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4 Essential Ingredients in a Loving Relationship

No one just shows up for a great relationship – they make it happen together.

happy couple looking at each other
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In his latest book, Love Illuminated, Daniel Jones concludes, based on thousands of essays written to his "Modern Love" column in the New York Times, that what most people really want is a loving and permanent relationship.

Evidence for this is the over 13.5 million self-help books addressing relationships and the interest by so many couples in improving and sustaining their love.

Given the deluge of information offered and my years working with couples, I have siphoned out four essential ingredients that I invite you to consider as essential to loving and long-lasting relationships.

They may be obvious, basic to your marriage or relationship, hiding in plain sight, something you stopped doing, or something you never tried. Consider them against the backdrop of your relationship even in face of a pandemic, economic strain, and uncertainty.

Looking at Each Other

It is likely that when you first met your partner, you glanced into each other’s eyes as much as you could and in many aspects of your connection. In a culture that demands watching the road, watching the screen, the phone, the parallel chores, or the kids, the mutual gaze becomes more difficult over the years.

Resetting the Gaze

When couples look into each other’s eyes when they say hello or good-bye each day, when they are having that quick cup of coffee, when they are exchanging bags or kids on the soccer field, they affirm an intimate connection. After all, you don’t just gaze into everyone's eyes.

Michael Ellsberg, author of The Power of Eye Contact, suggests that when you make eye contact with another person, you, in some sense, give that person a glimpse of your emotional world.

  • In terms of negative feelings, it is far more difficult to dismiss or verbally abuse a partner when you are looking at that partner when speaking. The exposure to the other’s eyes seems to underscore the connection and mediate the way in which anger is expressed.
  • Even if couples avert their eyes when arguing, those with a strong relationship often use eye-to-eye contact to restore the connection.
  • When couples catch the eye of their partner in public to convey the message “ I love you," “Only two more hours to go,” or “ Thank God you are here,” it affirms the bond between them.
  • There may not be lots of time—but there is always time to look at each other.

Laughing with Each Other

Laughter has been shown to have physical, psychological, and interpersonal benefits. The couple that laughs together reduces stress, steps over “the small stuff,” and feels more connected.

Research suggests that a sense of humor is found to be an attractive trait. In particular, women like men who make them laugh and men are attracted to women who “get them.” Both women and men associate a sense of humor with playfulness and the resilience to get past the rough times in life.

  • Laughter is integral to intimacy because laughing means risking being emotionally touched by another.
  • When partners can laugh at themselves and laugh off the other’s mistakes, the relationship is safe for authenticity and forgiveness.
  • Since they say you can’t really love anybody with whom you never laugh, laughing each day is a boost to the love affair.

Letting It Go

There is no couple that does not argue, fight, disagree, or wonder at times what planet the other has beamed in from. That said, the best of couples know when to let it go.

They have learned that when people are in their angry "reptilian brain," nothing good happens. One or both needs to hit a pause button, take the dog out, start cooking. They literally open a space to reset their regulation so they can differ without jeopardizing their relationship.

They are not giving up on addressing important differences of opinion. They are letting go of toxic clashes that become so escalated that solutions and mutual decisions can’t be found.

When couples have a strong connection, they are not afraid of the fight and they are not afraid to give up the fight. They don’t equate differences or disagreements as lack of love. They don’t have to win to feel loved.

Couples who can let go have learned that once they have made their point, the other needs time and space to process. They trust that if they let that happen, they open options for considering whether it is the fight worth having, if they need to be right, if there are unexpected solutions, or even if they should reverse their opinions.

  • They have learned that apologies come in different forms and different ways and that if an apology has to look or sound a certain way—it will be missed.
  • They have learned that in the hours, days, and years of a relationship, the connection is more important than winning.
  • They have learned give and take. They have learned when in doubt: “Let it go and assume the best of your partner.”

Letting the Other Know

A young groom shared a story at his wedding. He said that when his friends asked why he was sure that his bride was the one, he answered, “I can probably live with a lot of people, but I can’t live without her!”

Couples who have loving and sustaining relationships in some way let the other know just that.

They push beyond the tendency we all have to take the other for granted by positively affirming their partner in small and big ways.

They let the other know that they are friends and much more by finding a way to have the other feel desired. It might mean stepping over fatigue, working around infirmity, connecting through text messages, or always finding time ( even 10 minutes) to just be together.

Partners who let each other know never assume the partner no longer needs to know — no matter how long they have been together.

“Love is not only something you feel. It is something you do.” — David Wilkerson

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