5 Essential Ingredients of Lasting and Healthy Relationships

4 min read

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People are marrying later in life, and marriage rates are declining. However, divorce rates remain formidable. This is because while postponing marriage can help some mature emotionally or establish themselves financially, it does not necessarily safeguard against choosing an inappropriate person. Contrary to popular opinion, this job is primarily left to our unconscious to get right.

In my clinical experience, marital problems start with who you pick as a mate. I know we would like to think that we have free will when it comes to choosing our mates. But the truth is that we are, at best, only subconscious about our choices—most of the time, this choice emanates from our unconscious. Psychoanalysts such as Freud and Jung and systems therapists like Bowen and Whitaker believed that mate choice was predetermined. If this is true, then the only way to be free in choosing a mate is to be conscious of what it is we are looking for in a partner.

Bringing mate choice into the conscious realm is no easy task. Many people do not even believe in the power of the unconscious, and those who do often inadvertently hide behind long-held defenses that cover what Winnicott refers to as their “true selves.” Nevertheless, the self-examination it would take to “know thyself” would save many people emotional pain and thousands of dollars in divorce fees. But since this revealing process often merits professional help, the purpose of this post is to highlight, based on my clinical experience working with couples, five essential ingredients to consider before marrying.

Craig Adderley/Pexels

Source: Craig Adderley/Pexels

1. Know what you want.

Take time to think about your own needs and who can meet them. Some people want someone they can have intimate conversations with. Others might want someone who will spend a lot of time with them, yet others might want an individual who is more distant. Some may prefer a partner with a high libido, while others prefer a low one. You must remember that you are going to live with whomever you choose, so try not to be too influenced by family and friends in the mate selection process. I certainly would consider their input, but in the end, it is your decision to make, and you should make it as if it will bind you for life.

2. Prioritize trust.

You must find someone you can trust. Sneaky people are dangerous. You may never know what they are up to or how they really feel about something. This sets you up to be blind-sided one day. You are heavily investing in this person, and so you must be able to trust them with your emotions, your finances, and your children. If they grew up with secrets in their families of origin, they might keep secrets in real time.

3. Consider attraction.

I have written about attraction many times before, but I believe it is worth repeating. Make sure you are emotionally and physically attracted to the individual of your choice. This does not mean that they must be of great intellect or look like a model. Attraction is subjective, so what turns you on is all that matters. I would, however, make sure that your proposed mate is attracted to you as well, or you may end up in an affair or victimized by one.

4. Look for a willingness to take responsibility.

This is a key ingredient that is often overlooked. You must choose someone who is not so rigid and controlling that they cannot or refuse to take any responsibility for their behavior in the relationship. If they are a poor negotiator, chances are they will have difficulty compromising in the relationship, and you will then be in a double bind: go along to get along or leave. Neither choice is optimal.

5. Seek out similarity.

Opposites only attract on superficial levels. Do not choose a partner because you think they make up for something you are missing. Choose someone who thinks like you, appreciates the same things you do, and wants the same things out of life that you do. If you can, it will prevent ongoing control struggles in your relationship.

In conclusion, being thoughtful and intentional in your choice of a mate can help you achieve a long, committed relationship and reduce the chances that you will end up as a divorce statistic.

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