Work

Relationships: What You See is What You Get


Q

What does it take to sustain a happy and successful relationship or marriage?

A

If any of us had the true answer to the exact and “true” ingredients that make for a happy and healthy long-term relationship/marriage, we would probably win a Nobel Prize for helping humanity. However, since this is an age-old question with no one definitive answer, we can only use our past experiences in the helping professions, as well as drawing on the wisdom of seers and sages from a variety of disciplines, to attempt to address this issue. Kahlil Gibran in his essay on marriage states, “Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup, but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping; For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together yet not too near together; For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Over the years, I have worked with many couples before, during, and even after their relationships have ended. One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from my work and my own relationships is that “what you see is what you get.” People often fall in love and continue relationships into marriage believing that they will be able to change the other. This is interesting because we are often drawn to our mates initially because they are different from us, only to find that once we are embedded, we want the other to change to be more like us. Respect for who your partner is in the beginning of your connection is essential. A professor of mine in college once stated, “there is no such thing as potential.” I agree in terms of picking partners.

Once in a relationship or marriage, respect, empathy and giving to the other is paramount. If each partner in a relationship is dedicated to helping their mate grow, evolve and flourish without trying to control, limit or damper the other’s spirit, the couple will thrive and expand in their love.

Trust is essential. I don’t just mean physical fidelity, but rather trust in all realms of life. One should feel that they can fall backwards and have loving, non-judgmental arms to catch them. This also includes dependability, responsibility and accountability to each other.

The sexual connection in a relationship is a beautiful gift, which should never be taken for granted. Although the sexuality in a long relationship may ebb and flow throughout the lifespan of the connection, a couple should work on the dance of their physicality in whatever form it takes at each stage.

Wherever possible, finding mutual experiences to share and enjoy is essential. Finding time to nurture and water the relationship will always cause the garden of love to flourish.

A relationship or marriage should be a safe harbor in life’s ocean, a place to find one’s bliss. Joseph Campbell, in discussing marriage states, “That is the sense of the marriage vow—I take you in health and sickness, in wealth or poverty; going up and going down. But I take you as my center, and you are my bliss, not the wealth you may bring me, not the social prestige, but you. That is following your bliss.”

Dr. Karen Binder-Brynes is a leading psychologist with a private practice in New York City.

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