Everyone Wants “The Key” to An Amazing Relationship…
I've been marriage counselor and premarital counselor for over a decade now, and so I often have people ask me for relationship advice. I was recently on a short road trip in the mountains here in Colorado with my husband, our 1 year-old daughter, our close friend Greg (the best man at our wedding), and his new girlfriend of 6 months. As we were driving home together the new couple asked me to give them my best advice as a marriage counselor and premarital counselor about what they “needed to know” if they get married. “What's the key to a great relationship?” they asked.
Thankfully my 1 year old was zonked out in her carseat, so I had the chance to tell them the real truth.
As a couples counselor, I hear this question frequently. “What is the key?” The key to the fairytale, the everlasting passion-filled love story romance? What is the key that makes love last? What is the key to keeping couples together?
So I told them the real truth. And halfway through my answer this question, Greg said sarcastically, “Wow, you really know how to sell it!” and laughed awkwardly at my candid but true response. You see, I didn’t sugar-coat it. I was honest.
And I'll be honest with you, too.
Amazing, Beautiful Relationships Are Not Perfect Relationships
Here's the truth: The key to everlasting love isn’t that you must find the perfect person to live the perfect life. Instead, finding the person who will fight through the hard times, work through the rough spots, and stay committed is absolutely important. The key is that you will marry someone who will be your partner, and you will go through life together – all of its messy and joyous moments.
Dr. Sue Johnson, couples theorist and the founder of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, said, “Life isn’t the way it is supposed to be, life is the way it is. It is our response that matters.” Very hard, difficult, and trying times will affect each and every couple. There will be transgressions, hurt, loss and pain. The key, the ticket, the magic, is finding someone who is willing to work at it with you and who is open to finding help through it. The key is having someone who fights for you as a couple when life’s confusing, complicated and and chaotic circumstances undoubtedly happen to you, your partner, or you both as a couple.
Awareness that you will have ups and downs as a couple, and that you're committed to get through them together is vital. But every happy, healthy couple is also usually surrounded by people who help them hold their marriage together during the hardest times. I often tell my clients, it takes a village! Yes, it takes one to raise a child, but it also takes a village to support a couple and help them be happy and healthy, whether or not they have children.
The thing is, our culture typically doesn’t give new couples the honest truth about the difficulties that lie ahead. At the start of a new marriage, couples are more often than not focused intensely on planning a wedding. This is-super fun (and stressful), but it is not going to prepare you for a lifetime of love. Honestly, nothing will prepare you for it all. Indeed, couples are often surrounded by community during easy times, including weddings and baby-showers. And yet, couples are often quite isolated and alone during the hard times, such as months that define infertility or grief and loss.
In these hard times, you need your community. You need people in your life who can remind you that most important part of this whole thing called love is to remember, you are human! (And so is your partner). You both have so many beautiful strengths and accomplishments that you bring to a relationship. You both also make mistakes. You both also have baggage and behaviors that will make a relationship beautifully complex and challenging. You need people in your life to remind you that no relationship is perfectly easy all the time, but that you can get through it and out the other side stronger than ever with the right support.
“Love has an immense ability to help heal the devastating wounds that life sometimes deals us. Love also enhances our sense of connection to the larger world. Loving responsiveness is the foundation of a truly compassionate, civilized society.”
Healthy Relationships Have Support
Whether you talk with friends who can relate or parents that are able to provide you with wisdom, or put a good relationship book in your hand at the right time, it is so important that you find support along the way for your relationship. Great relationships don't just happen; we all have to work at it, intentionally. I personally strongly encourage couples counseling for everyone as a way of ensuring that your relationship stays strong and healthy, and that you both know how to navigate the inevitable bumps in the road when they come up. They don’t teach you how to have a great relationship in school! They really should but that is a soap box I’ll stand on another day.
I also encourage couples to check in with a counselor if they are thinking about having kids, or if there has been a death in the family or financial strains, job loss or even if they're in a little bit of a slump with each other. One of the biggest relationship mistakes you can make is to wait until you are really struggling to get support. There are so many things a good marriage counselor can teach you to help you navigate all the highs and lows of life, so that it never gets as bad as it can get. (And as a marriage counselor who works with too many unfortunate couples who did wait until they were on the brink of divorce before they came to counseling, it can get very, very bad.)
So here are the real keys to a great relationship:
- Know that all relationships take work, and none of us humans do them perfectly.
- Find a partner who is committed to sticking with you through the ups and downs.
- And get support for your marriage, and use it to learn, grow, and work through the hard times together.
So, back to Greg and his new relationship: he says he’s is so excited for this love he now has and he believes he has found a person he wants to fight for and with far into the future. We are thrilled for him and can’t wait to see all that life has to throw at the two of them. There’s no doubt they will have support from us and the many good friends, family that surround them. And I've also already given them a referral for a great couples counselor… for when they're ready.
All the best,