We base relationships on four principles:
Respect, Understanding, Acceptance, Appreciation
— Mahatma Gandhi
Be it romantic, familial, friendly, physical, emotional, creative, business, social, communal, or spiritual, we base every relationship on four principles: respect, understanding, acceptance, and appreciation.
According to one of the many books I have read on this subject, since the time of Adam and Eve, men and women have struggled with taking responsibility for the way we regard, treat, and behave in our relationships. When God asked Eve why she ate of the fruit, she answered that the snake had tricked her. When God asked Adam why he ate of the fruit, he answered that the woman (Eve) had tricked him? When a relationship is struggling, it is typical for each partner to find fault in the other partner. However, the method of discerning which person needs to take more responsibility in a struggling relationship is simple. It is the person who complains.
I once knew a person who cared so much for others but could not care for himself.
That person was me.
— Joseph Binning
For me, relationship was, are, and always have been, one of the most difficult things to understand and navigate. I’ve struggled with them all of my life, so you might imagine how surprised I was when I found myself inspired to write about them! I didn’t have much of a relationship with my father, because of his removal from my life at an early age (see my post What I Learned From Being Stuck And Frozen, And Why You Need To Read This). My only learning in how to be in a relationship came in the first nine years of my life before he left. That learning came in the form of yelling and screaming to settle arguments, which usually lead to broken dishes.
Conflict resolution and fostering a healthy relationship was not a model I was privy to. In much of my adulthood, I based the success of my intimate relationships on how much sex we had. My mindset that I believed was, If we just have sex, we’ll become closer. Sex will solve all our problems. If we have a lot of sex, we’re fantastic! Although my childhood experiences might excuse my inability to create and nourish my own healthy relationships, they shouldn’t.
It is our primary responsibility to create a healthy relationship with ourselves if we want to have a healthy relationship with anyone else.
That being said, for my learning, I had to look to others who had a better understanding of what a healthy intimate relationship is, so I could pass this tidbit of guidance on to you.
Intimacy and sex are two different things. Intimacy starts with our deep, respectful, nurturing, and honest relationship with, and Love for, ourselves. If we have that as our foundation, we can create the same with others. The truth is: if we have more intimacy with ourselves and our relationships, we will be more intimate.
A definition of Love: happiness that the other person exists.
Based on the findings of authors like Walter Riso and Jorge Bucay, the highest value of any relationship lies in the importance of each partner showing gratitude for the gestures of care and affection made toward one another. Neither person takes the partner or the gestures, for granted, but shows recognition and appreciation for them. In this mutual recognition, appreciation, and gesturing, each partner is co-creating, experiencing, and enjoying a full, healthy Love, or rewarding satisfaction, if referring to less intimate relationships.
In reading Rios’s quote, I noticed that it made no reference to “me” or “I” am receiving anything, other than a feeling of happiness within me, created by my appreciation that my partner exists.
As I grew into adulthood, I fell in Love many times. I attracted and fell in Love mostly with mother figures, women who would take care of me like a mother would take care of her child because I was not taking care of myself. I acted like a man child. I discovered years later that it was not possible to have a healthy sexual relationship with a mother figure.
When a man acts like a child in a relationship, it forces the woman to act like his mother. The problem with that is, you can’t sleep with your mother!
Without consciously knowing it, each of us prevented me from growing up and being the man, I needed to be—and the man they needed me to be, to receive the Love we both deserved. The problem which I realized many years later was that I needed to be Loved verses the desire of wanting to be Loved. I hadn’t yet learned about, or integrated, the foundational principle of relationships:
You can’t have a healthy relationship unless you are healthy.
Most women are emotional, feeling-oriented beings. Most men are rational, action-oriented beings. We have been designed in these ways to bring balance into our relationships, to complement one another. A man will trample on a flower. A woman will notice its beauty and share it, so that the man can see it and come to appreciate it. The man will remove its thorns before the woman touches it to protect her safety, beauty, and happiness. Balance is the natural order.
The Taoists refer to this as Yin Yang. Yin Yang is the universal balance that embodies the Harmony of opposites.
But, in every relationship, balance comes with responsibilities. If something is not working, it is the responsibility of both partners to share in working out the solution, though not necessarily in equal parts. Sharing is something that becomes easier over the long run. It’s not about taking responsibility for all the elements of every problem or splitting them all fifty-fifty. It’s more about finding a natural balance in our abilities and strengths to care for and nurture the relationship, while always committing to keep the channel of communication and appreciation open.
To share these responsibilities, communication plays a major, fundamental role in the relationship. We can’t make a commitment, take on a responsibility, or reach any kind of agreement without it. We have to be honest and tell the other person what we can and cannot do. It’s a process, with various sub-processes, of continual growth that will work for the benefit of the relationship, and for the benefit of each individual within the relationship, if their Love is healthy.
I’ve always thought the most beautiful response to ‘I Love you’ is: ‘And I can feel your Love.’
— Jorge Bucay
I found an article that really resonated with me on the website Exploring Your Mind that lists the “7 Pillars of Healthy Love:”
Healthy Love is more about quality than quantity. Loving a lot doesn’t mean loving well. Loving well implies respecting, trusting, being honest and mutually supportive, balancing the giving and receiving, maintaining separate identities, maintaining individual sources of interest and happiness, and communicating effectively. Having self-respect and showing respect for the other person are equally important in the foundation of a healthy relationship.
Trust is not having to verify everything the other person does and says. It’s feeling certain and relaxed in your belief that the other person will stay committed and willing to share both the good moments and the challenging moments. Trust is also believing in the relationship’s value and its ability to thrive.
Honesty is being sincere about our feelings, needs, and wants—with ourselves, and with the other person. Being honest with ourselves requires self-inventory. There can be no sincere and complete exchange for it. This includes being confident that our individual desires, needs, and behaviors don’t violate our partner’s rights.
It’s important for each partner to show support for the other, being able to differentiate our needs and happiness from the other person’s needs and happiness, and supporting their growth, in all areas. Support doesn’t always require action or even words. Many times, it is non-verbal—a look, a hug, a wink, a thumbs up, a clap, a high five, a kiss, or just showing up.
Every healthy relationship needs a balance between giving and receiving, in which both partners have a responsibility to care for the relationship. Reciprocity is the basis of a healthy, thriving Love. Effective relationships solidified by exchange. When we give Love, we expect Love. When we exchange generosity, we feel a stronger bond of Love.
- Personal Identity
It’s imperative to maintain our individual, separate identities so that each partner can be all he or she can be. Practicing individualism, where each person keeps self-care, interests, and self-Love alive, is a responsibility each person has to him/herself and his or her partner. This enables each partner to enter, and continue through the relationship, feeling complete, healthy, and happy already, not needing to feel completed”, healthy, or happy by the relationship, or the partner.
- Good Communication
Communication is paramount in any relationship. When we’re trying to achieve a healthy partnership, it’s necessary to have good sending and receiving communication skills, for the basic conversation, and when expressing needs, desires, and gratitude, and in discussions and negotiations. A relationship is two people making many, but not all, decisions together and many times, but not always, sharing a point of view. For a couple to agree, it’s vital to have a calm, open, free, and trust-filled conversation.
Here is an exercise to help you identify who you Love, what you Love about your relationships, and why you Love them.
Take a sheet of paper and make two lengthwise columns. On top of the right column, write “Love.” On the top of the left column, write “Reason.” Make a list of all the people you Love and everything you Love about your relationships. Next to that list, write the reasons you Love them. Take your time with this. Don’t rush it. Really contemplate it. After you’ve completed the lists, come back to this page and read the rest of this exercise—don’t read it now. Wait until you’ve finished writing your lists. Don’t cheat. Now, stop reading and start your lists.
Later, after you’ve completed your lists:
Read each Love and reason, one at a time, and if the reason centers on you, write “Superficial” next to it. If it centers on the other person, write “Meaningful” next to it. Now, look at the people and things you listed that you marked “Superficial” and note any realizations, thoughts, or feelings that come up in you.
Last, examine the names of the people you listed, particularly the order you listed them in. Note any realizations, thoughts, or feelings that come up in you.
Did you list yourself? If so, where on the list? If not, why? Note any realizations, thoughts, or feelings that come up in you.
To Love someone, you must Love yourself first. If you have not come to Love, value, and nurture yourself, you have no capacity to do that for another.
Practicing the seven pillars is not a foolproof guarantee of a couple’s successful union or future, but if Love and health are there, these will support a healthy, dignified, fun, growth-oriented, and inspired union for both partners.
Your first job is to work on yourself. The greatest thing you can do for another human being
is to get your own house in order and find your true spiritual heart.