This article answers the question, “How can I make my next long-term, committed relationship be successful?” How many times have we asked ourselves this? How many times have we come up empty? The good news is we can figure it out. The secret lies in the answers to this question: What are the specific things you must have in a relationship, or else it will die? Our culture is quick to answer this question for us, “Just listen to your heart.” However, divorce courts are littered with thousands upon thousands of couples who took that advice. So, what is an alternative approach that will give you confidence when searching for your next committed relationship?
The Track Record for “Listening to Your Heart” Is Terrible
We are told to “just listen to your heart” in order to find “true love.” However, regardless of how careful we “listen,” 42% of first marriages, 66% of second marriages, and 75% of third marriages end in divorce.
Logically, we would expect the divorce percentages to go down rather than up with each successive marriage. However, the percentages go up, not down. Why is this? The most probable reason is that we do not learn from our past experience with divorce, and choose a new relationship using the same criteria we used before in our failed relationships.
Requirements: What People Logically Need to Make Their Relationship Successful
Any successful relationship must meet the specific requirements of both partners if it is to survive and thrive over time. This is the primary goal of the Pre-Commitment1 stage of relationship development.
If listening to our heart is incomplete, what are we supposed to listen to in addition to our heart? Our head! You must choose a mate who not only stirs your heart but who also can give you what you need. Hence, it is your responsibility (1) to logically figure out what you require in a relationship, and (2) have the courage and discipline to adhere to your requirements when searching for a new partner.
As defined by David Steele, a Requirement2 is a “non-negotiable event or thing required for a relationship to work for you.” It is a characteristic of a relationship that is absolutely necessary for the relationship to survive. By definition, the relationship will die without it.
Steele uses the metaphor of air and water to describe relationship requirements. Humans require both air and water to live. Having one but not the other will lead to certain death. Relationship requirements have the same quality of needing all your requirements met if the relationship is to last. That is, if you have five requirements for a relationship and only four are met, the relationship will die, sooner or later, one way or another, if it is truly a requirement.
Problems arise when we confuse what we “require” with what we “want.”
Wants: Nice to Have but Not Necessary for the Survival of the Relationship
Wants3 are “objects and activities that provide stimulation, fun, and pleasure.” They are characteristics of a relationship that are desirable, but not necessary for the relationship to last and be successful.
A want is like having a dessert after a meal. It tastes good and makes the meal more pleasurable, however you will not die if you do not have one. Wants, likewise, add fun and pleasure to our relationship, but will not threaten the relationship if not met.
Requirement vs. Want: Why Is the Distinction So Important?
Many relationship problems can be traced to getting wants and requirements confused.
So why is the distinction important? The answer has to do with avoiding two types of mistakes:
- Ending a good relationship that you should keep by treating an unmet want as an unmet requirement, or
- Keeping a disaster-prone relationship that should be ended by treating an unmet requirement as an unmet want.
One Woman’s Close Call
A client of mine had been dating a man for nine years. He wanted to get married, but she was hesitant. She wanted to have an emotionally intimate relationship with her partner in which they could freely disclose their deepest feelings to each other, but he refused. Periodically, she asked him to talk about his feelings. He declined. Again and again over the nine years they were together she pleaded with him to express his emotions to her. He claimed his father did not talk about his emotions and neither would he.
Everything else about him and their relationship was wonderful. He finally wore her down to the point that she concluded, even though it would be nice to have a partner who would open up about his feelings, she could live without it since everything else about the relationship was so great. She chalked it up to “that’s just how men are” and started planning their wedding.
Then six weeks before the ceremony, while on an innocent night out with her girlfriends, she met a guy playing pool. They struck up a conversation and it hit her like a bolt of lightning out of the blue. He was actually talking about his feelings! He not only was willing to share his feelings, but he genuinely enjoyed disclosing his emotions to her. They talked for hours until closing time.
Out the window went her rationalization that “that’s just how men are” and into her life came the dilemma of what the hell do I do now with a wedding looming on the horizon?
Two weeks before her wedding she realized that desiring to have a marriage with someone who would share his feelings was not just some nice-to-have want, but was in fact a full-blown, non-negotiable requirement. Fortunately, she had the courage to break off the relationship before it became a legal as well as even more of an emotional mess.
What was the key to her knowing that her desire for a spouse who would talk about his feelings was a requirement not a want? She asked herself the question, “Now that I know that men can talk about their feelings, will the relationship eventually die if he continues to refuse to do it?” She reluctantly answered “Yes.” It was a requirement for her, and not just another want.”
So, What’s the Point?
Finding a good relationship requires both chemistry and brains.
While chemistry speaks from the heart, requirements rule from the head. Both must be heeded if the relationship is to pass the test of time.
A persistent problem is that our culture gives us bad advice. It tells us that “true love” should not require any brain power. Such thinking sinks over 66% of all re-marriages.
So, your challenge is to listen to your heart, think with your head, and ignore your friends and family who tell you that you are “over-thinking” it and risking losing a great partner.
1 David Steele, Conscious Dating (Campbell, CA: RCN Press, 2008), p. 301-320.
2 Ibid., p 337.
3 Ibid., p. 301-320.