If civilisation is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships - the ability of all peoples, of all kinds, to live together, in the same world at peace. - Franklin D. Roosevelt
The big question is, how? The even bigger question is, how do we find peace in love?
Is it an illusion? Does it really exist?
Let's think about it for a moment. There are some couples out there who appear to have happily been together for their whole lives. You know the ones I'm talking about -- those cute 80-somethings sitting in the park, the ones still holding hands who seem to still be very much in love. What have they been doing all these years to make their marriages happily last the distance?
Are they truly happy and at peace with each other?
Have they really found that balance with each other that just works -- and how?
I heard this inspiring true story the other week at my local cafe.
A friend of mine, who was doing some volunteer work at a local retirement village, arranged for a group of residents to go out and spend the day bowling. When they arrived, she noticed one of the men helping a woman of about the same age off the bus and proudly locking his arm into hers as they walked to the green. After introducing herself to everyone, the man introduced the woman as his girlfriend. They were the cutest couple. Holding hands, laughing, joking with each other as though they were on a first date and stealing kisses whenever the opportunity arose.
Seeing this, my friend thought to herself, how wonderful that they have found each other at this late stage in their lives.
After everyone returned to the village, my friend asked the nurse who the cute couple was and how long they had been together, only to find out that they had been married for over 60 years!
When I heard this story, I started thinking isn't this what we all hope for when we commit to someone for life?
What had that cute elderly couple been doing all those years to conquer the Everest of relationships?
Not long after hearing this story, I was asked by a colleague: "What would you say is the most important ingredient for happy life-long relationship?"
Caught on the spot, I paused and thought to myself, "Hmmm -- the most important ingredient?" Then it hit like a bolt of lightning -- choosing the right person!
It's funny, but I've heard some people talk about their partners, complaining about all the things they're not happy with and all the things they would change if they could, and I've quietly sat there thinking to myself, "I wouldn't change a thing about my boy. Not one thing." And I mean it! We've always been able to be ourselves with each other without fear of being judged or criticized. That's pretty important, isn't it? Feeling safe to be ourselves in our relationships?
So this is pretty much what I said in response.
Afterwards, I really started thinking. What else does it take to be really content and at peace in a life-long relationship?
Now I'm not saying our marriage is perfect. But when I think about it, we're pretty happy together.
Of course, as parents we are challenged every day but when it comes to the crunch, we're a team.
Another key ingredient of a happy long-term relationship is knowing we are part of a team, coming up with strategies together (sometimes like soldiers on a battlefield) to get through those challenging moments in life.
United we conquer, divided we fall!
Another thing which I am certain is important, because it really seems to work for us, is what I call "staying in touch."
Did you know that couples who hold hands, kiss and cuddle often have a higher chance of staying together?
In a recent article in Psychology Today, Dr Debby Herbenick, a research scientist at Indiana University, revealed that research found that cuddling, although important to both men and women, may even be even more important for men's relationships, sexual satisfaction and marital commitment. I wholeheartedly agree. Men really do seem to need that physical connection to feel close with their partner and to feel desired and loved.
Clearly, this potion for life-long peace and happiness in love takes many more ingredients to make it work. So what are they? Is any one ingredient more crucial than the others?
With that question in mind, just like Monty Python's King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, I set out on my quest to decipher the code and unlock the secrets to the Holy Grail of relationships -- the happy life-long marriage. After searching high and low for answers, this is what I have discovered.
- First and foremost, treat each other with kindness and respect. Take care of each other. Research shows that couples who are happy with their spouses and their relationships are the ones who do everything to help each other through life's challenges. They don't do things to increase their partner's suffering -- like criticize or blame each other. They have each other's best interests at heart.
- Say "thank you" and say it often. Everyone wants to feel appreciated, especially in their relationships. So next time your partner or spouse takes out the rubbish, cleans the dishes, etc, say "thank you". It's amazing how much joy and feelings of personal worth in the relationship those two little words can bring to our partners, and how much more appreciation of our partners it can create within us. It's a win-win situation
- Start each day with two simple words, "good morning." I recently read that 94 percent of couples who acknowledge each other simply by saying "good morning" to each other rate their relationships as "excellent", as opposed to those couples who rarely say these words and who rate their relationships as "below average." So what's the magic behind it? Apparently, when we say it, we're actually telling our partners "it's a good morning because we are together". Not only does it set the mood for the day, but it sets the stage for a loving and caring relationship.
- Talk to each other. It may sound simple enough, but it never ceases to amaze me how many couples go out on dates, each captivated by their mobile phones, clicking away and not saying a word to each other. They're on a date! How can they possibly be captivated by their relationship if they ignore each other? Think about it. When most couples are in the "honeymoon" phase of their relationship, they actually show interest in each other -- sometimes hanging off each other's every word. So why should this change after years of being together? Why not continue to be interested in what we each have to share? After all, isn't that something we all want - attention and admiration?
- Solve problems together calmly and constructively. Anger solves nothing. Asking our partners to help find ways to solve the problem is a much more effective approach. Men, in particular, love to solve problems. So try approaching issues from the angle of asking for help to solve them. It's amazing how much more bonded couples can become as a result.
- Keep the romance alive. Continue the rituals of love which are very much alive in the infancy of a relationship - like writing love notes or leaving little gifts for each other. These are the rituals that can keep the magic of that courtship alive as the years pass.
- Keep laughing! Couples who laugh together allow themselves to have fun with each other and the light of the relationship can burn more brightly with a sense of joy.
- Spend time together. "Date" regularly. Make the time and effort, even it is means paying someone to sit the kids for an hour or two. It's also important to find other ways to stay connected as a couple -- like going for a walk or catching up for lunch or coffee when we can, or just finding a quiet nook to sit, chat and appreciate each other. It doesn't have to cost anything. This is your life-time investment, so invest in it!
- Ruffle the sheets (or wherever else you can do "it") regularly! It's all about keeping connected. Research reveals that the happiest couples are the ones who are having sex regularly. And the scientific reality is that men connect more intimately with their partners through sex. That connection inspires them to be more romantic and attentive, which in turn increases the libido in their partners. Each person then feels desired, connected, and loved. And it doesn't have to be planned, or every day for that matter! But try and keep it interesting. There's really no reason the excitement of being with each other has to end simply because we've made a commitment for life. All the more reason to keep the fire burning. And when we're not doing it, try and be intimate any chance we can get. Stay in touch!
- Be honest with each other. The one person we should each be able to trust and count on for the truth is our partner; whether we like hearing the truth or not. Be open to each other's honesty and embrace it as a gift. When we open up, we are really saying to our partners "I feel safe with you to be honest and speak the truth as I believe it to be". What better compliment to give our partners than this level of trust? So if there is an issue, and our partners open up, listen! Don't criticize, otherwise your partner may not feel safe to open up to you again. Instead, focus on the positive to find a solution to the issue... together.
- Be positive with each other! Look for ways to express your interest, support and love for each other in positive ways.
- Forgive and forget. People make mistakes. It takes courage to admit we have done the wrong thing and to say "sorry". Forgiveness allows the relationship to move forward from there to heal. Dragging up the past every time we're upset simply fractures it. So leave the past in the past, where it belongs, and focus on working towards a positive experience of the present and future together.
- Celebrate each other's successes, no matter how small. Admire and praise each other. Children aren't the only ones who need to hear "I'm proud of you". By expressing our support for each other, we are also expressing our belief in each other. What an amazing boost to each other's morale this can be. It's that belief and faith in each other that can get us through anything.
- Don't sweat the small stuff. If the dishes aren't done or the floors haven't been mopped, does it really matter? Is it really worth making a big fuss, and potentially losing our relationships over the little things?
- Allow each other to grow as individuals within the relationship -- to have our own interests and hobbies. If people are happy and fulfilled within themselves as individuals, this happiness and fulfilment simply extends into the relationship.
- Be committed to each other. Don't just give up on each other when things might seem tough. By putting the relationship and each other's happiness first, the solutions will come naturally.
- Make the most of the differences between us. Embrace them! Find strength in them. Be each other's yin and yang! After all, the magnetism between opposites is the strongest -- right?
- Treat each other as equals and with fairness. No one wants to feel demoralised or like they are second-rate citizens in the relationship.