How does one keep up a romantic relationship in married life? It is a critical question in today’s world of seemingly disposable couplings. In weddings I perform, two psychological model and one quote may hold the secret to a sustained married life that leads to a healthy well-being.
I long ago abandoned the idea that I could predict if a couple will remain wed after I performed a marriage ceremony. Firstly, it was very judgmental and secondly, it was arrogant because no one can predict with any accuracy what happens in life in general.
However, I have observed two relationship dynamics which could be useful in understanding the nature of romantic and successful relationships that lead to a healthy well-being for both individuals.
When couples fall in love, there is a mutual admiration that occurs. Certain traits of a partner are cherished highly by the other. For example, in my Sweetheart, I found her to be kind, generous, heart-led, hard-working, dedicated, creative and artistic, honest, besides having a wonderful smile and sparkling eyes. We are now on our 36 wedding anniversary and these are the same characteristics that I love in her so much today.
This “appreciative partnership” is considered a great predictor of relationship satisfaction, commitment, investment, intimacy, self-expansion and support of goals. A recent study underlines that my perception of my Sweetheart’s strengths yields me a net benefit in my life. In other words, my psychological needs are met and I have a sense of well-being. In turn, my well-being influences her well-being.
The reverse is also found to be true. If I believe her characteristics to be too burdensome, then there is a negative effect on the relationship.
Another relationship dynamic that I have noticed is in how the couple coexists. One “model of coexistence” describes how goal-setting behaviors can affect coexistence and therefore well-being. Depending on a situation one partner (Bob) can approach another partner (Betty) about realizing a goal in one of four ways:
- Bob can set goals for Betty (or vice versa)
- Bob does not have his own goals
- Bob wants to pursue his own goals
- Bob and Betty develop mutual goals
The resulting four modes of coexistence are:
- Conflict, Bob and Betty fight
- Hierarchy, Bob submits to Betty
- Independence, Bob and Betty do not interact
- Cooperation, Bob and Betty work together
I’ve seen each mode in couples with whom I have conducted nuptials. It really depends on what works for them. Issues arise where Bob and Betty are no longer wanting to work in a mode that has worked in the past.
What I have seen is that couples who remain in appreciative partnership and have worked out their model of coexistence do well. It is when there is a change in either of these two factors that relationships become challenged. For example, Betty may have liked that Bob submitted to her, she found him easy-going. But now, after having kids, she associates his always waiting for her cue as being “lazy and not doing anything. He is like another child!” Betty no longer appreciates the partnership. Unless a change in the model of coexistence is accepted by both, then their relationship is in decline.
I’ve found that these two descriptors of relationships, appreciative partnership and model of coexistence, are quite useful insights in the health and well-being of a couple. It can all be summarized in one quote that I often use, “It is not having the right partner, it is being the right partner.”