Here is my personal list of
the traits I admire most in couples.
I’ve arranged them from “most necessary” on down.
[Thanks to my two major “teachers” on this topic:
Janet, my wife, and the couples I’ve met through therapy.]
The most important trait of a happy couple is that
they spend enough time and energy on each other.
“Enough” is a personal matter to be decided between them.
Each couple must work out how much is enough, and how much is too much, on their own.
Some couples have terrible relationships
even though they are good at all of the other things mentioned in this article.
To outsiders it appears that their only problem is screwed up priorities.
They spend their time and energy on money, career, and extended families
instead of on their relationship!
Even though these couples treat each other rather well when they are together,
both partners have major levels of fear about commitment and intimacy.
Therapy is usually a very good idea for them.
The second most important trait is
the regular availability of safe physical touch.
Non-sexual touching is a bit more important than sexual touching,
but safe touch (non-intrusive, wanted, freely-given, and well absorbed),
is why we get together as couples in the first place.
Sad to say, but this third trait is not a very common one in this culture.
Cooperative couples believe that conflicts are resolved
when BOTH people get what they want.
Competitive couples believe that conflicts are resolved
when one person wins and the other person loses.
Most couples try to compromise instead of being
either completely cooperative or totally competitive.
They each try to “lose as little as possible”
and “win as much as possible”
(which is still competitive, not cooperative).
Compromise is needed sometimes,
but very, very seldom.
In most conflicts it is possible
to find a way for both people to get what they truly want
instead of just settling for some part of it.
Compromising and competitive couples
don’t even think about how they can both get what they want.
Every relationship has some serious problems to face,
and each person brings their own “psychological baggage” with them.
How couples handle these issues often separates those who succeed from those who fail.
Two important characteristics operate here:
Successful couples know:
Who OWNS the problem
Who is RESPONSIBLE for fixing it.
It is vital that each person own their own problems,
and that neither person takes responsibility for fixing the other.
(See “What Helps?” – Another article in this series.)
Couples often have disagreements about concrete matters
– things like how clean to keep the house, how much money to have in the bank, etc.
Successful couples understand that on each of these issues
the person with the higher standards is responsible
for any additional work that is required to meet their higher standard.
He wants the house to “sparkle.” She is happy when it’s just “not dirty.”
A Fair Resolution:
They split the work required to make their place “not dirty,” but it’s his responsibility to go beyond that to make it “sparkle.”
She wants to be “rich.” He wants only “to get by” financially.
A Fair Resolution:
They split the work required to make them “get by,” but it’s her job to go beyond that to make them “rich.”
This way of resolving conflicts acknowledges that standards about such things are voluntary, and that each person’s standards are their own responsibility. It also acknowledges that neither person has a responsibility to make the other person happy!
The person with the lower standards may choose to share the extra work, but this is a choice to be appreciated and not a requirement to be demanded or expected.
If this still feels unfair to you, remember: Each person chose their partner in the first place! If my wife is “too dirty” or “not rich enough” for me – and if she didn’t con me when we met – it is my responsibility that I’m with her, because I made that choice!
[Now you’ll have to excuse me… I’ve got to go explain to Janet about that last statement just being an example….]