How many couples do you know that are sincerely happy? I can count three. This blog is an attempt to understand how romantic love, eros, works. I hope that sharing my thoughts will stimulate reflection and perhaps clearly identify some issues that other people have also found. It also incorporates questions and observations which three good friends of mine have raised when discussing this topic in some depth.
This is neither a concise guideline, nor a professional forum. I will ask questions in a haphazard fashion, and will leave questions unanswered. I hope that you will share your thoughts and together, we can come to some consensus.
My interest in relationships and how they work began after my second major relationship breakup. I made a list of things that went wrong, how these could be addressed more successfully in a future relationship. I also listed what I discovered about myself, namely, what I need from a relationship. I figured that if I could learn from past mistakes, maybe I could make fewer mistakes in the future. This logical approach had the best intentions, but on reflection, it did not produce the straightforward relationship guide that I had hoped to produce.
Overall, through past experience, I have learned three very important things. 1. Compromise makes a relationship. Without both partners trying hard to meet halfway, a relationship soon turns miserable. 2. Chemistry, the ability to talk together for hours and build a special friendship is something that I value incredibly. 3. Kindness and respect for each other and others is indispensable. I will elaborate on these thoughts later.
Before I consider qualities that make for a great partner, I want to introduce some questions that I have recently discussed with a friend, and interestingly, we both often disagreed on.
- Should I listen to my gut (intuition) or be practical when deciding whether a potential partner is worth taking certain risks?
- Why do we decide that a particular person encompasses everything we want in a partner and we invest emotional attachment without getting affirmation first that said person feels that same way about us?
- How do we know whether we really love someone enough to commit to them for a long period of time?
- Is being ‘in love’ (the honeymoon period) at some point with your partner, important?
- What does being ‘in-love’ even mean, and do you and your partner share similar opinions about how to define love?
So, what have I personally discovered that I need from a partner, and how willing should I be to deviate from these preferences?
Above, I mentioned that for me, absolutely required qualities include the ability to compromise. Without this, one partner would constantly have to give in and would feel that their opinion is not equal within the partnership. Your willingness to compromise and collaborate will show just how invested you are in a future with your partner, and expresses your desire for your partner’s happiness. Disagreements always come about, but the question is, how do you handle them.
I encountered two prominent styles of dealing with disagreement. The passive-aggressive approach: throwing hints at your partner and hoping that he or she will understand what you are trying to say, and then throwing a strop when your partner does not get your hints. I despise this method as I often do not pick up hints very well myself. Even so, I recently, hypocritically used this very method, and afterwards was very disappointed with myself. Alternatively, and this is the method I prefer, being upfront and explicit about what you are trying to communicate. This leaves little room for misunderstanding, however it can also be tricky because being explicit can sometimes be misconstrued as insensitive, and this is of course, not the desired intent.
Additionally, chemistry, the ability to discuss topics and be mentally stimulated is unquestionably pivotal for a friendship and mutual respect to blossom. I have ended relationships due to the lack of chemistry. Talking extensively to a partner means bonding and without this element, I personally cannot develop emotional attachment.
Finally, mutual respect and kindness for each other as well as others is important. As a child growing up, I witnessed incredible amounts of disrespect between one couple in particular. When kindness and respect are absent from a relationship, an environment becomes poisonous, and the people within the relationship, as well as anyone else who enters their space, want to escape. Fostering kindness and respect consistently nurtures appreciation for each other and reduces tendencies to take each other for granted, especially during stressful circumstances.
Personally, I love partners that are smart. Intelligence, interest in reading and travel for the sake of learning make for stimulating discussions and real depth in a relationship. I also value loving and affectionate partners. I find that when a partner is especially affectionate, the recipient feels valued and cherished. Also, I think that display of physical affection reinforces that a partner cares for the other, and lowers stress by positively affecting the nervous system. Finding your partner physically attractive is also another bonus. I think this helps particularly during sexual intimacy, and while women perhaps do not attribute attractiveness as prominently as men do, nevertheless, I feel that having a partner that you genuinely desire sexually can make for even better sex. Finally, I like to share a sense of humor with my partner. If he laughs at my rubbish jokes, I have a keeper. Laughing together at random silliness helps people to enjoy life. Sometimes, the incidents we remember most clearly that work their way into our long term memories are these very moments.
Something that I have learned in my Linguistics Culture and Communication class unexpectedly reminded me of a previous relationship. It helped me to identify one of the things that individuals have different ideas on that became a sore point within my previous relationship.
The importance of having similar priorities and goals, and where these are placed hierarchically in terms of importance affect relationships. For example, imagine that you have a pyramid drawn on a piece of paper, and I asked you to write down at the top of the pyramid what were the most important things to you, the things that mean so much that you would give your life for them.
Then, in the middle of the pyramid, identify and write down things that are very important, and lastly, at the bottom, things that are quite important. This list of how you position your priorities and goals, be they extended family, having children, money/career, religion, lifestyle, travel etc., directly impact your environment.
As mentioned earlier, I recognized that my former partner, who was quite happy to spend his wages on purchasing rounds of drinks for friends at the bar and later ask me for a loan to pay our split rent at the end of the month, frustrated me because his concept of money. The importance of money, or lack of, that he accrued it, differed from my style of budgeting. In fact, this minor detail became a thorn in our relationship. I placed money at a higher category, whereas he saw access to money as something less important and easily attainable. Another major question repeatedly resurfacing in previous relationships was whether or not to have children. I imagine you have also considered this question, and discovered partners who place this goal in categories dissimilar from your own. In sum, having similar goals and ideas about what is important to you both is principally significant.
How does personal confidence affect a relationship? One trait that I have seen over and again is the belief that the acquisition of a partner will make you ‘whole’, complete and that this person will ‘make’ you happy. I have found that placing high expectations of this kind on a partner is actually destructive to a relationship. This expectation reveals an underlying insecurity, and this is often manifested by clinginess, jealousy and being overly attention-seeking. I have certainly been guilty of this, even recently. Paradoxically, I have been told that I am unusually confident, self assured and assertive, something that apparently, most women shy from, particularly when expressing sexual interest in a potential partner. I was told that this behavior is by no means negative, but rather, it is uncommon. It left me wondering why my behavior was not adopted more frequently by other women, and therefore how, in that case, do other women get a partner that they actually desire?
I discovered that if you are willing to put aside your ego, and deal with rejection, then expressing interest in someone should not be such a monumental achievement. If you are a ‘whole’, fulfilled and happy person to begin with, hopefully, you should be able to recover sooner rather than later if you are rejected. This is especially accessible when you have a good support network of friends that can listen to your love complaints for as long as it takes to heal. I think that finding someone you really care about, and telling them, is worth the risk.
I wish to return to question 3, ‘Is being ‘in love’ at some point with your partner, important? In Victorian aristocratic marriages, marriage was a contract, a business transaction of sorts, intended to breed legitimate heirs and retain wealth across certain families. As such, it was expected that one did not find ‘love’ with their marriage partner. Rather, extramarital affairs were attempts to seek emotional bonds with others, something that marriage was not expected to provide.
Interestingly, it seems that we have come full circle and now place lots of expectation that our partners (lovers, fiancés, husbands or wives) will provide the role that Victorian lovers used to provide, as well as a stable ‘marriage’ bond. We also seem to compromise little and communicate our needs badly, if we even recognize what these needs are to begin with.
Perhaps the secret to finding a good partner is first recognizing what you want, defining what you need from a relationship (see Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages) as well as learning how to communicate constructively through disappointment, frustration and emotion. Decrease expectations and accept that no-one is perfect. Employ empathy. See things from your lover’s perspective. Try to understand their thoughts and reactions, and finally, try to be the best version of yourself. Of course, this is all worthwhile when you believe that you are with someone that is worth the effort.
For further reading/ viewing, I recommend the following: