Since we’re talking about love and matters of the heart this month, I put together a list of 10 good qualities (and 1 great quality) that you should have in a good relationship that makes it a keeper. Sound good? Great! Let’s dive in!
10 Good Things.
Trust. Trust is one of those things that you have to have in a relationship. It is a strong foundation on which to build a future. Trust has to be present for both people to believe the other person will fulfill his/her vows in a wedding ceremony. If you don’t trust the person you’re dating you need to run. It’s the foundation for all the other good things.
Sanity. This one is a little more difficult to pin down; it’s basically that your reaction to the things the other says and does increase your comfort level. If you find yourself questioning reality, feeling insecure, or sacrificing your values and desires, there’s a problem. If you find yourself saying ‘have fun with the guys’ or ‘you should hang out with your friends more’ then you’re very sane and confident in the relationship. If you find yourself saying ‘are you going to do that thing again while hanging out with the guys’ or ‘is she going to be there’ or checking his voice mail then you’re not confident and you’ll start going a little insane.
Serious problems include gas-lighting and manipulation. The other person makes you feel that your version of reality is incorrect (gas-lighting) or the other person twists things to get you to do what they want you to do. Neither of these situations is healthy. Where both situations are present, you lose your sanity.
Security. Feeling confident in who you are, your value as a human, and that the other person has made a good choice in choosing you is security. It rests both in understanding that you are worthy of being loved and loving your person. This is why in recovery we must accept and forgive ourselves. We must learn that we are lovable in a better way than we have been loved in the past, in order to stop the cycle of abuse in our lives.
At its core, domestic violence is based in the abuser’s insecurity. The person who is abusing is usually insecure in his/her value. He probably doesn’t have much self-love or self-esteem. It’s more than just his parent was abusive, or that he was abused, it’s that the insecurity comes out as rage and violence. Once that abuse occurs, it turns into a cycle of its own.
The person is insecure in himself, or the relationship, and then becomes violent or lashes out. The victim should leave and may actually do so. The abuser apologizes and may shift the blame. If the victim takes him back, the abuser knows he did wrong, the abuser knows that there is possibly a person who loves her and won’t hit her, and that makes him more insecure. His insecurity in the relationship increases because of the violence. This insecurity cycles through again. Each time, the abuser becomes more insecure.
Mutual Service. Mutual service looks like dates, respect, and help when needed. It’s not just one person doing all the work to keep things flowing and to keep the relationship together. While dating it may be helping with some home maintenance, child sitting for the other, or giving a lift to the repair shop. While married it may look like both parties doing household chores, house maintenance, yard maintenance, and caring for children. Mutual service is not a 50/50 split, it’s a 100/100 split. It looks different for everyone, in every relationship.
The opposite of mutual service is ego-centeredness, narcissism, and selfishness. This person considers only his or her wants, desires, and needs. This person may require the other to sacrifice their needs and beliefs. It may look like a guy who doesn’t ask where she wants to go for dinner, doesn’t ask her about her day or her thoughts, then asks her to pay because he forgot his wallet (again). In order to be fully in this category it has to happen more than once, even if not all the time, it would be often.
Freedom. A good relationship allows for freedom and separate time from the other person. When a relationship is new, we often want to hang out all the time. It’s a pink fluffy cloud, with unicorns, rainbows, and skipping. You do almost everything together. This is normal. Yet, it should still be possible for one person to do things separately without the other person getting jealous, fearful, or insecure.
You should be free to go shopping, lunch with your friends, and go to the salon without twenty questions. I’m not talking about financial questions from the person sharing a checking account with you. I’m talking about the big parent questions: where are you going, who are you going with, what are you going to do, are there any ex’s going to be there, are you going to hook up with him or her, call me while you’re there so I know who’s there with you, and when will you be back. When these questions are coupled with accusations (you are going to see XYZ person aren’t you? You’re cheating on me aren’t you?) then it’s a control coupled with manipulation.
Respect. Respect is another of those foundational good things that we need. It requires that we recognize that the other is human, valuable, and worthy. We see them and we recognize that they are not a thing to be owned but human. Because of this, the other can’t be controlled.
Disrespect can be brought out in many ways. It might be ignoring boundaries. It might be name-calling, physical abuse, or emotional abuse. It might be not treating a person with dignity and politeness. It might be the other trying to control a person. This latter is often based in fear and anxiety.
Control and disrespect usually result in an insecurity cycle that accompanies the abuse insecurity cycle. Or it’s just a part of it. The cycle might look like: name-calling/other emotional abuse – insecurity – control – insecurity – physical abuse – apology – insecurity. Then back to step one.
If there is disrespect, and you tolerate it, then the other person will know that you do not value yourself. It is possible after the disrespect that the person will escalate to emotional abuse and possibly physical violence. Or if the person doesn’t escalate the situation but you allow it for an extended period – it is harder to set the boundary later.
Mutual sacrifice. This one is similar to mutual service. Both parties should expect to sacrifice something for the other. If only one person is sacrificing then there’s a problem. She can sacrifice her shopping, he can sacrifice a night out with the guys. That sort of thing. They can sacrifice together buying things so that they can go to a nice dinner. It doesn’t happen a lot in dating but when it does, pay attention to it. If the other person is demanding and a taker in dating he/she will remain so getting married.
Similar life paths. Are you going in the same direction? Will the other person hold you back? Do they believe in you and do you believe in them? During the time you’re dating, you should talk about what you want your future to look like. If they are similar or going the same direction then it makes sense to continue the relationship. Physical attraction alone is not enough. Common interests, common life goals, and a similar socioeconomic background make it more likely the couple will succeed.
Cinderella and prince charming had a lot of problems after the wedding. She was used to doing dishes and he was used to having a servant. She was used to being a servant and he probably rarely had to do much for himself. She was used to being mistreated, ignored, and disrespected. He was used to being respected, attended to, and treated well because of his station even if not for his personality. There are many more things than this. Cinderella had a high learning curve at the least and a lot of new duties to manage that did not include the things she actually knew how to do.
Similar Beliefs. Our beliefs in religion, politics, and moral values inform most of the things we do. We may spend or save, rest or work, eat this or that, and buy these things or those things because of what we believe in these three areas. It is possible for people with opposing values to find a middle ground but it’s a long, hard, battle to get there. It may not be possible at all.
Her religion may say get married. He may not believe in marriage at all. His religion may say don’t eat that and she thinks it’s totally normal. She may be liberal and he a conservative. He a spender and she a saver. There are millions of things that break up a relationship and marriages. The two biggest are sex and money. Many of the behaviors we have around sex and money are informed by our belief systems. If we’re not compatible in these areas, it might be time to reconsider the relationship.
Fun and laughter. Even if you’re both serious people if you’re not having fun, enjoying each other’s company, talking, hanging out, and liking each other – there’s a problem. If your relationship is filled with fear and tears there’s a problem. If you can’t enjoy the other person, the things you like to do with the other person, and you don’t have fun then you won’t last long. Money, looks, or connections are not enough. You won’t be happy. If the other is making you cry, hurting your feelings a lot, or hurting you physically, you won’t be happy.
I concede that life isn’t all about being happy. However, in this area of life, a minimum relationship standard is to care about and be cared about. If one person is crying and the other is controlling, abusive, or insecure, it’s time to let go. When you’re married, you spend a lot of time with this person, you should have fun together. Even just simple enjoyment of their company should be considered fun.
1 Great Thing.
Comfort together. There’s a Japanese proverb that we have three faces. We have a public face, a close friends/family/other people face, then we have our alone face. We have different levels of comfort with each person or group. If you feel comfortable like you’re alone with the person you’re dating that is sublime. When my husband and I were dating, we realized early on that we have a very high comfort level with each other. When we’re together we feel almost as comfortable as we do when we’re alone. Our comfort level increases all the time.
I have never felt that level of comfort with any other person. Maybe it’s because we were friends before we dated that we feel this comfortable. We talked about a lot of things as friends. Then when we were both single and ready, we dated. When we are dating people, we usually have our dating persona on. That perfect, really good behavior with the other – like not farting, burping, or getting sick around them. Maybe we don’t let them see without our make-up or with our pajamas on. That sort of thing.
These 10 good qualities have to be present in every good relationship – friends, family, parent-child, dating, married. All of them. If you’re married and you lack any one of these qualities, you should probably reach out to a trusted professional for assistance. If you’re lacking one of these with a familial relationship you should address it head-on or pause the relationship and seek professional assistance. If you’re a parent and you are undermining one of these areas with your child, change your behavior.
If you’re a friend or dating or any other type of relationship, it may be time to leave the relationship. Lacking any one of these important things in a relationship has long-term consequences to self-esteem and self-value. When those things suffer we begin to make poor choices regarding our lives, sacrifice our values, and end up in trouble. When we stay, we can create or maintain poor cycles of abuse and violence in our lives. When we stay, we are telling the other person it’s okay to treat us poorly, we don’t have self-respect, and we don’t matter.