If you want to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of your relationship, check these 4 areas of your life together
Based on my many years of counseling people, I’ve identified four main areas that need to be in harmony (more or less) for a couple’s relationship to continue and thrive:
- Good sex
- Good energy
- Shared values and interests
- Respect (especially when you are not in agreement)
Let’s look at these areas and see why they are so important. But before we start, I’d like to emphasize that it’s not essential for two people to always be matching in each category, but on the whole, you should be more or less a good match in these four areas.
I start here because for most of us, our relationships begin with the excitement of meeting and then having good sex. It’s fun and we feel good about it. So sex is a kind of weathervane in any relationship, even after people have been together for a while. So how is your sex life? Are you still doing it? How often? Does it feel good? Is it a source of pleasure in your relationship or a source of tension and disappointment? Or has it just sort of faded into the distance?
When the two of you are together, is there good energy? More or less, most of the time? Does it feel good? Is there a relaxed and lighthearted atmosphere, even when each of you is doing your own thing? Or is it just a drag? Or is there a lot of tension, irritation, or bad feelings? Ask yourself how it really feels when you’re together. Be honest.
Shared values and interests
Shared interests are important for a relationship to work in the long run. Even if you love each other, if one person wants to spend all their time meditating on a mountain top in silence while the other wants to be shopping in Paris or London, you might not be such a good match — because what are you going to do together? You don’t like to hang out the way he/she likes to and vice versa. It’s important that people have at least some shared interests, like skiing or hiking or camping or walking in the mountains or lazing on the beach. Or maybe both parties love going to the theater or to the movies and concerts. Because it’s fun to have things you really enjoy doing together.
Shared values are also important. Again, if one partner wants an open relationship and having sex with multiple partners while the other person wants monogamy, it can be hard to live together harmoniously because you don’t have shared values. It’s not that one way or the other is “right” or “wrong”, but rather that the two of you are probably just too far away from each other to live together harmoniously. I always say, if two consenting adults want to be chained together from morning to evening every day of the week — and they agree that this works for them — well fine! And if two consenting adults agree to live apart and meet only once a month for non-stop sex – and they agree that works for them – well that’s fine too!
So we’re not talking about “right” and “wrong” here, we’re just talking about finding what works for two people.
Other shared values which can be important in couple relationships center around, for example, having kids. It can be a problem if one of you wants to have kids and the other doesn’t. How is that going to work? Or if you do have children, there is the question of how to raise them. If the one parent goes in for very strict discipline and the other parent is more laid back, this again can create disagreement and tension in terms of how to bring up the children. Who gets to decide?
And what about keeping the house clean? I have seen the same problem arise in couples when it comes to the level of tidiness. If one person is neat and tidy and the other is messy, this can cause endless problems and tension when these two people are living together in the same space.
So shared values are not so much a question of “right” and “wrong”, but rather a question of how aligned two people are when it comes to being together and/or living together and sharing the same space. It’s important to have some form of agreement about basic activities and the principles that these two people are sharing in the relationship, because when two people are too far apart in their basic approaches to life and the various everyday issues we face, it can make being and/or living together very challenging.
Respect (especially when you are not in agreement)
Respect is my final — and probably most important — point. Can you and do you treat each other with respect, especially when you disagree about things? It’s easy to be nice and treat your partner respectfully if you always agree with each other. But are you psychologically mature enough to understand and discern that even people who love each other can (and often do) disagree with each other? This is because we are all different; we all have different backgrounds and ideas about how things should be, how life should be lived and what dreams we hold.
For a relationship to work, it’s vitally important to understand that love and agreement are two different things. That’s why we can love someone deeply and still disagree with him or her. Treating each other with respect, especially when you disagree, is the most crucial aspect of any good relationship. If you can do this and respectfully listen to each other and then sit down and discuss ways in which you can reach a workable compromise on whatever issues you find challenging, then your relationship has a wonderful chance of not just surviving, but thriving!
How respect affects all the areas
When you look at your relationship in terms of these four areas, it’s important to notice that things are ever-changing. You and your partner are probably stronger in some areas than in others, but if you focus on developing respectful ways of communicating when there are disagreements, it will automatically help to create better energy when you are together. And this often makes your sex life better as well. So it all hangs together — and the better it gets, the better it gets.
Read more from Barbara Berger on this site on her author page.
You may also enjoy reading Finding My Way to We | How to Retain Your Identity In a Relationship by Nancy Levin