The Essential Ingredients of a Successful Relationship

By September 2, 2014Relationships

Demonstrating Desire, Belief, and Commitment

Couples who have a successful relationship want to be together, believe in the rightness of their relationship, and are committed to their life together. They are not ambivalent about their relationship; they have chosen to be fully involved with each other. They don’t head for the door at the first sign of trouble and they don’t turn away from each other when the going gets tough. When they run into a problem or conflict they stick together, roll up their sleeves and work together to get through the challenge. Because they want to be together and believe in the strength of their love for one another, they refuse to let the inevitable obstacles within a relationship defeat them. They believe they can be happy together and that a joyful relationship is possible. And then they set out to make it happen.

Demonstrating Benevolence, Kindness, and Generosity of Spirit

In a relationship that works, each person gives his or her partner the benefit of the doubt. This means being on your partner’s side and knowing that your partner is on your side. It also means being as concerned about meeting your partner’s needs, as you are about meeting your own. If one person’s needs are not being met in the relationship, then the relationship is not working. In a strong relationship, each person is the other’s biggest fan and always speaks well of the other. They assume the best about the other and have faith that the other acts with the best of intentions. There is a mutual feeling of fair play and each can trust the other to be gentle with the intimate knowledge of the other – their spirits are open to one another.

Making the Relationship a Priority

Couples whose relationship is thriving make time for each other and make their relationship a priority. They recognize that their relationship with each other is central to their lives. They consistently find ways to spend time together and in a wide variety of ways. They do this because they want to be together, not because they have to be together. They pay attention to each other. They are interested in finding out what’s going on in each other’s lives on a daily basis and always stay up-to-date with one another. They play together, enjoy doing routine chores with each other, and develop rituals that belong only to them and that reflect aspects of their relationship. They find time to get away together, and they spend time talking about and developing their relationship. In other words, their relationship is important enough for them to build the rest of their life around it.

Valuing the Journey

Couples whose relationship is alive and dynamic value life more than achievement. No matter how great their accomplishments or how involved they are in their work or community, their life with each other comes first. They don’t put off their life together until they achieve a certain amount of personal or financial success. They deliberately chose to enhance and enjoy their life as a couple. Their love is not one aspect of their life; it is the unifying theme. They view life as an adventure and fully embrace all of their experiences – the good and the not so good. They are constantly learning about themselves, each other, and the larger world. They live in the present and know that if they pay attention to the processes of life, the outcomes will directly reflect their efforts.

Setting Boundaries

Couples with a strong relationship know how to establish and maintain healthy boundaries. They are able to easily move back and forth between individuality and togetherness. The couple spends time negotiating various boundaries with each other, particularly in the areas of time, space, household tasks, money, privacy, emotional responsibilities, and social responsibilities. They are willing to work at striking a balance between dependency and self-sufficiency and endeavor to create a true partnership style of relationship based on interdependence.

Maintaining Perspective

Healthy couples know the value of maintaining their perspective about themselves, each other, and their life together. They demonstrate flexibility, effective coping skills, a sense of humor, and remember the big picture of the relationship. They know that life is long and that good times and bad times are part of an enduring relationship.

They also know that anxiety and intimacy are incompatible. Anxiety is self-focussed while intimacy requires that you be open to the other. During stressful times, a couple that has the ability to stay in the relationship and stay connected grows stronger. When a couple can work together in the face of a challenge, they will be able to identify the source of stress and develop a plan to mange or eliminate the problem. Healthy couples view problems as opportunities to learn and grow as individuals and as a couple. Intimacy, with all it’s pain and pleasure is a great teacher.

Demonstrating Relationship-Enhancing Communication

Communication that strengthens a relationship involves each individual taking responsibility for themselves, actively listening to the other, being able to ask for what they want, and being willing to affirm and appreciate their partner. Respect is a vital aspect of effective communication. While it is important to be able to listen, you must be prepared to hear things you may not want to hear. While you have a right to ask for what you want, you must respect the right of the other person to say no to your request.

Communication involves all of our senses and includes touching, looking, smelling, tasting, and being aware of the rhythm of each other. Couples who demonstrate their deep love of each other do so in all of these ways. They know that sensuality and caring are as important as sexuality. The physical, emotional, and spiritual bonds between them can be felt as well as seen.

Fostering Intimacy

Emotional intimacy involves disclosing yourself and sharing your inner life with your partner. In order to do this, you must first be open to yourself and be willing to learn about all aspects of yourself. You can’t share what you don’t have or what you may be hiding from yourself. Secondly, you must have an atmosphere of trust within the relationship. Emotional intimacy requires that you have the courage to be vulnerable to your partner. You won’t share if you fear that the information will be dismissed or used to hurt you in some way.

Intimacy does not curtail freedom and autonomy. Intimacy means connecting with one another, it does not mean merging with one another.

Developing a Satisfying Sexual Relationship

Couples who are happy in their relationship recognize that a healthy sexual relationship is an integral part of their expression of love for one another. They believe that sex is an important way of connecting with each other. They accept their sexual experience as it is and endeavor to meet each other’s needs. They know and incorporate into their lovemaking the differences between what each other enjoys in sex. The couple spends time talking about their sex life and each is willing to ask for what they want. There is a balance between giving and receiving during sex. They deliberately find ways to stimulate their sex lives.

Nurturing the Passion

Couples who stay passionate with each other pay attention to their relationship. They talk together, spend time together, are honest with each other, are compassionate with each other, and are open to each other. They value each other, surprise each other, do exciting things together, are able to forgive each other, and live life as an adventure. They focus on each other and put energy into the relationship. They realize that they can only get out of the relationship what they put into it and each partner takes responsibility for doing their part.


Now That I’m Married, Why Isn’t Everything Perfect?, Susan Page, 1994
To Love and Be Loved, Sam Keen, 1997

Shirley Vandersteen, Ph. D., C. Psych.
Consulting Psychologist