7 Characteristics of Resilient Relationships
How to bolster your most intimate connections.
Posted Apr 24, 2018
Did you ever wonder why some relationships can endure even the most stressful of times, while others are destroyed? Are there certain factors that characterize strong, enduring, and resilient relationships? There are no easy answers. However, we do believe there are factors which seem to foster resiliency in relationships and increase a couple's likelihood of survival when confronted with adversity. Let’s take a look at those characteristics.
Why Relationships End
There are hundreds of volumes written about why marriages and other intimate relationships end, but the core reasons may be distilled down to three main factors:
- A slow erosion of the relationship.
- A traumatic, or otherwise powerful, incident that destroys the relationship.
The relationship that slowly erodes is typified by the retrospective descriptions, “We just grew apart" or, “We no longer met each other’s needs.” The traumatic incident, on the other hand, could be myriad of things, such as death or injury to a child, an affair or other form of interpersonal betrayal, economic hardship, personal illness, a religious or existential shift, or any other life-changing event, even a natural disaster. Lastly, competition in a relationship refers to some person, or perhaps some thing such as a professional opportunity, that becomes competition for time, caring, and/or love, and thus is inherently divisive for the relationship.
As challenging and even toxic as these three factors may be, the outcome is no fait accompli. Relationships can be resilient.
Seven Characteristics of Highly Resilient People
In 2012, Dr. Dennis McCormack, an early Navy SEAL who later became a psychologist; Dr. Douglas Strouse, an expert in organizational development; and I created a list of characteristics that we believed were common denominators for highly resilient people (Everly, McCormack, & Strouse, 2012). The list was based on our collective 100 years of observations of people under extreme stress, as well as reviews of relevant research. We later distilled these factors in our book, Stronger. We found those common denominators to be:
1. Active Optimism. More than the hope and belief that things will turn out well, active optimism is a virtual mandate to act to make things turn out well. It is the self-confidence that one can and will make a difference. It is the propensity to harness the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy.
2. Honesty, Integrity, Accepting Responsibility for One’s Actions, and the Willingness to Forgive. This includes the belief and practice that honesty and loyalty is the best policy; accepting responsibility for one’s actions regardless of the outcome and consequences; and the willingness to forgive others as well as oneself.
3. Decisiveness. Decisiveness refers to the courage to take decisive action, even when the decisions maybe unpopular or highly risky.
4. Tenacity. Tenacity refers to an uncommon perseverance, especially in the face of setbacks, discouragement, and/or outright failure.
6. Interpersonal Connectedness. Interpersonal connectedness refers to the active establishment and maintenance of interpersonal networks and support systems. They can be familial, vocational, avocational, and/or social.
7. Présence d’esprit. This is a unique, calm, innovative, non-dogmatic thinking style that is open to novel solutions, rather than rejecting them out of hand. Out-of-the-box thinking is the hallmark of this characteristic.
Seven Characteristics of Highly Resilient Relationships
Just as we believe there are seven characteristics or common denominators of highly resilient people, we believe there are parallel characteristics for highly resilient relationships:
1. Active Optimism. Active optimism in a relationship equates to a virtual mandate to make things turn out well. It is the self-confidence the cohabitants of the relationship have that they can and will make a difference working together. It is the relational propensity to harness the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy. It is the tendency to avoid cynical, critical, or hurtful comments directed toward oneself or one’s partner.
2. Honesty, Integrity, Accepting Responsibility for One’s Actions, and the Willingness to Forgive. This includes the belief and practice that honesty and loyalty is the best policy; accepting responsibility for one’s actions regardless of the outcome and consequences; and the willingness, within reason, to forgive the other for transgressions, as well as the willingness to forgive oneself for perceived weakness.
3. Decisiveness. Decisiveness refers to the courage to take decisive action, even when the decisions may be unpopular, risky, or anxiety-provoking. Sadly, sometimes it means being courageous enough to leave a toxic relationship and promote one’s personal resilience.
4. Tenacity. Tenacity refers to an uncommon perseverance, especially in the face of setbacks, discouragement, and/or outright failure. It also means knowing when not to be tenacious and when to advance in another direction.
5. Self-control. Self-control refers to the ability to control impulses, to delay gratification, to avoid practices that are self-defeating to the relationship, and to engage in health-promoting activities. The ability to resist temptation is a powerful ally in battle to sustain relationships, especially in the face or wake of adversity.
6. Interpersonal Connectedness Through Honest Communication. Interpersonal connectedness is best maintained with one’s partner through open, honest communications. Generally speaking, the conversations you don’t want to have are the conversations you need to have.
7. Présence d’esprit. This is a unique, collective calm within the relationship that leads to a non-judgmental, innovative, non-dogmatic thinking style that is open to novel solutions, rather than rejecting them out of hand or seeking to project blame. Collaborative, out-of-the-box thinking, communications, and action are the hallmarks of this characteristic.
These characteristics come from years of observing the effects of stress, and even “disasters,” upon not just individuals but intimate partnerships. We know that loneliness predicts unhappiness and ill health. The antidote is a meaningful, supportive relationship. Successful relationships do not come easily, however. They require dynamic cooperation throughout the trajectory of the lifespan. These characteristics are not the only seven factors that predict resilience, but they increase the likelihood of a relationship rebounding after disasters large and small.
© George S. Everly, Jr., PhD
Everly, GS, Jr, McCormack, D, Strouse, DA (2012). Seven characteristics of highly resilient people. International Journal of Emergency Mental Health, 14, 2, 137-143.
Everly, GS, Jr, Strouse, DA, McCormack, D. (2015). Stronger. NY: AMACOM.