Two people, sharing life together, comes with so many challenges, unknowns, and excitement. This is a no brainer. You meet, find an attraction, do all the firsts, and feel the sparks of your soul and the flare-up of your heart, as it races with new hope, new feelings, and butterflies. According to a study by Brown University, the happiest couples care about similar things. And, when we are happy with those closest to us, we are more likely to stay together.
In the beginning stages, you see no negatives with one another. You both put on your best fronts and your prettiest faces to keep each other’s attraction. The honeymoon stage begins and you want to get to know each other quickly to see if this will be a long term thing, or to wait for the “catch”.
We see a lot of this now since dating apps and websites are the new “normal” way to meet someone. You scroll through each other’s profile, you flirt through texts and messages, you send pics back and forth, and finally, meet face to face. It becomes a race to see how fast you can learn about each other, because if there is no ultimate attraction, there are a thousand other profiles and “swipes” out there, just in case.
Some people don’t want a long-term connection, but for those who do, there are a few qualities that need to be the foundation for a healthy, happy relationship.
Atypical qualities that affect relationships:
- Do you laugh together? This may sound like a trivial quality, but trust me when I tell you, it is one of the most important parts of a happy relationship. Imagine yourself in a group of family members, or a circle of friends. Someone says something that you find hilarious, and you laugh out loud. What is your partner doing? Do they join in the laughter or are they sitting awkwardly on the sidelines? They may not always get “inside jokes” or they may not always understand the punchline, but if they at least make an effort to laugh along with you, they are good for you. There is nothing more straining on a relationship than not sharing the same kind of humor. I was in a relationship where I would get glared at or even yelled at for laughing at someone else’s antics because my ex saw them as immature or “stupid”. He never took the time to understand why I laughed at certain things that he found annoying. The same went for watching comedians, or TV shows that I found hilarious. He would literally roll his eyes at what I found funny, but he found humor in other people’s injuries, accidents, or embarrassments. We were NOT a good humor match.
- Can they keep a secret and not use it as a weapon? This is a risky test when it comes to new relationships. This is not just about “trust”, but it is also part of the integrity of your relationship. Learning about someone and how they handle secrets, is a major aspect of knowing if they will be in your life long term. It is almost like a 6th sense and often, you don’t know until you try. Some people in new relationships will jump in with both feet, before developing a sense of trust with someone. They will tell a deep, dark secret in hopes of understanding, compassion, and intimacy. I have been burned badly in the past by spilling my guts too soon. I met someone who seemed kind and trustworthy and told him my life story before I truly knew what he would do with it. Later on, it blew up in my face, and I only had myself to blame. I thought we had integrity, and enough confidentiality between us, but he would blurt out my secrets to others when he saw ways to make them benefit him. This was a hard, valuable lesson and now I tread lightly when I share my life. Sharing mutual respect of secrets and not using them for your benefit is integral for a happy relationship.
- Do they share their feelings openly with you? When two people meet and fall in love, words and feelings are typically said openly to each other. Otherwise, how will you know that you have the same love for one another? Often, in so many relationships, the pillow talk ends at some point. There are no more talks about feelings and everything spoken is superficial. “How was your day?” and “we need milk” replaces the “I missed you” and “I am so grateful for you”. It is invaluable to talk regularly about how we feel about the relationship, our day to day experiences, and life in general. Meaningful talks are such a significant cog in the wheel of a partnership. They keep each other informed and help to keep a level of intimacy with their partner. It also opens up avenues to further get to know each other and learn about past experiences, future goals, and coping skills. A good example of this is hearing about your spouse’s day and listening while they tell you that they “flipped someone off” for being an idiot driver, as they add expletives about the other driver’s race, gender or skin color. You may or may not find it offensive, but it’s a solid way to determine whether or not they are a good match. Alternatively, they tell you a heartwarming story of how they were thinking of you while they grocery shopped, and it melts your heart. Either way, sharing feelings and not just “chatting” is critical in a solid relationship.
- How do they respond to stressful situations? There is nothing worse than that awkward moment when your partner blows a fuse over a stressful moment. Sometimes, as their partner, you can calm them down and be helpful. Other times your consolation makes it even worse. I was with someone who would yell and scream every time he messed something up, and I would end up cowering in the corner like a child, afraid of the screaming rage and throwing of random items. Often, his errors would be turned on me, as if I was the one who messed up. This is a dangerous quality and often won’t show up in a relationship until you have already committed. My advice is to not commit to a relationship until after you have seen how the other person responds to stress. Perhaps you are both volatile and have outbursts that you both understand, or maybe you both have a calm, methodical approach to stress. The key is to find someone who you can empathize with and understand, in the way they handle tough moments.
- Do you share the same type of intimacy? This seems to be a generalized question, but it is so important to consider each other on an intimate level. If your partner does not see sex, nudity, and even deep talks the same way you do, it may be a red flag. I am not saying that there is a right way or a wrong way to have healthy intimacy. However, to have compatible intimacy is pure gold. One partner may not see sex as intimacy, while the other sees it as the epitome of being close and in tune with their mate. One partner may see sex as something shared, body, and soul, while the other just wants to achieve the end-goal. Intimacy could be cuddling or talking following sex, while the other just wants to roll over and sleep, leaving their mate hanging. Either way, sharing the same ideas of intimacy, and respecting how each other feels, is beyond important. My ex equated sex with love, yet the act itself was far from what I saw as emotionally connective. If I dared to say no, when I was tired or not feeling it, I was “rejecting him”. This was not a good fit for my sexual health or well being.
- Do you share the same values in humility? Another valuable quality is humility in a relationship. I cannot tell you how many times my ex-partner was referred to as “arrogant”. He was a narcissist and I truly did not comprehend what that meant, until after I left him. People would tell me that he was self-centered, arrogant, ignorant, and rude, but I always found it in my heart to ignore their impressions of him. I even went so far as to defend him for his lack of humbleness. I am extremely humble and even shy, anxiety-ridden, and socially awkward. Ironically, he has more “friends” than I do because of his outward, outspoken opinions, while I treasure my close friends and the people who understand my nature. When I am around people I care about, my anxiety vanishes. There was zero compatibility in our levels of humility. With that being said, my fiance and I share the same sense of compassion, empathy, and human interactions. We are both humble and shy when it comes to new environments and new people, and we understand when it feels awkward. We have the ability to lean on each other and bring each other up, rather than fight for attention and control of interactions with others. We both sob in sad circumstances and we are both empaths who feel too much. We live a quiet, content life and never feel the need to showboat or showcase who we are as a couple, or as individuals. We are just us, and that’s okay.
- Do you make each other feel like better humans because of the relationship? This lesson is more critical than you think. If, for any reason, you feel lesser than your value, get the hell out of the relationship! There is absolutely no reason why one of you should feel superior or inferior in a committed life together. If anything, you should always feel like you were better than your former self because you found love. Sure, we will have bad days and good days. There will be times when you feel like a crappy human, and days when you feel like a hero. Your partner should support you either way. Some people thrive on making their significant others feel like a lower form of themselves to help raise their superiority level This is toxic and dangerous. I have been that lower version of myself before and never recognized it until it was almost too late. My fiance makes me feel like the best version of myself because he is respectful, supportive, and kind to me, even when I am not to myself. It is also important to know that you should feel fantastic about yourself, even when you are not in a relationship, but having someone who can raise you up rather than knock you on your ass is a MUST in a happy relationship.
- Are you equally thoughtful and mindful of each other? Give and take. That is what a relationship is built on. When one of you takes and takes, and refuses to give, it is not a relationship. It is a toxic life. Having someone do little things for you, whether it’s dismembering your favorite snack at the grocery store, or bringing you home something just for you is so unbelievably heartwarming. Feeling that kind of kindness and being able to return it to your partner makes relationships thrive. Remembering manners, like please and thank you’s is another simple gesture that keeps the mindfulness and respect in your home. The critical piece of this puzzle is that it remains a natural component in your shared life. Often, when you first meet, your potential partner will open doors, use manners, and impress you with small gestures of courtesy. After the two of you become comfortable, the gestures stop because there seems to be no further reason to impress each other. Complacency in thoughtfulness is not okay. Treating each other the way you want to be treated will ensure that common sense and mindfulness of each other will stay on track. The first time my fiance opened my car door I was shocked. I never actually knew that chivalry was still a thing, and it almost brought me to tears. In my past life, doors were never held, and I was expected to catch up to him as he plowed through groups of people and threw doors open in front of him for e to squeeze through as they closed behind him. Such a small, mindful gesture has made me feel like a princess and it makes me want him to feel like he is treated the same.
- Do you socialize the same way? Ugh. There is nothing worse than being thrown into a group of people that you have nothing in common with because they are your partner’s acquaintances. As my fiance became part of my life, I cautiously eased him into small groups of my friends so he could get a sense of the environment and of their personalities. Some of my friends, although lovely people, can get a little carried away and I was concerned at first because my empathy for my guy impacted how I felt he would feel in new environments. As it turns out, we both like the same type of people. We like having a few drinks, and relaxing while we chat and laugh. Thank goodness for that! I have been thrown into scenes of people who I felt were chauvinistic misogynists and was “expected” to adapt to it. That is a hard no. There were a few heavy arguments because I refused to serve food and drinks to my ex’s friends, while they referred to me as “sweetheart” and “dollface”. I was unable to find a comfort level with a group of guys sitting around smoking cigars and drinking scotch, while they spoke of other women’s “titties”. They left their wives at home for a reason, and I had no business in that circle, even while my ex expected me to partake in their shenanigans. Sharing the same social cues, the same mental and emotional vocabulary, and knowing each other’s social comfort is integral.
- Are you worried about embarrassing each other? There is no shame in feeling embarrassed around others. In fact, even feeling embarrassed with each other is a normal feeling and occurrence in a relationship. The first time you use the bathroom and smell it up, or the first time an odor emits from your body that you weren’t expecting, is NORMAL, and it’s a fact of life. However, if you or your partner openly and outwardly embarrass one another with inappropriate antics, accusations, or verbal insults, that is not okay. There is nothing more humiliating than doing something embarrassing and when you hope your partner has your back, they don’t. They don’t help the situation and they might even make it worse by telling stories, laughing at you, or calling you out, making it inconceivably horrible for you. Partners should have a united front and when each other is put into a vulnerable situation, partners help, by covering you. That makes partners trustworthy, loyal, and compassionate. I was once so unbelievably embarrassed by my ex that I tried to break it off with him the next day. He, very inappropriately, called someone out at a wedding, of all places, and caused a shit storm of drama. I was asked to never invite him to another family gathering again. After the incident, he blamed me for the outburst and told me my family was all a bunch of losers and they should be called out for it. Not once did my feelings come into his mind, and how it affected me. This was a chain of many moments when either I was embarrassed by something he did or said, or he embarrassed me by telling others about very private, very inappropriate events that had happened in my life. It is never okay to intentionally make each other feel uncomfortable for personal gain or attention.
- Do you fight nicely? That first real conflict will tell you so much about each other. How do they try and see your perspective, or do they try? If you cannot agree, how do you handle it? And after it’s over, how is it put away? Arguing is not fun. Sometimes people disagree, and getting it out in front of you is healthy. The topic of the argument will also determine so much about each other’s character-whether or not one of you sees it as petty, or whether it’s the end of the world, it is still a conflict that needs some type of resolution. Often, conflicts are based on jealousy, insecurities, or an unfair “feeling” of one person while the other defends themselves. There may be rage, raising of voices, anger, sadness, frustration and all those other un-fun emotions. These are important to see, feel, and recognize. How you handle arguments with one another is key. Harboring past feelings and lashing out, digging up past events is an unfair strategy unless the past arguments were never resolved properly. It is so damn important to finish one argument before the next arises, or you end up fighting about the same topics, the same events, and the same feelings time and time again. Some couples can yell and scream and get it over with, while others need to talk calmly and rationally and work through it. The key element is that you can both feel like it is over and done with, no matter how you battle through. You both need to feel like the argument was needed but it is done, and you can now move forward. My ex and I had the same argument for years. The reason that we argued time and time again over the same shit, was because he refused to end the behavior, and refused to acknowledge my feelings. The subject was always his ex-wife, and how he kept her in our relationship. Each argument sparked by something completely different, but it always ended up with his ex’s name coming up, and my frustration and hurt feelings. It was like a wound that kept getting ripped open again and again, and it never healed. We would table it and the next argument would be the same as the last. I saw the unfairness, the insecurity, and even the jealousy in myself, and he would fuel it by never identifying his part in it. I was crazy and he was innocent. Eventually, I just stopped saying how I felt for fear of her being dragged in again. We went for a year without conflict, while I silently raged, unable to speak my voice. This was a very unhealthy way to live, for both of us.
- Are you friends? Do you hang out together just for fun? Do you share interests and can you talk to each other the same way you do your friends? Can you look at your partner and call them “friend”? If this is missing from your life, you are setting yourself up for failure. At first, when you are working on attraction, chemistry and future plans together, friendship with one another may not seem like a priority, You need to make it one. So many women and men, or men/men, women/women relationships begin, become commitments, and become a joined household, but there is one piece missing. Often, we rely on other people, as our friends, to bounce ideas, problems, goals, or challenges off them, without considering our partners. It becomes “normal” to have friends on the outside of the relationship to be impartial opinions and to help guide your life. This seems to me, to be non-productive. I have a few friends who I talk to about all kinds of stuff, and some of them know my deepest fears and anxieties. My fiance knows more than they do. I tell him EVERYTHING, even if it is uncomfortable for me to share or him to hear. I don’t tell him my dark stuff because I want his help necessarily, and I don’t tell him for his advice. I simply know that I can trust him and I respect his input and his perspective. He also doesn’t judge me, which is something I am not familiar with. In my past relationships, I could never look at my partner as a “friend”. Sure, we talked about deep matters, and I shared parts of me with them, but my girlfriends were my go-to for everything that needed to be said. The problem with this is over time, your partner becomes the problem and not the solution, and talks soon become about struggles you have in your relationship. These talks should be shared with your mate, as your best friend.
So there you have it. These lessons took me many years, a lot of tears, some hurt, and some self-analyzing to learn. Choosing a life partner is not as easy as many believe. Contrary to the opinion of others, you need to find who suits you best, and who fits in your emotional world. Compatibility is so much more than attraction, chemistry, or shared interests. More importantly, getting beyond the honeymoon stage, where you are still working on winning each other over, will be a true testament to the future you may or may not share.
It is so easy to meet people, through technology, social networks, and swiping left/right. Anyone can meet for hookups, friends, or long term relationships with the availability of profiles and text messages. I was fortunate enough to not have to resort to this type of dating, but I understand the need and the application.
Strong, healthy happy relationships, no matter what your personality or qualities are like, need to work well for you. There are so many factors to take into account when you choose to share a life with someone. Choose wisely, stay safe, and never allow another human to make you feel less than yourself. Don’t stay in a relationship for perks or dangling carrots, and always consider your self-value as a measure of how happy you are in your relationship. Most importantly, have fun and be healthy.