You met, and felt the sparks. It was his sense of humor. It was her smile. It was the way you felt when you were together. You liked how you were able to finish each other’s sentences. You had common goals and hobbies. Or, maybe you loved how different the two of you were.
No matter how you met, you were sure that together, you saw the future. This is how relationships start. But now that you have found one another, how can you make sure that both partners stay satisfied? The answer: communication, respect and a stronger desire to be together than to be apart.
While dating, keeping your relationship satisfying probably seemed easy. As you had deep conversations, you learned more about one another. Through shared experiences, you developed a stronger connection.
Fast-forward a few years (or decades), and you might find yourself wondering about the status of your relationship. You might be asking yourself: Is our relationship still good enough? What if we don’t have sex very often? What if we fight sometimes? What if we spend more time and effort on our kids than on our partner? If we had to do it all over again, would we still choose each other? Are we still happy?
Asking these questions doesn’t necessarily mean your relationship is on the rocks or headed for trouble. It means you’re normal! As relationships go through the ebb and flow of time, it is common to go through periods when everything is smooth sailing; other times, it’s a turbulent ride. As relationships mature, the everyday tasks and division of chores is less fascinating. The story your partner tells that was once funny or interesting now gets an eye roll as it is told for the 10th (or 100th) time! The date-night dinner that was once slow and casual is now hurried so that you can get home to the baby sitter. All of these changes lead to less communication, less respect and, sometimes, the worry that you are losing the love that brought you together.
No relationship is perfect
Unfortunately, through movies and other media (and airbrushing!), relationships can be held to an unrealistic standard. Some couples make the mistake of thinking that love should be a constant, never-changing feeling. But relationships go through a variety of cycles. For most, that doesn’t mean that love ends or goes away. Instead, love evolves. Sometimes, we may have to stop and remind ourselves that we still love one another, but we need a new focus. By talking more and expressing fondness and admiration, the relationship grows.
Even though it is common for relationships to change course, there is no reason to accept unhappiness. You can still be satisfied.
Consider the research of Dr. John Gottman, who divides relationships into two categories. First, there are the Masters of Marriage. The Masters are couples who simply “stay together and are reasonably satisfied.” Opposite the Masters are the Disasters, “those who end their relationship or those who stay together but are miserable.” The key to making your relationship satisfying is to make it good enough! That doesn’t mean that every day has to be free of argument. It doesn’t mean that you have to be intimate on any given schedule or that you have to spend hours talking together. The best news for most couples is that you are the only ones who can decide what it takes to be reasonably satisfied. Not only does this alleviate the need to compare yourselves to other couples, but it allows you to determine what you need to be happy.
For some couples, satisfaction requires time to be alone and pursue separate interests. For others, it means just being together. For some couples, satisfaction requires adventures or experiences. For others, it means quiet nights at home. Most importantly, it has to work for both people in the relationship. To be Masters, each partner needs to find enough moments of connection and opportunities to feel supported, valued and heard. Again, it only has to be good enough. Remember: Love requires effort and a balance of giving, receiving and doing. Maintaining friendship and finding ways to have fun together can mean the difference between having a satisfying and a dissatisfying relationship.
As you consider your plans for Valentine’s Day this year, don’t worry about making them too perfect or complicated. Just try to find a connection that allows each partner to be satisfied. Think outside of the box. Many of the happiest couples find romance and friendship in the simple moments. In fact, the best Valentine’s Day gift can be to set time aside to just be together and remind yourself of the connection that brought you together in the first place. Many couples are Masters of their relationships without even knowing it.
If you need help this Valentine’s Day, think back to what made your relationship satisfying when you were dating. What did you do for fun? Did you go out alone together or did you prefer to be among friends? Were you intimate often or occasionally? Whatever the answers, bring that state of mind back into your relationship. Do a self-assessment. Ask yourself: Am I doing anything that would make my partner unhappy with me? Read old greeting cards, listen to old songs and share your thoughts with your partner. Then, together, try to answer the question: Are we Masters or Disasters? Is our relationship good enough? The happiest couples are also friends.
Carolyn Pirak is the director of the national Bringing Baby Home program. She is married and the mother of two children. For more information, visit Bringing Baby Home.
Qualities of a satisfying relationship
- Communication is open.
- Conflict is OK.
- Partners listen to one another.
- Play and relaxation are encouraged.
- There is freedom to participate in activities alone or with other friends.
- Partners trust one another.
- Individuals take responsibility for their behavior.
- Humor is used to cope with mistakes.
Originally published in the February, 2009 print edition of ParentMap.