What Makes a Relationship Great?

Why are some couples happier than others? What is the "secret" for a great relationship? With certain couples it is clear there is something about the way they interact that makes it obvious they have a unique and genuine connection.

Even if you're in a good relationship, you can't help but wonder: What do they know that I don't? And if you're single, you might look at these couples and attribute it all to chemistry or destiny. But it turns out that people in great relationships live by a few basic rules and they make these rules a priority in their day-to-day lives together. Consider these habits that can help you create a strong, nurturing relationship.

Great relationships are based on realistic expectations

  • Great relationships take work and thoughtfulness every day
  • Great relationships need communication know-how
  • Great relationships turn negatives into positives

Great relationships are based on realistic expectations

Forget what you see in the movies or on television. In other words, real relationships aren't anything like what you see in the movies full of non-stop romance, candlelight dinners and whirlwind trips to exotic locations.

Real relationships take effort, time and commitment. Great relationships just don't happen because two people love each very much, great relationships happen because not only do two people love each other very much, they also value one another and are willing to make an investment of time into the relationship - day after day.

Couples in healthy and positive relationships have a fundamental understanding of the proper and appropriate expectations for a stable and long-lasting relationship. They understand that not all days will be full or passion and romance. Similarly, they understand that rough spots in a relationship may only be temporary if good communication is present to work through these times.

A good way to look at this is to consider not getting too excited with the very high "highs" or too concerned with the very low "lows." Both are momentary at best, and will not define the true nature and scope of the relationship over a long period of time. By reframing these extremes, you will be left with the right measure of balance and the right set of expectations to build a quality and sustainable relationship for many years to come.

Great relationships take work and thoughtfulness every day

People who are in successful relationships work on these partnerships regularly. They don't just set their life on cruise control expecting things to be great all of the time. Ask yourself, "What can I do today to make my partner's life better?" Little bits of effort every day will accumulate over time and make a big difference.

Think of small, specific ways to make your relationship better whether it's picking up your loved one's dry cleaning, telling your partner that you're proud of him or her, or taking over a task he or she really doesn't like to do.

You should make an effort every day to deposit at least one act of thoughtfulness into your relationship's bank account. Your goal, however, should not be to make a huge withdrawal at the end of the week. Your only goal should be to keep giving the things your mate wants - either his or her expressed and unexpressed wants. If there are actions you can take to make your partner's day more convenient and less stressful, then do them. But, again, don't do them for what you could gain by providing them.

Great relationships need communication know-how

It may look as if people in great relationships intuitively know what their partners need. But the truth is, no one is a mind-reader so don't expect your partner to be able to figure out how you're feeling.

When things aren't perfectly in sync, couples in this kind of relationship know how to communicate. They know that instead of giving their partner a laundry list of what he or she is doing wrong, they can be specific about what it is that they want. They also make an effort to discover what their partner's needs are. The best way for most people to do this is talk about it.

Ask your partner what things are really important to him or her. Does he want to know you're proud of him? Does she need to be able to express her sadness over a family or work-related situation without hearing how she ought to handle it?

Too often we get into the habit of coaching and not listening. The best way to let your partner know you are listening is to ask how she or he "feels" about the situation. Once they begin sharing, your job is simply to shut-up and listen. Offer acknowledgments and affirmations from time-to-time to demonstrate you are engaged with what is being said. Only give your opinion or advice if asked.

Great relationships turn negatives into positives

You may have heard the expression: "When you are given lemons - make lemonade." Overtime, relationships are handed several lemons. The sources for negative feelings and unbalance are numerous. Some are directly caused between both people because of poor or missing communication. Indirect sources of anxiety in a relationship can be work- related or financially based.

When the interpersonal aspect of the relationship is creating the negativity, consider this simple exercise. First, you and your partner must be open to honest feedback. Next, ask your partner this question: "On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate our relationship (keep in mind the word "relationship" can be substituted for intimacy; support of one another, etc.).

Allow your partner time to reflect and provide an honest reply. If the answer is "Seven," ask this follow-up question: "What are three things I can do to get our relationship to a ten (if the answer is "six," you would ask for four things, etc.)? Again, give your partner time to consider their response. It may be hard to listen, because the answers may sound critical and negative. But really, the answers are solutions to turn the negatives into positives.

There is one more critical part of this exercise. After your partner is finished and you have taken in and acknowledged the areas for improvement, ask this question: "What are three (or whatever the number needs to be) things you can do to get our relationship to a ten?"

By asking this follow-up question, it's putting the relationship back on equal footing and back into the spirit of a true partnership. Except for certain extreme and unfortunate examples, most relationships are successful, or not successful, because of the contributions and efforts of both. Take an honest look at how you are contributing to any negative circumstances, but also be aware it does take two to make it work and to create a more positive and healthy relationship.

When lemons drop from the trees, but you and your partner were expecting apples, begin to make lemonade by creating an action list of what you both can do to get apples next time.

Also by Alex Blackwell, How to Love Consciously at The BridgeMaker.com