comes up and you only have eyes for your loved one. Feeling unappreciated, criticized or that you are “walking on eggshells” with your partner indicates that there is some doubt in the quality of your relationship. This could lead to the consideration of someone else who can provide that sense of safety and security.

7. Each partner supports the other’s growth

Good partners will be encouraging and excited when a new opportunity for their loved one comes along, whether it is a career change, new exercise class or hobby, or an evening out with their friends.

8. Differences are seen as good

There are no two people who are exactly the same. A healthy relationship will acknowledge differences between each person (e.g. one is more logical, and the other is more social, one is more organized, and the other is more creative) and see how this makes them a better team.

Do you want to improve things with your partner? To assess the level of communication and strength in your relationship, a first step is to discuss the above points together. Aim for an open discussion, do not harshly criticize the other, and tell each other that you will not get upset if you hear something uncomfortable. This requires some humility and patience. The ideal outcome is that afterwards, you will feel a stronger sense of trust, understanding and acceptance – and maybe have a laugh or two in the process.

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

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