Will my relationship last? Should I keep dating him/her? Should I ask her to marry me? Should I say yes? Will we live happily ever after? Those are common questions. I had the privilege of raising seven kids and being able to share with many of my kids’ friends over the years. Those are common questions among young people, and even among us older folk – the difference is, younger people are typically more willing to ask the questions and listen.
Those are complicated questions surrounded by complicated, real-life issues. I don’t think there are easy answers. After almost 50 years of life, and 29 years of relationship with the same beautiful woman, I have found the secrets to relational success to be quite simple – simple as in exercising and eating-right simple. Simple in concept, difficult to master in real-life.
I have experienced a total of three – relatively simple – relationship principles. The first two I was aware of early on. The last one took 20+ years of marriage and raising kids to become aware of. I will briefly cover the first two and focus on the third.
The first one is – of course – commitment. I grew up in a home with a lousy marriage. By the time I was 8 years old I committed to having a good marriage and treating my wife with love and respect. It was important to me. I saw, first-hand, the results of a lack of commitment and I did not want to go there.
The second one is keeping the romance strong. Thinking, speaking and acting in a way that values and honors your spouse – that shows him/her that they are the most important person in your life, and that you are attracted to them – blessed to be with them.- to really own that deep down in the core of your being, and keep perfecting the art of expressing it daily. If you believe you are blessed to be with someone and you are constantly keeping all of the wonderful, amazing things about them in your mind and heart – that is who they will be to you.
The third one is way harder to see and much more difficult to live out. It’s really an offensive thing at face-value and can be upsetting to hear. Some may bristle and come up with immediate examples of why you think it’s not true. It may guilt and shame some of you – it did me for years – and still does to some extent.
The third relationship secret is this – You will only be able to love someone else to the extent, and in the manner that you love yourself. If you love yourself well, you will be able to love others well. If you love yourself poorly, you will love others poorly. The same goes for your spouse, or romantic partner. The ways that your spouse or partner is lacking in loving themselves will be the same way in which they will fail to love you. You may not like it – but it’s a fact.
The way in which you love yourself will always be revealed in your relationships with others – especially the most significant, romantic relationships in your life. Period.
So what does that mean? First, we are all works in progress when it comes to this. We will not arrive at some perfected state in this life – ever. If you desire to make progress in loving yourself well, the good news is, you will always make progress in loving your spouse or significant other well. That really is great news. We all really need to take some time to reflect on that.
Second, how do we love ourselves well? Primarily, we need to love and accept ourselves for who we really are: This includes
- what makes us awesome and what makes us jerks
- what we excel and and what we are just not good at doing
- our big successes and big failures
- our strengths and our weaknesses
- our little successes and little failures
- our temptations, lusts, desires and tendencies for good and for bad
- our good thoughts and our wicked thoughts
- our selfishness and our generosity, etc.
In order to love ourselves well, we need to KNOW ourselves well, and continue to get to know ourselves progressively – growing in our knowledge of who we are every day – for all of our lives.
The extent of our self-awareness will be the limiting factor in our ability to love ourselves well – which in turn, will be the limiting factor in how well we can love other people. Let me say that again. The extent of our self-awareness will be the limiting factor in our ability to love ourselves well – which in turn, will be the limiting factor in how well we can love other people.
Here is the next rub. You and I CANNOT be self-aware by ourselves. We need to enlist other, reliable, trusted, wise friends to reflect back the best AND the worst of us on a regular basis. Let me say that again 🙂 You and I CANNOT be self-aware by ourselves. We need to enlist other, reliable, trusted, wise friends to reflect back the best AND the worst of us on a regular basis.
You and I have many blind-spots right now, and will develop new blind-spots on a regular basis. We need a blind-spot mirrors – or trusted advisors – to enable us to identify the blind-spots, to deal with them effectively, and to know when they have been dealt with.
So, will your relationship last? Does your significant other readily accept feedback from multiple, trusted relationships, process that feedback, act on that feedback, and solicit more feedback on how he/she is doing? How about you? If the answer for one or both of you is no – you’re both in danger relationally – in danger of your relationship being much less than it could be – less than it should be.
Of course, once you begin to know the negative sides of yourself, you need to learn to love and accept yourself in spite of these flaws. Loving yourself well in spite of flaws does not mean you ignore them or don’t work on them – quite the opposite actually. If you love yourself well, you will invest heavily in dealing with your flaws appropriately. But, you will make that investment from a position of being worthy and valuable the way you are right now – despite those flaws.
So, will your relationship last? Do you fully accept yourself despite your flaws? Does your significant other? If the answer is no, your relationship is in danger – in danger of being much less than it could be – than it should be.
Additionally, your worth and value must come from the right places. Are your worth and value coming from a healthy place? Is it coming from areas that can be temporary in nature? You physical appearance? Your job? Your finances? Your skills and talents? Are you really more in love with yourself than with anyone else?
Or does your worth and value come from areas that are more stable long-term – deep inside of you? From your character, your personality, your compassion, your caring your kindness, your generosity?
So, will your relationship last? Where does your significant other’s source of worth and value come from? Is it from superficial things that might not last? Is it from things that are deep, meaningful and lasting? What about for you? If your or your significant other’s self-worth is lacking, or based on superficial sources, your relationship is in danger – in danger of being much less than it could be – than it should be.
Now that we have covered self-awareness, accepting yourself, and self-worth, it’s time for the last component – investing in yourself. Once you are aware of your flaws, you need to invest in improving in those areas.
These investments must be ongoing. There should never be a time in your life where someone asks you what flaws you are working on and you don’t have an answer.
These investments must be effective and efficient. You should have a solid plan of action, worked out with trusted advisors, to address the flaws you are currently focusing on.
These investments must create harmony in the various areas of your life. You cannot invest in one area of life at the expense of others. You need to make sure you maintain the harmony and balance in all areas of your life so that fixing yourself in one area doesn’t cause problems in another area.
The results of these investments should be measured by other, trusted advisors to ensure that you are really making the progress you need to make. If what you are doing is not being effective, you need to know so you can regroup, develop a better plan, and start executing the improved plan.
So, will your relationship last? Does your significant other consistently and progressively invest in developing their flaws and weaknesses? Do they do so in a harmonious way that does not damage other areas of their lives? Do they solicit feedback on their progress? Do you? If not, your relationship is in danger – in danger of being much less than it could be – than it should be.
Here is a summary of number three. You and your significant other need:
- to be continually and progressively self-aware – through ongoing, trusted relationships with other people
- to accept yourself for who you are right now – despite your flaws
- to derive your value and self-worth from sources that are deep and meaningful
- to be continually and progressively investing in yourself to work on your flaws in your thoughts, words and actions.
In other words, you both need to be actively, continually, and progressively loving yourself well. If you do that, and add to that commitment and intentionally keeping the romance strong in thoughts, words and actions – you will have a relationship that not only lasts – but is mutually enjoyable, meaningful, satisfying, exciting and changes the world around you!