At one point not too long in history (and for what seems like perhaps all of history from my limited perspective) it was believed that love was among the most mysterious forces in the world, something you fall into, like a spell that gets cast.
Because of the latest neuroscience and research on relationships in the last few decades, we now know that love is not a mystery but is what ensures our species of survival and thriving. Not just procreation, but love itself. (I only wish some current world leaders could understand that so we could be ensured such survival…!)
Thanks to this research, we also know what it takes to create such strong relationships that cause a ripple effect of resilience and potential across the lives of whomever they touch.
While the key to creating, maintaining, deepening and enjoying such strong relationships is really quite simple, it doesn’t always feel easy. But without knowing the #1 key to a strong relationship, it can feel damn near impossible!
Fear not, we’ve got you covered with today’s post:
The #1 Key To A Strong Relationship (And 10 Ways To Start Ensuring It Today)
Let me guess what you’re thinking:
Communication! Honesty! Shared values! A great sex life!
Yes, all of the above are important.
But I would say something else is even more important (and can be connected with all of those):
Knowing You Are A Priority To Your Partner
Yep, I’m talking like top priority.
Knowing that your partner has your back, will be there for you when you need them, and cares DEEPLY about you (and your partner has to feel that way too, of course).
Our romantic relationships are under enormous stress today because of how we live.
As a social species, we used to live in larger communities. Tribes (and not the kind that you see shared all over Facebook.) Our needs were taken care of by lots of people around us.
As any parent knows, it takes a village!
Few parents have villages, however. And it takes a village not only to raise children but to truly have our best lives possible.
Most villages have shrank down to parties of 2.
You and your spouse.
Your romantic relationship therefore have a great weight on them and must be taken care of for you to function optimally.
Because there is so much pressure on your relationship, the key for it to run smoothly is therefore knowing – beyond the shadow of a doubt – how much you matter to your partner.
Not necessarily easy.
So how do you do that?
For starters, SHOW and TELL them!
Even if it is the most obvious thing to you how much they matter to you, tell them.
The rest of this post offers 10 ways (this list certainly isn’t exhaustive) that you can use to start ensuring they know they are top priority to you today.
(And I get it, you want to feel that way too. Share this post with them!
Also, if doing some of these things consistently over the span of a few weeks doesn’t help, get in touch with me and I will happily speak with you for referral recommendations.)
So what are these 10 ways to ensure that your partnership has this #1 key to a strong relationship?
We’ll start with 3 of the most important ones from Dr. Sue Johnson’s life changing book, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, that can be remembered with the acronym, “A.R.E.” (Accessibility, Responsiveness, Emotional Engagement), and move on from there.
Be open and accessible to your partner! In John Gottman’s words, don’t turn away but turn toward your partner, especially in the face of distress. Be accessible and connected, this gives your partner the message that they matter to you, which is key to creating a strong foundation.
There is nothing more infuriating than not being responded to. In the famous “Still Face Experiment” with children and their mothers, this non-responsive “still face” universally made small children decompensate. The same thing happens with adults when we are not responded to by people who matter to us: We get the message that WE don’t matter and this does terrible damage. So … when your partner comes to you or speaks to you, put them first, and respond.
Relationships are ALL about emotions and emotional connection, so naturally the significance of emotional engagement is clear. As your partner questions, take an interest in their life and their day, see how they are, empathize…in other words: Care about your partner, and show it!
Honesty + trust
Trust is absolutely necessary to have a solid relationship, and being honest and truthful is what breeds trust. People often lie and hide the truth when they are dealing with shame, which is a toxic emotion that can take over if you let it. Have the courage to heal your shame by showing up honestly and you’ll create a stronger relationship as a result.
Emotional awareness and communication
“Communication problems” are what most couples say the problem is when they’re struggling, and while healthy communication is key, what really matters is your level of emotional awareness and openness. Partners often find themselves in damaging cycles of escalating negative emotion not because they don’t have communication skills but because such skills fly out the window in the face of disconnection and escalated emotion.
The trick then is to be able to slow your emotional process down and be aware of it so that it doesn’t turn into a runaway train dragging you down with it. Then and only then can you effectively communicate honestly and openly about what’s going on with you so that your partner will understand.
Reconnection in the face of disconnect
All the emotional awareness in the world doesn’t mean you won’t fight. In fact, I’d be more worried about a couple who never fought than one who did. The key is that you come back together again and reconnect with each other, even when you fundamentally might disagree.
Know Your Partner’s “Love Maps” (John Gottman) or “Love Language” (Gary Chapman)
“Enhancing your partner’s love maps” is relationship researcher John Gottman’s first principles for making marriage work in his famous book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. He discusses “love maps” as like the inner world of your partner – what do they love? What’s their favorite salad dressing? What kind of things are stressing them out right now? Learning about your partner and their preferences and values is an ongoing process that will only deepen your relationship over time.
I would like to add to this that their “love language” is like a part of their love map. Gary Chapman writes about “love languages” in his famous book: The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts as ways in which we give and receive love. While I don’t believe awareness of one’s love language is the secret to love that lasts (but rather emotional responsiveness, engagement and connection is), it certainly helps!
Keep each other in consideration
Small (and large!) acts of kindness
Demonstrative acts of appreciation that show your partner that you are thinking of them add up over time and provide compound interest for the good of your relationship. These can be as small as quick texts in the middle of the day, to leaving notes on the steering wheel for your partner or on the kitchen table, to surprising them with romantic get-aways. Small consistent acts go a long way in creating a great partnership, just as Tzu’s quote above states.
Put your marriage first
That means protect it and put each other first. Don’t blab about your problems if you have them to everyone, I can almost guarantee that you’ll regret doing that. When you put your marriage first even if it feels like it’s on the bottom of your list, it’s better for you individually, better for your partner, and better for your kids if you have them.
Knowing You Are A Priority To Your Partner Is Key To A Strong Relationship
Them knowing they are a priority to you is key too.
It’s my hope that these 10 ways that you can start enacting today (I’m sure you’re already doing some) will help you strengthen your relationship and show your partner how much they matter to you.
Add more ways you like to strengthen your relationship in the comments below!