Dave and I have been together for a while now. 12 years last Saturday, August 2nd, to be exact (6 of those married). It hasn't all been rainbows and unicorn farts over the years though. Like any relationship there have been ups and downs. No matter where we are in the cycle though, there is one thing we both know is vital for the success of a long-term relationship. Communication.
Communication is vitalBeing able to talk to each other, relate to each other , listen to each other. It plays a fundamental role in sustaining a relationship and making things work. When I look at all of the people I know who have had relationship breakdowns or gone through divorce, there is almost always one thing in common that has lead to the breakdown: lack of communication from one or both partners.
Personally I'm not big on talking "feelings". In fact you'll more often than not find me writing my feelings as I am just not so great at expressing them face to face. When it comes to my relationship with Dave, it's something I've had to work on. It's so important to let your partner know how much you appreciate them. It's easy with the stress of life to focus only on what people haven't done for us, but infinitely more important to focus on what they have.
At the same time you need to be able to talk about the things that aren't so great. Life and love isn't all smiles and it's important to acknowledge that too. The trick is in how you talk about it. If you do feel like your partner hasn't been meeting your needs or the needs of your house in one way or another then you need to let them know. Just don't let them know in the heat of an argument, when you're both angry and prone to saying something you'll regret.
Talk about it when you're both calm. Explain to them what/why you need them to do (or not do!) certain things. Explain how they make you feel and what would help you to feel better. Communicating in this way is something that Dave and I have both had to work on over the years.
Now, if I'm being a bitch and need to pull my head in, Dave will tell me. He won't let the way I'm making him feel fester under the surface. He acknowledges that I'm under stress, but that he is only there to support me, and that my taking it out on him does neither of us any favours.
At the same time, I tell Dave when he has been doing something that drives me nuts. And while we do argue, we have both learnt to really listen to what the other is (and often isn't) saying. To think about it and take it on board.
Dave and I have both grown immensely since we first met at 20 and 21 respectively. We are not the same people we were during the first lustful, passionate throes of our relationship. By working on our communication skills we have managed to grow in the same direction, and be more in love today than we ever have been.
Kindness is keyI read an article back in June titled Masters of Love. Summed up with "Science says lasting relationships come down to - you guessed it - kindness and generosity". It was shared on FB by the lovely Kelly Exeter at A Life Less Frantic, an excellent blog; if you haven't read Kelly's words yet you really must!
This article spoke to me. The points the article made have stayed with me, bubbling away just under the surface of my brain.
I highly recommend you go and have a read of it for yourself. One it's main points is that researchers, after many years, have found that "Contempt is the number one factor that tears couples apart. " It solidified something that I have been thinking and working towards for more than a few years now. Probably since before we got married.
I've realised that the more I focus on the negatives I see around myself and Dave, the more there seems to be. Once I started to make a conscious effort to notice the positives, and to express my gratitude for the things that Dave does, the more positives I begin to find.
The excerpt that Kelly shared on her FB page is the part that's really stuck with me the most. I find my mind has gone back to these words almost daily since I read them (bold emphasis is mine) -
Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there. People who give their partner the cold shoulder—deliberately ignoring the partner or responding minimally—damage the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and invisible, as if they’re not there, not valued. And people who treat their partners with contempt and criticize them not only kill the love in the relationship, but they also kill their partner's ability to fight off viruses and cancers. Being mean is the death knell of relationships.
Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together. Research independent from theirs has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved. “My bounty is as boundless as the sea,” says Shakespeare’s Juliet. “My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite.” That’s how kindness works too: there’s a great deal of evidence showing the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves, which leads to upward spirals of love and generosity in a relationship.
This article has made me even more determined to direct as much kindness towards Dave as I can. To focus on the positives and to show my thanks and appreciation for all that he does. It's all too easy to get caught up in a negative cycle, and I truly believe that along with communication, kindness is the other most important thing to sustain not just a long-term relationship, but a loving one too.
It seems I'm not alone in thinking that communication and kindness are the foundations of a successful relationship. When I asked the following question on Facebook a little while ago, two of the most common answers were, you guessed it, communication and kindness.
The idea of kindness begetting kindness is something that I am going to make a concerted effort to model to my girls. Not just for the benefit of our mother/daughter relationship, but also for the benefit of their future relationships. What they see demonstrated between Dave and I will have a profound impact on the relationships they form for the rest of their lives, and I'm trying to be more mindful of this moving forward.
I know that if Dave and I continue to work on communication and kindness then it will stand us in good stead for getting through the next 12 years and beyond.
What do you think is the secret of a lasting relationship? Have you been guilty of focusing too much on the negatives rather than the positives, like me? And if you could use only one word to describe the secret to a happy, long-term relationship, what would it be?