In recent weeks, I’ve had a number of my readers submit questions and ideas for future columns. To those people, and all my readers, thank you for keeping the discussion going. One of the most frequent questions that I receive are my thoughts on relationships: how to start them, end them and guide them through times of trouble.
It’s certainly a difficult question. All relationships are different, because all people are different. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain aspects of relationships that are universal and integral to their formation and longevity. And it’s those aspects that I’d like to talk about today.
I believe that every successful, lasting relationship must begin as a friendship. And strong friendships are built upon two major things: commonality and respect. Commonality is just that: what you have in common. Chances are, if two people like the same things, they’ll understand each other better than people who don’t.
Respect is a little more complicated, because it isn’t immediately apparent. Developing respect for another person requires time and attention. You begin to respect someone when you realize that they think and act in ways that are admirable to you.
Common examples are choice of dress, choice of speech, how one carries themselves, how one responds to problems and personal hygiene. Regardless of personal preference, two people require respect for each other if they have any hope of starting a relationship, which brings me to my next point: honesty.
When I say honesty, I really mean two things: truthfulness and clarity. Lying to anyone is a bad move, in general, especially to your significant other, because it instantly and completely obliterates any respect that you believe you have for them. If you respect someone at all, then surely you value their thoughts and opinions enough to tell them the truth and hear their side.
What’s more, even if you lie, then take it back and tell the truth, you’ve already sown the seeds of mistrust that will plague every interaction between you and your significant other moving forward. Withholding the truth is just as damaging as – if not worse than – lying, because the more time you allow to pass without making your issues known, the harder it will be to resolve them. Finding an effective way to communicate and understand each other’s problems is absolutely critical to sustaining a healthy relationship.
Empathy is similar to respect, because it begins with admiration, but unlike respect – which is a constant – empathy really only comes into play when we see what we respect about another person being challenged. To me, empathy is the gauge by which we measure how much we care about another person; you feel the most empathy for those who are closest to you. And a disturbing truth is that many relationships face a lack of empathy from one or both persons involved.
These one-sided relationships are the saddest to think about, because it brings to mind the image of a person who cares deeply about another – one who, in turn, couldn’t care less about them. If you or a friend exists in a relationship like this, it would be healthy for all involved to reconsider their feelings and work toward a break up if necessary.
Having empathy for your significant other is a good thing, and it shows that you care about them. However, there is such a thing as being over-empathetic, which you may call clingy, needy or overly affectionate. That brings me to boundaries. Boundaries are often set without words, usually well before a relationship begins.
Depending on the couple, boundaries of what can be said or done between two people can be strict in some areas and lax in others; furthermore, they can change frequently in either direction, so knowing and clarifying them at all times is crucial for both involved.
I could go on for pages about the psychological and emotional needs of people, but at a certain point, these things become personal. Those personal aspects are just as important as these discussed above, so you don’t want to ignore one or the other. You wouldn’t put a new roof on a house before you seal the cracks in the foundation, so always be conscious of the fundamentals of a relationship first.
If you’re currently looking for a relationship, keep these things in mind when thinking about the kind of person you’re looking for, and if you’re already in one, take some time to think about how you and your partner are faring in regards to these aspects. It might do you two some good.
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