What are the fundamental ingredients necessary for a successful relationship? Most would say love, attraction and respect. These are the basic ingredients that we anticipate when we start a new relationship. Then we begin to look at values. Does this person value family, hard work and so on? I like to remind couples about these basic foundations because they are important at all stages of their relationship. Sometimes these significant pieces become lost during the daily demands they experience. Sometimes they just forget to tell one another how nice they look, or to say they are still attracted to each other, or that they are proud of the other's accomplishment.
As life becomes more complicated and demanding, couples need to develop more sophisticated interactions and problem-solving techniques. Each partner may feel secure in his or her commitment, but yet have doubts about the long term when things become difficult. Commitment to the relationship, to working it out during a crisis, is one of the most significant elements of relationship success.
Crises are inevitable in life and in relationships. Additionally, the stress of coping with a crisis places a lot of pressure on each individual. As a result, it is not unusual for partners to become irritable with one another or even explosive. This further challenges the relationship. Learning how to resolve conflicts is a powerful tool in relationship success. There are specific steps in conflict resolution which I like to teach couples when I work with them. Just like you learn to negotiate which restaurant to go to or which movie to attend, you need to learn to negotiate your differences as you go through life's numerous hurdles. There are various steps and specific techniques which can help renegotiate the relationship and get beyond a crisis.
A third, and very necessary component to a good relationship is caring. Certainly you care a great deal about your partner or your relationship would not have progressed to this point. However, when you experience stress or a crisis, you may not feel cared about. You are both so engrossed in the problem and finding a solution that you forget about expressing your caring. Expressing your caring again introduces tenderness between you. It infuses energy back into the relationship so that you both don't feel alone. It reminds you of those early feelings of attraction and well being, when you felt strong together and believed you could solve anything.
These are not complicated concepts, but are so powerful that I use them to help couples through difficult times. Often, even though the positive feelings are still there, I see the relationship falter because the partners do not have these tools. As they integrate the new knowledge, the relationship is strengthened and they are able to weather future difficulties.