You decided to take the next step in your relationship. You are moving in together, getting married or both. That is wonderful and exciting. Maintaining the vitality of a relationship, especially when you start to share a space, is a terrific opportunity to re-inforce why you want to be together.
Healthy relationships contribute to the vibrancy of our lives and our happiness. They allow for individuality, bring out the best in each person and invite personal growth. Getting close to others, sharing our joys, sorrows, needs, wants, affections and thrills is risky business. All healthy relationships need to be maintained and take work, especially when someone else's shoes are in half the closet.
Vital, nurturing and lasting relationships share a number of common traits.
• Mutual respect and shared goals. Respect each other, and remember it's not always about you and your needs. You came together because of a genuine interest in each other, and this enriches you both. While it is important to have your own interests, it's just as important that you share common goals and dreams. Inherent in this is taking care of yourself and having good self-esteem independent of your relationship.
• Playfulness and Fondness. You laugh and play together. In the midst of difficulties, you help each other lighten up with humor. Laughter and fun play a huge role in a healthy relationship. My great Aunt Peg and Uncle John did this every day through their 62 years of marriage, with John as the sly humorist and Peg as his straight woman.
• Trust and Honesty. You trust in each other and are honest with each other in all things without feeling like you have no privacy. You have the option of privacy with, for and from each other. You feel secure and happy when you're together and when apart—not sad, suspicious, angry or deprived.
• Fight nice. Conflict is a part of all relationships. Do not leave issues unresolved. Understanding each other's motivators and stressors is important to managing relationships. Pick your fights when winning is important, and then fight fairly.
• Tea for Two. Spend some time together, just the two of you talking, on a regular basis like you did when dating. One couple I know sets aside an hour each night to talk about the good and the bad over a glass of wine or tea with good music in the background. They have been happily married for 34 years.
• Steadfast and Loyal. You cannot have romance if you are not a reliable partner. If you are not trustworthy and responsible, all the romantic gestures in the world won't matter to your partner if you don't mow the lawn when you say you will or don't complete a project if that's what you agreed on. It is hard to be jazzed about someone who disappoints you repeatedly.
• Separate Identities. You maintain and respect each other's individuality and what you share in common. You have activities apart from one another and don't depend on the other person to make you happy. You encourage each other's growth. Togetherness is great when it is genuine, but if it's forced, or one of you is miserable and bored, it can be damaging.
• Good Communication. You can express yourselves without fear and feel heard, understood and accepted. You respect each other's ways of communicating and learn how to communicate so the other person hears what you are saying.
Listening with an open heart and a desire to understand is more important than judging each other or defending yourself. You are respectful of your partner and don't put him or her down. Words are powerful, especially when they are meant to hurt.
• Fairness and Equality. Relationships are built on give and take. Sometimes the flow is heavy in a given direction, but over time, the volume balances out. Allowing your spouse, sweetheart or friend to influence you is essential for a healthy relationship, as is being kind rather than controlling.
• Growing Room. We all grow and change in ways that we can't predict. People in a relationship rarely evolve in the exact same way together, but you can do your best to be responsive to your partner's ideas and goals as if they are an extension of yourself.
These characteristics allow space in your togetherness, and because of that each of you can ask for what you want, are willing to open your heart up and be vulnerable. The ability to do that over time is at the heart of a healthy, lasting relationship.