Your relationship is like a butterfly -- very delicate. It needs a lot of care to survive. And it is so much work! This is true of straight relationships, lesbian relationships, and gay relationships. Any time men and women attempt relational initimacy, it is like holding a butterfly.
I have now worked with more than 400 couples -- the vast majority straight, though also many same sex. Either way, there are fundamental principles that must be considered.
Recently, another therapist, Kathleen Lowry, and I sat down and came up with a list of what we see as the 13 essentials of a healthy couple's relationship. We really dug in. We worked hard at distilling the question: "What makes for the healthy couple, the pair that really knows how to find courage, joy, and support in one another?"
Here is the list. And, if you come to see me, this list will form the basis of our work together. I will coach you on how to develop these skills, and hold you accountable for trying. There's no way around it. You just "have to do the work."
Will every couple pull off all 16 essentials consistently? No. That's way too ideal. Can all couples work at each of these 16 critical skills? Yes. Absolutely. And, then, each day in the relationship will be a better day.
16 Essentials for a Healthy Couple Relationship
I am radically honest with my partner.
I dedicate myself to spending at least 15 hours each week giving my partner my undivided attention. This includes affection, conversation, sexual fulfillment, and recreational companionship.
I constantly listen deeply to my partner.
I do not make independent decisions on any matters that affect our relationship.
I allow myself to be influenced by my partner, trusting that he or she has my best interests at heart.
I do not attempt to either control my partner or tell him or her what to do.
I commit to being “all in” in terms of our relationship.
I work to meet my partner’s love language needs. (See my website for an explanation of the five love languages – under “Assessments, Questionnaires, and Readings.”)
I am clear and direct in expressing to my partner my anger and hurts.
I am not sarcastic toward my partner.
I hang in there when my partner sticks up for himself or herself.
I regularly express deep appreciation and gratitude to my partner for the many good things he or she does.
I work with my partner to co-create a vision for our future.
I take good care of myself physically and emotionally so that I can really be there for my partner.
I use alcohol (or other substances such as marijuana) sparingly or not at all, knowing that alcohol and drugs impair my ability to function in a committed relationship.
I take full responsibility for myself, knowing that, most times in life, “I get what I behave for.”