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9 Qualities of the Most Successful Relationships

Unselfish, egoless, fair, current, and authentic.

Key points

  • Characteristics of quality relationships include negotiating where resources are allocated in a fair way and regularly reassessing needs.
  • Unselfish love, authentic communication, trust and a recognition of triggers from the past are also components of successful relationships.
  • Acknowledging behaviors that are already a part of one's relationship can help a couple embrace others that they may want to attain.
Source: Goksi/Shutterstock

In working with couples for more than four decades, I have been able to observe how committed partnerships are influenced by society’s changing definitions of what a quality relationship is. But despite those changing mores and values, I have also witnessed that some characteristics of successful relationships have remained constant independent of those influences.

I’ve compiled these beliefs and traits over many years, careful to sift and resift as quality relationships are subject to different expectations. The following nine illustrate what I have observed.

As you read through them, you will naturally ask yourselves which of them has been part of your own intimate relationships. Do not feel defeated if your relationship doesn’t include all of them. Focus, instead, on those that do apply. Acknowledging beliefs and behaviors that are already successful will give you more confidence to embrace those you may then want to attain.

1. The Fair Negotiation of Resources

Every relationship has only so many resources at different times and in different situations. Whether time, money, love, availability, or mental and emotional resilience, those resources must be allocated with fairness, generosity and understanding. Successful couples negotiated priorities together, deciding what each may need at any one time.

In times of abundance, those allocations are easier to manage. There is more of whatever each partner needs and can more easily meet requests, desires, or an emergency. When resources are depleted, successful couples know to adjust to those diminished coffers and negotiate to reach the best agreement they can.

2. Staying Current

Life’s demands change. Resources wax and wane. Different life stages require adaptations and adjustments. Losses are inevitable. Early dreams may fall by the wayside and new ones emerge. In so many ways, quality relationships are like businesses that grow and shift with what works to keep them functioning as optimally as possible.

Relationships are no different. What responses, offerings, and valuable contributions that may have been more than enough at one time must be able to continually transform as new requirements demand different reactions, resources, or priorities. People in quality relationships regularly re-assess how they need to alter who they are, what they can give or need, and how the relationship is doing in general. With ever new evaluations, they shore up what is faltering and let go of what is no longer working.

3. Unselfish Love

Love is comprised of the honest desire to seek the gratification of personal needs interspersed with making certain that your partner must thrive as well. Every intimate partner struggles between the need for safety and security and the desire for freedom to grow. The former maintains the comfort of predictability and the latter gives the relationship challenge and excitement.

Those of you who have supported your partner at your own expense know how scary it is to risk your own security to give your partner the opportunity to follow what he or she sees as offering more possibilities and altered dreams. Despite your insecurity, you know that it is the right thing to do no matter what the cost.

It is always better to know that your partner would rather be with you than somewhere else. But, if you know that he or she would thrive better away from you, holding them trapped to maintain your security will ultimately fail in the long run. The deepest form of love is to want what is best for each other even when that sacrifice brings potential fear of loss. The old adage, “Let something go free. If it is meant to come back, it will,” is profoundly true in successful relationships.

4. Congruent, Authentic, and Open Communication

Every bid for connection has both an altruistic and self-serving motive. Both are profoundly human responses and should be shared without shame. Though some strategy and diplomacy are part of every successful relationship, quality communication gives both partners a heads-up as to what is wanted and what the consequences might be if those needs are not granted.

Congruent communication occurs when a person’s body language, facial expressions, voice intonations, rhythm, and touch present the same picture. When people are comfortable with their good qualities, working on their limitations, and honest about that process, they are authentic and upfront, giving the other partner a full understanding of what to expect.

In all communication, there is the content of words and the way the partners are with each other as they are connecting. Words are useless if the process has gone sour. Good communicators are alert to these in-the-moment shifts, and immediately repair the interaction before returning to the content.

5. The True Meaning of Trust

At its most basic level, people who trust each other know that the other partner will not behave away from them any differently than they do when in each other’s presence. It’s as if there is a metaphysical tattoo in their presentation that signals “I am joyfully taken.” There is pride in the way either talks about the relationship to others. When they talk about the relationship with others, their sentences begin with “we” rather than “I.”

People change over time and that trust must be constantly renegotiated and shared. What can be seen can be changed. There is simply no room for negative surprises.

6. Triggers from Past Relationships

No one comes into a relationship without emotional baggage. Past losses, traumas, broken dreams, or disappointments from childhood until the current relationship are bound to rear their influence on a current relationship.

The way people resolve those past issues is a critical harbinger of how they can be triggered in their present relationship. The more both partners know about past entanglements and their consequences, the better they are prepared to differentiate between what is happening just between them and what may be surfacing as an old, unresolved situation from the past.

Both partners are quick to recognize the most obvious tell-tale signs: They start talking at each other from farther away, rather than to each other. There is little or no eye contact. They seem on a one-way street, focused on some other time and place where they may have felt irrelevant or helpless.

Asking yourself how old you feel when you are responding this way can help identify the earlier experience and how it may be contaminating the current interaction.

7. Consistent Expressions of What Is Working

Too often, many committed couples take for granted that the other knows he or she is loved. Most of their conversations tend to be about logistics, keeping each other informed about life events, sharing responses to what affects them, talking about future plans, or sharing what they are unhappy about.

If the couple is still together and prospering, it is evident that something lies underneath their more superficial interactions. But the other might not know or share those positive feelings. I have been with so many people who have unexpectedly lost a partner and suffer the most when they have not told the other how much they meant to them and why. Frequent expressions of authentic appreciation, tenderness, caring, special affections must be said aloud to make sure the other partner knows those feelings are still intact.

8. Egoless Leadership

Role definitions and their executions are not fixed in quality relationships. The partners are not defined by rigidly expected behaviors and effortlessly give leadership to the person who can do it best at the time. They are a team first, and winning means there is no automatic captain.

They are also non-competitive and respectful when one partner can shoulder a challenge better than the other because the other compensates where he or she can. They can fill in for each other when needed and have no ego around who may be better in any one area. Both are secure in being respected for who they are and what they bring to the table and know they are better off together than either could be alone.

9. Inquiry Before Judgment

Successful partners do not assume, guess, or come to conclusions about the other’s thoughts and behaviors without checking with each other as to the accuracy of their assumptions. They have learned that rapid reactions said in defense will not result in any meaningful resolution so they commit to asking for more clarity before they respond.

Many relationships break up because incorrect assumptions of another’s motives trigger mistrust, even when it is not warranted. Even people who have been together for many years mistake the other’s reasons or build-ups and react as if they know enough to respond accurately.

When either partner cannot take the time to make room for the entirety of the other before they react, the other partner over time will pull away, withhold, and sometimes disconnect. Everyone changes over time, and continuous reevaluation of the other partner can put a halt to those potential and often unnecessary damages.

These nine beliefs and subsequent actions are the underlying strengths in relationships that not only survive but thrive over time. They all share the same core. The partners treasure each other’s experience of life and each other.

Facebook image: Goksi/Shutterstock

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