7 Keys to Successful Relationship and Lifetime Love
Are you ready for the truth about what makes relationships work? You have the power to change your life with these 7 keys to successful relationships. The popular press is full of advice that is not proven. Many therapists who do not specialize in couples therapy give lots of common sense solutions for relationship success that don’t actually work. Yes, date nights, love languages, gifts and weekends away are great. But they are not the nuts and bolts of what holds a relationship together.
Emotional connection is easy in a new relationship. Helen Fischer and others have proven that new relationships get the help of dopamine which opens people up a bit like a hit of cocaine. When the relationship becomes life long, our brains stop producing the dopamine that makes us artificially romantic and even poetic.
When this happens we are reduced to who we really are. Most of us have past relationship injuries and have insecurities that go all the way back to childhood. We become less excited to be with our partners and more afraid of rejection. Couples who have not learned the 7 skills below will get into a negative cycle of conflict that will repeat itself over and over.
That nasty negative cycle
The negative cycle is a habitual pattern of arguing where each person triggers the other person’s insecurities or raw spots. Anything can start the argument, even a fight over burnt toast. All it takes is for one person to invalidate the other and the fight is on. These negative cycle fights eventually destroy relationships.
Couples who make love last a lifetime have mastered these 7 skills which prevent negative cycle arguments and deepen emotional connection. It is emotional connection that creates feelings of safety and deep love.
Emotionally Focused Therapy helps couples learn how to master the seven skills that make love last a lifetime. To read about how a couple who is in a negative cycle of conflict learns these skills, check out our book Emotional Connection: The Story and Science of Preventing Conflict and Creating Lifetime Love.
In our book, the fictional Ben and Claire, a beautiful seemingly perfect couple are in crisis due to Ben’s emotional affair. With their relationship on the brink they start Emotionally Focused Therapy. As they learn these 7 skills their relationship is healed and they are back on track for a lifetime of Love.
Here are the skills couples learn that are proven by research to make them successful lifelong partners:
1. Not activating your partner’s raw spots:
Our life experiences create fears and expectations for how people will treat us in love relationships. Researcher Allan Schore has proven that our first two years of life create insecure and secure attachment patterns that often show up in our adult love relationships. The truth is that when we get past the fireworks of new love we all feel small and vulnerable in our love relationships.
Any relationship trauma from our past will show up in our future love relationships. If we were left alone, we will feel abandoned. When made to perform for love, we fear rejection. And if we were abused, we may fear sexual intimacy. We call all of these kinds of injuries raw spots. This term comes from Sue Johnson’s book Hold Me Tight. In her book she talks about the importance of recognizing and not triggering your partner’s raw spots.
It seems really cruel but when our raw spots are triggered it is easy to trigger our partner’s raw spots in an attempt to back them off and make them understand how bad we hurt. This only escalates the conflict, injures the relationship and makes matters worse.
Trust is the foundation of any lifelong relationship. It is a part of all successful relationships. We will not last in a relationship long if we are afraid that our partner will use our hurt against us. We need to learn to know each other’s raw spots and help to heal them rather than make them worse. The rest of the skills below help us do that.
2. Knowing your reaction tendencies to hurt:
Your reaction tendency is what you do when your raw spot has been triggered. For most of us the go-to emotion is anger. Anger is almost always a cover for deeper more vulnerable emotions. Emotions that we are afraid to reveal.
When we stay in anger we create a false story about our partner to justify our anger. This is when we say cruel things about them that we don’t really mean. We actually brand them with a label that further damages their self esteem.
By knowing the raw spots of our partners we can learn to have compassion, rather than anger, when they are triggered. When we are triggered, we can learn to be vulnerable with them rather than punish them because they hurt us. How we become vulnerable is in the next skill.
3. Expressing vulnerable feelings of hurt, fear or shame:
Brene Brown has begun an international conversation on the power of vulnerability. Believe it or not the reverse of what we usually do in new relationships is what makes love last for life. In new relationships most of us strut our stuff. We try to look and act better than we really are. We usually are trying to attract someone that is slightly out of our league so naturally we try to up our game. Almost all of us do this.
But when we reach an understanding that we love each other we need to quickly reverse our mojo and get vulnerable. Vulnerability is both healing and bonding. When we take the risk to reveal our soft underbelly to the person we love he or she has the opportunity to show us love and compassion. This is what heals emotional injuries.
The best way to determine if your relationship is a good lifelong fit is to do this early and see if you partner has the capacity to love you in your vulnerability. Sounds risky right?
Taking the risk to be vulnerable is the first step. Couples who last have learned how to trust each other with their deepest hopes and fears. They know how to disarm shame by talking about those moments when they feel small and like they are not enough.
The great thing about a lifetime relationship is that you don’t need to know how to be really good at this right away. You can learn how to be more vulnerable together. If you struggle with this, the key is to simply admit that you struggle and be patient with each other as you take small steps to open up.
4. Validating partner’s emotional expressions:
Emotions are the language of long term loving relationships. Our brains are wired to trust emotional communication more than we trust logic. This makes sense because in a love relationship we care more about our partner’s sincerity than we care about whether they have the facts right.
So emotional communication is vital to the foundation of trust and for the feelings of love in relationships. This is why validating, validating and more validating of our partner’s emotions is critical. If we fail to validate they will fail to express how they really feel. Without the expression of feelings, we live in the dark not really knowing where we stand. That’s when trust erodes and things get crazy.
Men in our culture have more trouble feeling and expressing emotions than women do. We have been taught from the time we are little to suppress our emotions. If we are not careful, we can teach our wives that it is not OK to be emotional in our presence. This is the worst thing we can do. We actually need to learn to express our emotions. And to validate them when they are expressing their emotions.
The mistake made over and over in relationships is to tell our partner that her emotions do not make sense. Emotions ALWAYS make sense once we unpack them. When we are able to listen to them with compassion and without judgment they communicate deep complex meaning about our needs and fears.
Lifetime lovers listen to and validate each other’s emotions. They open up the deep wells of each other’s hearts.
5. Expressing your needs and wants:
For some crazy reason it is common for couples to make the assumption that their partner understands what they need and want. Regardless of how long we live together we cannot read each other’s minds.
What we need to hear from each other most is that we NEED each other. Yes I said need. In our individualistic co-dependent-phobic culture it is just not cool to actually reveal to anyone that we need them. We have this false notion that strong individuals make strong successful relationship.
Attachment science suggests that strong individuals are created by strong relationships where two people can trust and need each other. So yes, couples who last are able to tell each other how much they mean to each other and how much they need each other.
They are also able to express what they want in life and invite their partner to join with them in achieving what they want. This requires teamwork, sacrifice and tradeoffs. All of these make relationships great and long-lasting.
6. Staying emotionally connected throughout the day:
Have you ever felt connected with someone every hour you are awake? Long term lovers with successful relationships learn how to do this. While technology has the potential to isolate us it also has the potential to keep us connected. A short text, a smiling emoji, or brief phone call are great ways to reach out every time you feel love for or miss your partner. These are quick and easy ways to promote successful relationship.
Couples who are in trouble get so busy that they have difficulty finding even 15 minutes a day to talk. Connected couples look forward to a daily unpacking of how each other is feeling and what they are thinking about. If they are stressed they create protected time on the weekends and remind each other that they can’t wait to be together.
It is especially critical while on a business trip to stay in touch and let the other person know what is happening. Long term couples prefer, when possible, to travel and even sometimes work together. They are best friends who always want to keep the other person in the loop of whatever is important to them.
7. Making your primary primary:
This is a term I’ve coined and talk about in our book. The idea here is that we are wired to pair bond as infants and again as adults. No one can substitute for the person we bond with. This person is our primary relationship.
We start our bonding with a parent, we then separate from them and temporarily peer bond. Then we pair bond again with our lifetime partner.
Each of these transitions is critical for our mental health, adult development and successful relationships. Too many people who pair bond have not let go of peer bonding. Our primary relationship must take priority over all other relationships if it is going to be secure. This even includes our bonds with our children.
Too many couples stay parallel because they do not make each other primary. Children are not secure when their parents do not present a connected unified relationship.
Couples who do not make their primary primary open the relationship to affairs, addictions and failures, which threaten their long term viability.
Long term lovers turn to each other first every time they need emotional support. If they need help from others, they always keep each other informed and avoid triangles.
Combining the 7 Skills for a Successful Relationship and Lifetime of Love:
Successful lifetime lovers stay out of cyclical negative cycle arguments. They know each others raw spots because they are vulnerable with each other. Lifetime lovers become each others healers and biggest motivators. They let each other know how much they need each other and what they want out of life. As partners, they make their collective aspirations happen. They stay connected throughout the day with light touches and devote more time to evening and weekend talk. And they devote their primary time, love and attention to each other. Out of their secure connection they become great parents and leaders in their areas of expertise.
Michael W. Regier is a clinical psychologist and certified Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist in Visalia and San Luis Obispo, California. He and his wife Paula are authors of the book Emotional Connection: The Story and Science of Preventing Conflict and Creating Lifetime Love.