I called my best-friend, Rabab, this week to tell her that we aren't taking good care of our relationship. She didn't answer; I left her a voicemail.
I view every significant relationship, romantic and platonic, as an independent entity co-created by two whole and complete individuals. Relationship entities are built on a foundation of mutual regard, respect and the desire for the entity to thrive. To create an enduring, rewarding, and ever-expanding relationship experience requires five things:
1. Consistency. Relationships blossom with regular contact and they starve without it. Make an effort to maintain a consistent connection. It doesn't have to be taxing or time-consuming to do this. Technology makes it easier than ever to stay connected. Send texts, emails, Skype, facetime, call when you can, or go way out-of-the-box and send a handwritten card. Feed and nurture the entity and it will grow and support you.
2. Reciprocity. Mutually satisfying and enduring relationships are a give and take. In no moment will the giving and taking be balanced and this is wonderfully normal. If one person is experiencing a challenge they may be receiving a great deal more than they are giving, but in its totality there's a rough balance. The pendulum of support given and received must swing in both directions. If you have a relationship in which you typically do all of the talking and really don't know what's happening in the other person's life, choose to listen more, be more interested and focused on the other person. The number one complaint I receive from people contemplating ending a relationship: there's no reciprocity
3. Reliability. Can your relationships count on you to be there when they need you? A person who can count on you to be there and to follow through on what you say you will do is far more likely to become emotionally intimate, open, and to be there for you. Stability and reliability are primary drivers of good relationships.
4. Mom-like love. Don't confuse this with motherly love--the kind that causes you to behave maternally toward someone. Mom-like love endures even when things go wrong. It fearlessly tells you the truth because it knows the relationship cannot be destroyed. It's unconditional love with a fierce commitment to speak up when it feels you're headed for trouble. Every secret is safe and nothing is off-limits. Mom-like lovers are willing to disapprove of your choices, express it, and continue loving you.
5. Conflict resolution ability. Conflicts and disagreements are an inherent part of life and relationships. Every relationship has them and it's entirely normal. The thing that predicts the success and endurance of a relationship is the strength of the participants conflict resolution skills. In strong relationships, the parties keep sight of the whole--they see more than the issue at hand. They recognize the value of the relationship and refuse to allow any conflict to threaten it. They focus on what the other person means to them, work to share their point of view, to listen and stand in the shoes of the opposing view to understand it better. They show up, put their ego aside, and are willing to work to find a way for both people to feel heard. They practice love even when they are angry. They know that shutting down, punishing and/or withholding communication is punitive and permanently damages a relationship's foundation.
Rabab called me back, I wasn't home. She left me a voicemail agreeing that we need more consistency. We've been friends for twenty-five years and would lay our lives down for each other. It takes conscious care and effort to nurture enduring bonds, yet few things matter more.
What do you think? What else is required to keep relationships strong? What do you need most?