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The secret code to a lasting relationship

When I got married more than 12 years ago, marriage was a fancy notion. Being married meant romance, love, adventure, and countless fond memories that would last a lifetime. While the memories did last, the marriage did not. As time passed, and the unthinkable happened, I found myself doing what everyone who parts ways from their partners does—analysing why a marriage that should have worked for many reasons, didn’t work for just a handful of reasons, murky at best.

The analysis of the ‘why’ did take place over countless cups of coffee, all-nighters, and video calls with worried friends. Whether a clear answer to the big ‘why’ surfaced or not, the myriad analyses gave rise to a more pertinent question: what does make a marriage work? Eventually, I realised such answers take time to come. Sometimes, they don’t, which is when you must accept the question marks. For the time being, at least.

But the mind, it is a sneaky little wanderer. Now and then, it goes back to the questions that linger, and to the historical debris, in the hope to sew together a possible explanation of perhaps the most significant event of your life.

Fortunately, for me, the answers came in bits and pieces, through conversations and observations—sometimes friends, at times, even strangers—couples who have been together almost their entire lives, those who have spent the better part of their lives with each other, or some who’ve spent the more significant years together; couples who are together because they’ve managed to overcome their differences and couples who are together despite their differences. What left me overwhelmed was the spirit with which people celebrate their relationships and their partners along with the differences they cannot ignore.

So, what is this big, bold secret behind relationships that last?

Given that millions of people are asking this question, this enduring quest no more remained personal. It became only imperative to take it to the next level, put some thoughts out there, perhaps as something to chew on for those treading this wavelength, wondering why, and why not.

In an endeavour to find answers to this quintessential question, we, at Soulveda, did a little digging. What we found were not mere confessions of those who have managed to master ‘marriage’ but also insights, lessons, and solutions to the most complex of all human relationships.

A closer look at relationships that have lasted the test of time and circumstances demonstrates the role of a value system that’s similar, if not identical.


Validate the feelings of your partner

Picture this. An argument between a couple takes place. Tempers flare up, words get spoken, hurt and pain take over, one of them storms out of the room, the other bangs the door shut, tears are shed and something lingers—the dissatisfaction of not being heard and understood. “…To feel truly “gotten” is to feel deeply, rewardingly validated,” says Leon F Seltzer, psychologist and author, in an article on Psychology Today.

Often, couples complain their feelings are dismissed by the significant other. Inadvertently, while waging the war between right and wrong, one person’s feelings end up being dismissed. What could be the solution? Validate the feelings of the one you love. Don’t assume just because it does not make sense to you, or you can’t understand it, it isn’t true.

Honour the expectations

There is no relationship without expectations. The problem appears when we try to resist them. Because where there is love and closeness, there are expectations. And if there are expectations, they should be communicated, not dismissed just because they are coming from someone else.

Communicate, communicate, communicate 

One of the scariest pitfalls of a relationship is a lack of communication. Often, the assumption is that the significant other knows how you feel at any given point of time. Whether it is the expression of your love, affection, or displeasure, communication is a prerequisite in this most fragile of all relationships. “Many people in troubled marriages say, ‘We just don’t communicate anymore.’ Most likely, they mean to say that they don’t communicate effectively anymore. The truth is that people are communicating all the time. Even two people giving each other the silent treatment are communicating with each other,” says Erika Krull, a mental health expert, in her blog on Psych Central. So, spell it out even if it seems redundant. The key to a successful relationship is healthy interaction and dialogue.

Don’t take it personally

Where there are two people, there will always be disagreement. No matter what the equation, two people cannot possibly agree on everything. Disagreements mean there will be feedback coming both ways which may not always be palatable. And when you don’t like what you hear about yourself, don’t take it personally. It could be factual rather than judgemental.

Accept the person for better or for worse

“Don’t try to turn your spouse into someone they are not!” goes the advice of every family counsellor. Your partner may not be what you want them to be, but they are who they are. Do not compare them with anyone else. Who doesn’t come with flaws? Imperfections can’t be wished away. There may be habits and traits of your loved one that annoy or upset you. It’s important to remember that if you accepted those habits initially, why would you become finicky all of a sudden?

Celebrate the differences

No two people are the same. Yet, it can be the hardest thing to accept when someone we are close to is different than us. When it is a life partner, differences can easily become the cause of conflict. While it would be great to find a partner or a spouse who has a personality and sensibilities like ours, it would hardly be fair to expect our partners to think or be like us just because that’s the way of life we understand. The magic potion for a marriage or relationship is to celebrate the differences, however hard it may seem. Couples who have lasted through years of battling and overcoming such expectations, vouch for this mantra.

Values are the glue that bind the two

One of the most essential, albeit often side-lined, attributes of a successful relationship is the value system that two people grow up with and as an extension, bring it to their relationship too. A value system shapes an individual’s world view and perception of life. A closer look at relationships that have lasted the test of time and circumstances demonstrates the role of a value system that’s similar, if not identical. It is the glue that binds two people together despite differences.

As new perspectives sink in, and you begin to see your partner in a new light, there is room to undo the past hurt by making a fresh start and thoughtful gestures.


Love is the unassuming saviour

Deon Jackson famously sang Love makes the world go around. Ironically, love is the one ingredient we take for granted the most. But when everything seems to be falling apart in a relationship, the unassuming saviour is love. In the grips of a low patch, it is tempting to dismiss everything good and be ruled by what doesn’t work. This is when relationship experts call upon the importance of relying on the most stubborn of all emotions—love. The power and intensity of love felt for a partner is so strong that it can drown out the noise of discord.

Be good friends

If love is the saviour of a fading relationship, it is friendship that brings the groove back in a rusty relationship. Sage advice emphasises the importance of friendship between a couple. According to John Gottman, Relationship expert and author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: “Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship.” When the spark between two people appears to be dying out, a warm friendship saves the day. The uncomplicated nature of friendship can kick-start an open dialogue and end a long feud. The fact that friendship does not come with the baggage of the past, helps an effortless camaraderie.

Acknowledge and reciprocate gestures

When you have been with someone for too long, the love and care you give and receive become part and parcel of the relationship. The gestures that made you skip a heartbeat, somehow become routine. Couples who have managed to crack the relationship code swear by appreciating and reciprocating gestures. While you may be used to a gesture your partner often makes, acknowledging it and reciprocating it with something you can do for them is a sure winner.

Spend quality time together

One of the most discussed aspects in relationships is quality time together. Relationship veterans don’t blink when they say spending quality time together is the golden key to a healthy relationship. Because people are different, things they like to do are varied too. It is perfectly healthy for a couple to engage in separate activities and interests. But finding common interests is paramount when it comes to love and relationships. Doing even simplest of things together such as taking a walk in the park, cooking, cycling, gardening, or simply reading together retains the spark between two in love.

Don’t get needy, give space

Where there is need for togetherness, there is always room for some space. Giving space to your partner is, perhaps, the best advice you’d come across. And when you do, be consistent with it. Life, today, can get demanding and invariably exhausting. If there is no space in a relationship, it could easily get overbearing. So, don’t get too needy, too often.

Don’t throw in the towel just yet, seek help

Despite being with a person for a considerable part of our lives, we are ready to bow out when things get too hard to deal with. Irrespective of the reasons leading to the break-down of a relationship, the instinct is to quit often to self-preserve. There is nothing wrong with walking away but seeking professional help before doing what cannot be undone is the wiser thing to do, say experts. Objective and unbiased advice coming from a third person brings in a fresh perspective. “…the effectiveness of marriage counseling is directly related to the motivation level of both partners and timing. For some couples, marriage counseling is really divorce counseling because they’ve already thrown in the towel,” writes Terry Gaspard, therapist and author, in her blog on Gottman.com.

Press the reset button

Just in case, you have climbed an uphill battle of overcoming differences, resolving conflict and seeking help to save your relationship, don’t just conclude the job’s all done and dusted. As new perspectives sink in, and you begin to see your partner in a new light, there is room to undo the past hurt by making a fresh start and thoughtful gestures.

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