“Dr. Neecie, how do I know if I am being successful in my marriage?“ What a beautiful question a client asked me recently. He’s in his mid to late 60s, and has been married previously. When he remarried, he vowed to himself, and his new wife, that he would “get it right” this time.
What a refreshing thing for him to be asking. Usually when someone comes to me about a relationship, it’s because there is a crisis, or because dysfunctional patterns have gone on for quite some time, and the relationship is truly in trouble.
I paused to consider his question, and told him that the very fact that he would ask the question says that he must be investing a lot into the relationship. If you ask yourself similar questions, you are likely on the road to success in your relationship too! People in troubled relationships ask themselves questions like: “How can I get my partner to see how they are messing things up or how can I get them to change?”
How do we measure success in relationships? How do we measure success in most things in life? It seems like the popular measure of success today is how many followers you have on Twitter, or how many likes you have on your Facebook page. Yet do those actually have much to do with success? Certainly they mean nothing in measuring our relationship successes.
In order to answer his question, I told him that perhaps the best way to measure success could be making a checklist of the crucial things research indicates to be the hallmarks of successful relationships. Of course, any magazine you read, many YouTube videos, and countless books suggest what makes relationships successful. All contain good information, but I like to refer to things validated by research.
I told him that there are eight keys I teach couples in relationship workshops, as well as those in premarital counseling, that are foundational to ensuring relationship success and fulfillment.
I’m certainly not saying that these are the only eight keys, but perhaps they are ones you may consider if you truly want a successful relationship. Before you “hang up” because you are not currently in a relationship, these hold true not only in intimate relationships and marriages, but also with our children, our adult children, and our dearest friends and family.
Let’s take a look at the eight keys (and perhaps you will want to place a check by those you practice in your relationships):
- Commitment. To build a healthy relationship, commitment is required. Commitment during the good times, commitment during the hard times. Commitment has been defined as: “the state of being emotionally and/or intellectually devoted and obligated to a cause, course of action, or another person.” Another definition is: “a daily triumph of integrity daily to whom you are devoted.” Commitment is not always easy. But it does not crater when challenges come. It is not selective to situations. Commitment provides the safety for two people to come together, to make mistakes, and to come alongside one another, helping one another stand strong and grow. Without that deep commitment, there is no great growth and deep connection. Unfortunately, we live in a very uncommitted environment. Commitments are often temporary, and easily broken. Weak commitments do not create successful relationships, but deep and sincere commitments are hallmarks of successful relationships. Are you deeply committed? And do you assure your partner of your commitment? If so, give yourself a check mark!
- Good communication, or TREK-y talk. Good communication is not only clear, but is also TREK-y. What is TREK-y? (Click here to read more about this). T is for truth, R is for a respectful, E is for empathetic, and the K is for kindness. All communication in successful relationships occurs using the TREK-y talk principal. Do you practice TREK-y talk in all of your communications with your partner? If so, give yourself a check mark!
- Knowing and meeting your partners top three needs. We all have seven needs. The first four needs are survival needs. Research has shown that when these survival needs go unmet, that we are at risk of violating our values, giving up our goals, and sacrificing our dreams. (You can read more about our seven needs by clicking here). What makes each of us unique, or the order those top four survival needs fall in. In successful relationships, each partner knows, and works diligently to make sure at least the top three survival needs of their partner are met consistently. I also ask partners to provide one another with a list of at least 25 things that meet each of their top three or four needs. In successful relationships, each partner is devoted to meeting the others needs, in a manner prescribed by the partner’s list. Do you know your partner’s top three needs, and what it takes to meet them? If so, give yourself a check mark!
- Knowing your partners deepest longings and fulfilling them on a regular and ongoing basis. Each of us has these longings. Dr. Harville Hendrix has found, in research over the past 25 years, that knowing and meeting those deep longings is crucial to relationship success. Sadly, many people have never identified those deep longings themselves, much less shared them with their partner. There are two ways to access some of those deep longings: Think of those things that, as a child, you longed for. Not “stuff” or tangible of things, but those things that you never received, or did not receive enough of. These normally include things such as: “spending time with me, showing me that you love me, telling me that you’re proud of me,” etc. Another way to access them is to consider past relationships that left you feeling empty. What did you long for that you did not get it? Or only got in the beginning? Things such as: “faithfulness, kindness, or physical touch,” etc. Spending time together and identifying those longings, and sharing them is a powerfully connecting exercise. However, meeting your partners’ deep longings is a bonding experience that creates a relationship “superglue“ or relationship success. Do you know your partners longing? Do you work intentionally to meet them consistently and often? If so, give yourself a check mark!
- Good conflict resolution skills in a safe environment. Many of us have been so exposed to media, and family situations, where conflict resolution involved denigrating one another, name-calling, and harsh accusations… That we naturally defer to similar thing when facing conflict. Whether a conflict is small, or huge, I challenge the couples I see to make an appointment to address conflict. Then I coach them to watch one movie at a time. (Every person has a favorite movie that is probably good… But watching “The Sound of Music“ and “The Avengers“ at the same time is not an enjoyable experience!) Therefore I have the person who requested the appointment share their heart first. While the other partner practices reflecting, empathizing, and validating. I coach the person sharing their heart to make three positive, specific, behavior change requests (PSBCRs). I have them start each request with: “Would you be willing…“. Make sure that the PSBCRs resolve part of the frustration or conflict or hurt that you shared. I encourage the listening partner to grant all three if it all possible. But to definitely grant at least one. Then I have them exchange a hug, and do something fun and recreational (See item six below for more info on fun and recreation). Then if the listening partner would like to share their hearts, I have them ask for an appointment, and wait at least 15 minutes from the conclusion of the first appointment to start. Handling conflict with TREK-y talk by appointment and active listening is a practice of those in successful relationships. Do you handle conflict by sharing your heart after asking for an appointment, or being a good listener (reflecting, empathizing and validating) when your partner shares? If so, give yourself a check mark!
- Recreation… Keeping fun alive. Recreation is from a Latin root word, which means to refresh and renew, and to re-create. I highly encourage couples to keep the fun alive, re-creating that first love. I tell them that the fun must require energy, promote eye contact, and be something both enjoy. Things like going for a walk, riding bikes, working out together, or playing games like charades. Couples who have been together for a long time often respond like deer in the headlights. Like it’s been so long since they’ve had fun that they don’t even remember what fun is. I invite them to think back to the beginning of their relationship, and remember what they did to have fun together then. The list begins to grow! Successful relationships re-create the relationship with fun and laughter! Do you create moments of fun and laughter on a regular basis in your relationships? If so, give yourself a check mark!
- Expect the best. When there has been conflict or challenges in relationships, we begin to expect the worst and find it. We set our reticular activating system (RAS – click here to read more about that) to looking for negative things, mistakes, things that upset us. When our RAS is set like that, it will ignore anything positive, and only make note of things that are negative. One of the hallmarks of successful relationships is to set your RAS daily to look for positive things in your partner. How do you do that? By starting the day with a moment of gratitude for them. They’ve done some things, at some point in the relationship, that give you reason to be grateful. Spend a moment thinking about that, and you are setting RAS to expect the best. It’s amazing how much negative we can overlook because our RAS does not alert us to them when we have set it to seek out the positive. This is the hallmark of exceptionally successful relationships. Do you practice gratitude for your partner? Do you intentionally set your RAS to look for and expect the best? If so, give yourself a check mark!
- Practice the one thing that takes chances of break ups or divorce from 1 out of 2 relationships to 1 out of 1156 relationships. In a research project conducted by Dr. Ellison at UT San Antonio, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, found that incidences of breakups and divorces of couples who said a prayer together daily were reduced to 1 and 1156 couples. I suggest that couples, regardless of religious persuasion, to consider this piece of research. It alone would encourage me to take my partner’s hand at the end of each day, and say the Serenity Prayer, The Lord’s Prayer, or at least “God bless our marriage.“ Do you say a prayer together daily? If so, give yourself a check mark!
Interestingly enough, as my client and I reviewed these eight keys, he notd that he and his wife were doing very similar things, although they did not have the detail of instructions I have included here for you.
I told him that ultimately, the level of fulfillment that they each reported in the relationship was the most important indicator.
Subsequently, he asked her to join him in a session to review the eight keys with me. She, too, stated that they practice most everything on the list, even though they did not have the detailed instructions. They wanted the information to share with their adult children, and asked if I might write it all out. I promised to bring it forward in an upcoming blog, so here it is. I hope that you will begin practicing these in your relationships. Whether your relationship is in poor condition, our great condition, it’s never too late to give it a great boost. I encourage you to get started today.
Richer relationships create happier families, and provide a great model for children to recreate happy, healthy relationships. There is no greater gift we could give to our children! Start now and give yourself a check mark!