Extraordinary marriages don’t happen by accident. They’re created by partners who understand that relationships take work.
When you were young, did you dream of finding your one true love and living happily ever after? Did you think your prince (or princess) would come knocking on the door and sweep you off your feet?
I know I did. I instinctively knew my love and I were going to be the cute old couple, twinkles in our eyes, walking down the lane. What I’ve discovered since then is that extraordinary partnerships don’t magically happen; they are created!
With 25 years of experience doing marriage and relationship therapy, Bob and I have learned what couples do to create an extraordinary connection that lasts “till death do us part.” Couples in our practice who thrive and grow deeply intimate relationships have three essential keys in common. Here they are:
1. Extraordinary couples consciously and actively co-create their relationships. Most couples marry at the height of feeling emotional and erotic love for each other. Partners have a strong and deep connection, and similar dreams about their future. They are sexually active and very much enjoying their physical relationship. Having found “the one” who will make him or her happy for the rest of his or her life, they take it for granted that these loving feelings, emotional and erotic, will always be there. It’s so natural! Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?
If that were true, we would have a lot fewer divorces. The problem is not that a lifetime of love is impossible; it’s that most people believe or expect that their connection will last without working at it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the couples who see us have insidiously drifted apart because they did not know this.
Extraordinary couples understand that they will succeed only if they consciously choose to make their relationship the highest priority, they commit to doing the work, and they actively love each other. They work on accepting and accommodating their differences. When problems arise, they turn toward each other instead of away to a friend or family member. They seek out resources and help, like counseling, when they get stuck and can’t resolve issues.
2. Extraordinary couples compassionately understand themselves and each other. Partners may come to a relationship with little or no understanding about their baggage, such as how their background and upbringing may create problems in their relationship. Whether she knows it or not, the woman who grew up abandoned by her father will undoubtedly at some point feel abandoned by her husband—like when he wants to go away with the guys for the weekend. She may experience strong anxiety about him leaving and not recognize that the strength of her fear is due to her “baggage” sneaking up on her. Not understanding how her history is being triggered, they fight about him going away without her.
Extraordinary couples are aware of the baggage they bring to their relationships. They are sensitive to their partners’ history and support each other when baggage gets in the way. They express empathy, understanding, and gratitude to each other and don’t take each other for granted. When conflict arises, they own their part of the problem, work through it as a team, and are able to apologize and forgive.
3. Extraordinary couples are vitally connected in head, heart, and hormones. In the beginning of relationships, most couples have a balance of the “head, heart, and hormone” connection—which is to say they are doing a lot of communicating, expressing their feelings to each other, and having sex. After marriage, when couples get busy and have less time, and especially after children, these connections may start to fade, and unless the couple nurtures them, they may slowly starve to death. The marriage unwittingly becomes last on the list, couples begin to take each other for granted, and they stop actively loving each other. We often hear presenting issues such as:
- “I feel like we are just roommates. We get along but don’t have sex.”
- “I love her, but I’m not ‘in love’ anymore.”
- “We have nothing in common but the kids.”
Extraordinary couples nurture and grow their communication, their loving feelings for each other, and their sexual connection. They make time to talk assertively and actively listen, and they embrace and manage conflict. They learn each other’s love languages and create romantic situations that stoke their sexual attraction. They create time for the relationship away from children and make sure nothing intrudes on the couple’s boundaries.
Having a lifetime relationship takes a tremendous investment of time, energy, and emotion. No one tells us this when we get married. That’s likely part of the reason about half of marriages fail. If only we were given the job description and understood what it takes, maybe we could decrease that percentage.
How does your relationship rate in the three areas above? Share this with your partner and then get to work on creating your extraordinary relationship. We are here to support you.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.