( photo depicting what you might want to avoid.)
By Angelica Shiels Psy.D. (Article also featured on Lifehack.)
As a therapist who specializes in relationships, I can’t help but notice several skills and personality features that can make or break a relationship.
No, this is not going to be an article about making sure to find a rich guy who likes to spoon or a hot girl who likes to watch football. These 10 skills are what make couples feel satisfied, connected, and happy with each other regardless of their superficial characteristics. If you have a partner who can do all 10 of these, (and you are able to do them as well), your will have a very satisfying relationship:
Relationship skill # 1: The ability to delay gratification
In other words, the ability to do an unpleasant thing instead of an enjoyable thing in order to achieve a more-important benefit. Being in a healthy partnership means being able to suck it up and deal with all kinds of unpleasant things (embarrassment, vulnerability, taking out the trash, resisting acting on angry impulses, actively listening instead of playing video games, running a boring errand, etc.) for the sake of the other person and for the sake of the relationship.
Relationship skill # 2: The ability to be present.
Relationships suffer when one or both partners is not able to engage in the moment with the other person. Of course we are all busy and can’t exactly sit around staring at our partners quietly all day long, but the ability to genuinely listen to and focus on the other person at least a few times a week is important. If your significant other is unable to unplug, disconnect from distraction, and engage in interacting with you, this could lead to loneliness down the road. Also, people who are able to be present and attentive to one thing are excellent listeners, since they are simply in the moment focused on what the other person is saying.
Relationship skill #3- the ability to make someone feel emotionally safe.
Being “emotionally safe” with your significant other means that you are comfortable being vulnerable, making direct requests, and being yourself in his/her presence. If one partner criticizes, is defensive, talks the other out of his/her feelings (is invalidating), or is often annoyed/condescending, the other partner will eventually grow to feel “emotionally unsafe” in that relationship. Partners who feel emotionally unsafe feel disconnected and powerless at best, and depressed and miserable at worst. If your partner is open to hear what you have to say (even when s/he does not like it), does not act defensive or critical of you, feels that your emotions are understandable, and considers your requests and desires, s/he has the ability to make you feel emotionally safe.
Relationship skill #4- The ability to tolerate not being in control.
A healthy, happy relationship consists of two people who can tolerate the feeling of not being in control once in a while. This skill is required in many situations, from letting someone else choose the paint color for the bathroom, to letting someone else openly share feelings that can’t exactly be “fixed.”
Relationship skill # 5- The ability to take control when necessary.
There are some people who struggle with being responsible for decisions and actions. Whether it is calling the plumber when the sink is leaking, or resisting buying a new sofa because it isn’t in the budget, the ability to be “in charge” and “proactive” is a positive quality in a partner.
Relationship skill #6- Knowing and appropriately communicating your feelings.
Emotionally-aware partners are able to pinpoint that they are feeling disrespected, ignored, or lonely instead of simply flying off in a reactive, non-constructive rage. If you and your partner are emotionally aware enough to understand his/her feelings, this is a good sign for your relationship.
Relationship skill #7- Knowing and and appropriately communicating your needs.
If you and your partner are able to directly request behaviors without criticism, yelling, passivity, aggression, or passive-aggression, this is a great sign. If you and your partner calmly make specific requests for behavior changes without making the other person feel inadequate or inferior, you are probably in a great relationship.
Relationship skill #8- Humility.
Humility is required during the process of forgiving someone else for their mistakes and during the process of asking for forgivness from someone else. In a happy, healthy relationship, both people are able to abandon ego and pride when necessary
Relationship skill # 9- The ability to tolerate emotional intimacy and togetherness.
In a happy, healthy partnership, both people are comfortable sharing emotions, thoughts, and needs. If a problem arises, they are comfortable discussing it instead of avoiding it and pretending it doesn’t exist. They share vulnerabilities, fears, successes, and life goals comfortably.
Relationship skill #10- The ability to tolerate separateness.
The ability to tolerate separateness means that a person is comfortable doing things on his/her own. And when his/ her partner is doing things on his/ her own, that partner is not texting or calling the other person constantly. Being able to be on your own once in a while without experiencing anxiety is a sign of security and trust.
For additional support and guidance for families and couples, visit marylandfamilypsychology.com.