Cosmo and I both survived bad marriages and were smart enough to do some necessary soul-searching to keep from making the same mistakes again. We were both determined to have a great relationship when we met each other.
We’re four years into our relationship now. Our instincts back at the beginning were correct. The more we know each other, the more we know we were meant for each other.
An in depth conversation we had just a few days ago confirmed this all over again for both of us.
A recurring family problem that also had to do with relationships in general had been nagging at me. So I went to Cosmo, seeking his advice and support, knowing I always feel better when I hash things out with him.
Sure enough, drawing from his own experiences and relationships, he patiently and empathically offered many words of wisdom.
He is always willing to spend time talking through my problems, just as I am with his problems. We both come out of these sometimes lengthy conversations feeling so much better about ourselves, having been heard and cared for.
One of the main things that keeps our relationship healthy is our mutual comfort in being vulnerable with each other about our deepest feelings. We both know that we can trust the other completely.
Finding Your Soulmate. Cultivate a Great Relationship
I’ve written about what a soulmate is and why it’s so hard to find one.
I described how, on my first date with Cosmo, I felt like I was home:
“I didn’t know why “home” was the word that came to mind then, until some time had passed, and we’d had a few dates.
We quickly came to have a level of comfort together that I’d never had with anyone else . . . sort of like that cozy feeling you have wrapped up in a blanket on the couch on a cold, cold day, watching the snow fall and grateful to be inside, safe and warm.
Quiet times, just sitting together over lunch or breakfast, or sitting outside enjoying nature – even without conversation – may be the times I relish and look forward to the most.”
In the same article, I noted a Huffington Post article by Dr. Carmen Harra, who listed elements of a soulmate including:
- It’s something inside.
- You just “get” each other.
- You fall in love with his or her flaws.
- It’s intense.
- It’s you two against the world.
- You feel secure and protected.
- You look each other in the eye.
Research Shows That the Quality of Your Relationship Is Most Important
A recent landmark study reported on CNN.com shows, not surprisingly, that “It’s not who you’re with, but the dynamic you have with them.”
For decades, scientists have studied couples to determine what makes for a good relationship, but most of those studies only measured a few variables at a time.
This research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, spans 43 longitudinal couples studies involving more than 11,000 romantic couples, tracked for an average of a year.
“Your own judgment of your relationship — meaning, how satisfied you feel your partner is or how appreciative you are of your partner — says more about the quality of your relationship than either of your personalities.
In other words, don’t focus so much on whether a person fits your type or whether they check all your boxes. Instead, think about how you’re engaging with each other and whether your relationship leaves you feeling satisfied.”
Justin Lavner, a psychologist at the University of Georgia who interpreted the results, summed up some takeaways:
Pay attention to the dynamics of your relationship
“The relationship is more than the sum of its parts. It’s that relationship dynamic itself, rather than the individuals who make up the relationship, that seems to be most important for relationship quality.”
It’s also worth paying attention to your current feelings about the relationship.
“Another takeaway message is that although these perceptions were most predictive of relationship quality measured at the same point in time, the same pattern was found at follow-up, suggesting that how you feel now can be somewhat diagnostic of how you’ll feel later on.”
What Really Matters in a Great Relationship
Social psychologist Amie M. Gordon, Ph.D. says that good relationships do more for us than make us happy. They can keep us healthy.
In a Psychology Today article, she cited a meta-analysis that found that
“Social relationships were more predictive of warding off mortality than quitting smoking or exercising. But it wasn’t just the presence of other people that mattered, it was the presence of supportive others — toxic relationships may be worse than no relationship at all.”
These days, with the pandemic still among us and likely to be for some time to come, we need love and great relationships more than ever.
She suggests we need to do 3 things to accomplish this:
“First, we need to be open and honest with the people we care about. We need to share our thoughts and feelings with them. We need to ask for their support rather than always trying to go it alone. And we need to tell them what we appreciate about them.
Second, we need to be there for our partners. We need to listen and acknowledge what they are feeling, to provide support for them in both good times and in bad. We need to do it in ways that are helpful. And we need to allow ourselves to feel appreciated by them.
Third, we need to give each other a break. No one gets it right every time. We need to forgive the small grievances. We need to let it go when the other person makes a mistake. And we need to promise to learn from our own mistakes and try to do better next time.”
It all starts with paying attetion to each other . . . in little and big ways.
Researchers who tracked couples for many years found that the happiest ones made bids for each other’s attention. They may share an anecdote from the day, or even just a gentle touch as they walk past the other. Bigger bids are things like asking for help solving a problem or requesting a weekend away together.
Can You Predict the Trajectory of a Great Relationship?
If you’re in a relationship now, are you wondering how yours stacks up against others?
A study (Lavner & Bradbury, 2010) used data from 232 newly married heterosexual couples, followed over a 4-year period and 172 over a 10-year period. They identified five different types of relationships with unique trajectories:
Stable: High Satisfaction. About 13% of husbands and 20% of wives enjoy a rare and special kind of romantic relationship, the kind that keeps on delivering high relationship satisfaction even as the years go by. These couples reported high relationship satisfaction at each measurement time point.
Minimal Decline: Moderately High Satisfaction. More than a third of the sample (36% husbands, 34% wives) reported strong relationship satisfaction, with only slight declines over time.
Minimal Decline: Moderate Satisfaction. Some couples start off decently happy and only drop off a bit from that initial starting point. Both husbands (32%) and wives (28%) in this category indicated moderate relationship satisfaction at the start, with only somewhat of a negative trajectory in satisfaction over time.
Substantial Decline: Moderate. About 12% of husbands and wives reported moderate satisfaction, but this was fairly short-lived. Over the four years of the study, the decline in relationship satisfaction was steep and substantial.
Substantial Decline: Low Satisfaction. Some relationships struggle right from the beginning. In this study, 6% of participants started off with low relationship satisfaction and reported rapid decline from there, ending with the lowest satisfaction across the different relationship groups.