The most challenging relationship we will ever have is with ourselves. The goal of each of our lives is to be present for whatever happens to us—no matter what that looks like. Our life, no doubt, will be fraught with ups and downs, transitions, obstacles, challenges, accomplishments, and triumphs. Ideally, we will learn from our experiences so that moving forward, our lives will be better, healthier, and more meaningful. The adage “know thyself” says it best: The first, and most essential, job of our lifetime is to know who we are as best we can, in the fullest form that is possible.
Once we have a pretty good idea about who we are and what we stand for, we are ready to begin the journey of being ourselves in a relationship. Having an intimate relationship with another person is perhaps the second-most-challenging relationship any of us will ever have. Not only are we being asked to keep up the work of making sure we live our own life to its fullest capacity and potential, we are now asked and challenged to incorporate the full capacity and potential of another human being into a relationship. You can imagine how complex and difficult it is to create an experience that is healthy, honest, respectful, inclusive, joyful, and loving, and that values and promotes individual expression and personal growth for both partners.
Although intimacy, friendship, familiarity, connection, and safety are hallmarks of a successful relationship, there are seven essential principles that define a loving (and healthy) relationship.
1. You participate in each other’s learning and growth.
Each of us is a mirror for the other. We learn from the feelings and behaviors of our partner. Gaining new perspectives through our partner’s life enhances the quality of our own; the relationship is a win-win situation. In addition, our partner’s interests may serve as fertile ground for our own new learning and growth. As our partner grows, we grow, too.
2. You value and respect each other’s individuality and boundaries.
We are all different. Our individual differences should never be seen as being “less than” someone else’s, but as opportunities to gain a new perspective. A healthy relationship nurtures and embraces each of our special qualities. Be wary of relationships that attempt to control you; that try to squash your individuality because it threatens a partner when you don’t see things their way; or that put you down because are too independent. Be wary of a partner who tries to make you be just like them because that is the only way they are comfortable in a relationship.
In a healthy, loving relationship you respect your partner’s boundaries. You give each other the space you need away from the relationship to be alone, to be with friends, and to pursue your own interests.
3. You encourage healthy communication and dialogue.
You feel free and comfortable to say what’s on your mind. It should not be expected that you and your partner will agree on everything, so it’s essential to keep your communication straightforward and honest—not critical or judgmental, and not shaming or blaming. You really “listen” to what your partner is saying, not just the words, but the way they express their emotions and feelings, and their behaviors and actions.
4. You share like or similar values.
Ideally, you’re on the same page about key life issues—family values, raising children, religious and spiritual life, even politics. Having a similar way of looking at life creates a shorthand way to relate to each on important issues. That’s not to say that people from different backgrounds, cultures, religions, and ideologies can’t be your ideal partner. These differences may take more time to understand and work out, but that’s totally possible when partners value each other enough to make the relationship work.
5. You trust each other without question.
Trust means that you believe that your partner has what it takes to weather the storms of life and come through them standing by your side. Trust implies the unshakable confidence that no matter what happens, your partner will remain loyal to you and the relationship, will honor their commitments, will not lie, and will remain open to working out whatever difficulties arise.
6. You share major life decisions and choices.
Problems will inevitably arise during a relationship, but no one partner should call all or most of the shots. Rather than feel frustrated and angry when problems arise, it’s important to keep in mind that part of the commitment to a loving relationship is getting over your personal feelings and expectations in order to work out a solution that's in the best interest of both partners. In fact, it often takes two to get the right compromise, the right balance, drawing upon each person’s previous knowledge, experience, and wisdom. Learning how to give and take is an important process in problem-solving. But above all, each partner should contribute equally to making major decisions and choices.
7. You are able to let things go and move on.
Life is all about change and transition. Nothing stays still or the same, as much as we may sometimes want it to because it makes us feel more secure and safe. Inevitably, the twists and turns of life will find their way into each and every relationship, and as partners, we need to find a way through to the next part of the journey. Although we may be disappointed, frustrated, or even traumatized by what life has thrown at us, a loving, healthy relationship teaches us that by standing together and moving forward together we will successfully reach what waits for us on the other side. Unity provides strength and balance.
Our most loving relationships are sacred and precious to us and deserve our full, undivided, ongoing attention, respect, nurturing, kindness, and tender-loving care.