I don’t know universal answers. I’ll be honest. I don’t know the secret.
I certainly don’t believe in one-size-fits-all.
I’m also not one to say if you work hard enough, you will get what you want. I’ve found that people who say that have generally gotten what they wanted. They think everyone can.
But that’s not been my experience.
Sometimes you work very hard and do not get what you want. No one-size-fits-all.
At this age, I don’t generalize much. The older we get, somehow it seems, the less we know to be true. We become more fluid in our thinking, less rigid. Black + whites all become gray.
Or at least I have become this way.
But I’ve been in more than my share of long term relationships, many successful - some not – with men, girlfriends, family, children – so I would like to, humbly, offer some thoughts.
What makes for a great relationship?
First and foremost, support for each other.
I can say, unequivocally, that my husband is the reason I have done so much in my life.
He believes in me. Deeply, honestly. He encourages me to do whatever – cut my hair short, wear my hair long, attend networking events, apply for new jobs, take up running, become the mom I want to be, write.
He encouraged me to write. And then, he became my biggest supporter. In a real way. He tells me (gently) when I miss the mark and also when I nail it. His reactions to my writing matter because they are “all in.” They aren’t surface responses; they are real and meaningful responses. And I value his opinion.
I believe in, and support him, as much as he supports me so there is an inherent trust.
You can take criticism or advice, and grow, from someone you trust.
A second key factor is that I find I am the most relaxed with my husband than with anyone else.
That person you are most relaxed with becomes someone special, and oh so important to you, amidst your crazy, busy life.
He and I can talk or not talk. We can hold hands quietly and just be as we walk along the sand at our favorite beach. We can ride in the car, listening to the oldies station or to nothing at all. And it’s comfortable. So comfortable.
With people not as a-tuned with me, I find I need to fill up empty space. I talk and laugh and expend a lot of energy.
With my husband, I don’t need to expend; we are in sync with the quiet as much as with the conversation, with the debate, with the dreaming.
Thirdly, there is never – never – angry criticism. We never say harsh words we can’t take back. We never belittle or shame or humiliate. We never speak condescendingly to one another.
And finally, we seek mutually enjoyable pastimes. We have experimented to discover what those might be – skiing, running, reading, watching movies, kayaking, travelling. We got out there and made the effort to try lots of new things, over our now 42 years together, and what clicked, clicked. And so, we do those things that bring us mutual joy.
What we’ve learned is that we are more in sync with what we like – aesthetically, in travel, food, exercise, nature, activity – than not. We wouldn’t know that if we didn’t try lots of things. It’s very possible, we could have found we were more disconnected. We are fortunate that wasn’t us.
Of course, it is also imperative that couples have their own friends and things they enjoy separately and on their own. If not, what would we have to talk about? How could we be interesting and intriguing to the other without solo pursuits?
I have found I am a complex individual. Many of my friends feed one piece of me; few are me in totality. So, I spend time with them separately to feed all the pieces…which in turn, makes the whole of me a better person to be around.
It’s important to feed all the aspects of ourselves so that we have the most to bring to our relationship that is interesting, amusing, compelling, fun, satisfying, fulfilling. To invest in another, you must invest in yourself.
I don’t believe in unconditional love; I don’t believe anyone (even your mother) has to love you regardless of how you behave or treat someone because of some bond.
A key to a long-term relationship is knowing you need to be, each day, someone others want to be around.
A relationship is earned by your efforts, oftentimes, daily, slowly, gently, quietly…and most of all with genuine love.