Ten characteristics of successful relationships

As a couple’s therapist, I’ve seen countless relationship patterns. People who come for advice are clearly looking to change something they see as a problem in their partnership. Problems range from relatively benign alterations in communication to serious breaches of pain and trust due to infidelity and all sorts of issues in between. Filtering through all of this, I’ve identified ten characteristics of successful relationships. These qualities are an integral part of the foundation of a healthy relationship and I believe they increase the chances of weathering the storms that life is bound to feed upon.

The ten characteristics are as follows, in no particular order:

1) friendship:

Couples with a strong friendship have staying power. They not only love each other, but genuinely love each other as people. They enjoy hanging out together. They may even consider each other a “best friend”.

2) kidding:

Partners who can make each other laugh tend to be good at de-escalating conflicts when they arise. It is the best wonderful mood. I’ve noticed that using funny nicknames can be an indication of great loyalty to one another. The names often stem from a “should be there” moment from the beginning of their relationship.

3) communication:

As obvious as it may seem, many couples aren’t very good at it. Those who are able to openly express their feelings in an emotionally safe environment usually deal with situations as they arise and avoid burying frustration they almost always have a way out at some point.

4) Sharing chores:

Those who divide up the home or parenting responsibilities in a mutually agreed-upon manner are less likely to resent what they consider “unfair.” They both participate (albeit reluctantly) and both contribute to the relationship in this way.

5) sexual intimacy:

Couples whose sexual needs are met or at least negotiate a reasonable compromise if their levels of need are incompatible feel cared for by the other. Some are very active, engaging in lovemaking several times a week, while others are content with much less. There is no “right” or “false” amount. However, negotiation is often needed to ensure that no one feels left out by the other.

6) Emotion:

Partners who stay physically connected in some way throughout the day seem to be the happiest. These moments don’t necessarily have to lead to sexual intimacy but they are easy ways to say “I love you” without the words. These moments can be invaluable, especially these days when everyone seems to be racing to get “somewhere.” Whether it’s a hug, a kiss, a back-swat, a hair-tug, or an lap sit, these acts of affection keep couples connected when life gets crazy.

7) No “Knights of the Apocalypse:”

The term was coined by renowned couples researcher John Gottman (www.gottman.com) who claims to be able to predict divorce with incredible accuracy. His “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” are Criticism, Contempt, Defense and Procrastination. His research has shown that couples who display a high level of these in their relationships have a big problem.

8) Mutual and separate friends:

Partners who connect with other couples and also maintain separate friendships have a greater balance in terms of honoring themselves as individuals, within the relationship. This leads to more complacency which translates to relationship satisfaction.

9) credibility:

Most of us want to pursue our friendships and partners. If couples do what they say and say what they do, they create comfort in knowing that their words mean something to the other.

10) Relationship vision:

It’s interesting how many couples I’ve seen who don’t seem to have the big picture of their relationship in mind. Where do they see themselves in ten years? What are their relationship goals? Couples who have created a relationship vision for themselves know where to go as they planned it together. They enjoy reaching their goals as a team and are less likely to be derailed by surprises in the future.

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