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Ten Elements of Effective Relationships

Here are 10 things that couples do right.

The other day, a friend pointed out that I very often write from the perspective of what people are doing wrong, as opposed to what they are doing right.

Well, here are some things that I have found to be effective elements in a successful relationship; a.k.a., the right stuff.


Partners who are aware of what the other is doing get to feel safe and develop a sense of security and consistency about their relationship. It's a simple thing to pick up the phone, shoot a text or an email and saying, "I'm on my way." or "I'm late." or "I forgot the milk."

Being transparent also diminishes potential conflict because no one has to guess, make up stories or be responsible for ferreting out information.

One couple I know is in a constant state of tension because the husband, rather than volunteering information, considers it the wife's responsibility to ask him questions. Not such a great plan because the partner responsible for asking question ends up feeling like the other is constantly "moving the finish line."


Talking to one another about everything supports this idea of transparency. We are the only species on the planet that has been gifted with symbolic language, yet we often fail to use it in its most effective capacity — building and maintaining healthy relationships.

Couples who converse get to know what's going on. There's no second-guessing, no surprises, and no sense of potential deception or sneakiness.

Putting Things on the Table

If you're going to be transparent and communicate, then you might as well put it all out there. Truth goes a lot farther than eggshell walking.

A friend of mine was shopping with his wife and, modeling a dress, she said, "Honey, does this dress make me look fat?" (This is a true story).

He said, "No's the extra 20 pounds you're carrying that make you look fat." (Oh, my.) And then he said, "You know, I think we could probably both take better care of ourselves — maybe we should start working out together or something."

A source of potential conflict and discontent is transformed into a source of mutual growth and cultivation. Telling the truth about the way that we feel can only benefit a relationship. Stuffing never ends well.

Date Night

One of the most stable couples I know has never, in 42 years of marriage — not for kids, weather, social commitments, or work — missed a Friday night dinner date.

When the conversation is open, nothing is left to the imagination and there is a sense of safety. A date night is just the thing to create a container of romance around the openness fostered by good communication. Remember gentlemen, the way to a man's heart may be through his stomach, but the way to a woman's is through her ears.

Sacred Space

Date nights are nice, but even better is what I call sacred space; setting aside time each week to sit, without distraction, and talk about the relationship.

Often, we become so distracted by the lives that we lead that we forget that our relationship needs a little attention. The routine of cohabitation is not cultivation - it's maintenance. Being mindfully invested in the fabric of the relationship and working together to keep it strong is an abject necessity to fostering not just contentment, but joy.


We often use the phrase "making love." Sex and relationship do not occur in separate containers, but we often treat them that way. Most of us, quite frankly, have never made love or been made love to because we keep those two things separate, either by default or by design.

The sexual dynamic in a relationship, and its cultivation, is so much more important than we realize. And that sexual dynamic is not about intercourse. Rather, it's about the sexual dynamic as a whole and making that dynamic a routine part of the relationship — taking showers together, backrubs that aren't a prelude to intercourse, holding hands, making out on a park bench... You don't need a trapeze or another couple to get creative and keep it exciting.

Sharing Responsibility

The number one complaint attached to a troubled relationship? Laundry. Couples who share the responsibility of maintaining the physical container of their relationship — whether it's housework or finances or walking the dog — build a sense of teamwork.

Teamwork translates into a sense of interdependence rather than independence, and that leads to deeper and more nuanced understanding of one another and a stronger sense of overall connection.


When partners hold each other as their priority, respect is a natural eventuality. Constantly being late, moving the finish line, saying one thing then doing another without preamble all show a lack of respect and consideration.

Successful couples start with a successful sense of what is important on the part of each partner. True love is about putting someone else's needs before our own. Now, that doesn't mean sacrifice — it means simple consideration. When that consideration is in play, so is the respect that supports strong connection.

Holding Space

OK — we're all a little odd; we have our habits and our idiosyncrasies. Holding space for those things in our partners, i.e., having patience with them, is part of what keeps a relationship strong.

If your partner's hypervigilance about time is destructive or debilitating, then it's an issue. If it's just her thing and you respect that by giving it some consideration, then you are communicating. See how that works?

Holding space means giving space; it means being considerate of someone else's needs and respecting those needs in a way that supports, rather than undermines.


Assuming that a relationship is, by and large, healthy and strong, nothing is that serious. Humor is derived from encountering the unexpected — that's what makes a joke funny. If we take that sensibility into the various interactions within our relationship — good, bad or indifferent — then we can be assured of a lot less tension and a lot more forward motion.

What this really points to is seeing the glass as half full, or even overflowing, rather than half empty. It may sound hokey to say, "Look for the silver lining," but, in these times fraught with stress and economic concern, finding the opportunity inside the obstacle is an immediate lesson that carries great weight over time.

So, to answer to my friend's commentary, these are some of the things I see in relationships that really work and have stood up to everything from infidelity to the death of child to the loss of a job to life-threatening illness.

Spend time together, speak your truths, respect each other, take care of each other, laugh with — and at — one another. How hard is that?

© 2010 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved.

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