November 2, 2016

Five Key Qualities of a Spouse, Partner or Friend


Relationships determine the success of your satisfying retirement. Humans are not built to be completely alone. Interaction with others of our species is essential to our mental , emotional, even physical health. 

Assuming that is true, then there must be some important qualities or traits exhibited by one person toward another that keeps us healthy and happy. There must be some baseline of interpersonal behavior we could look for in others, and follow ourselves. Here is my list of the top five qualities that experience has taught me are crucial to a long lasting relationship, be it marriage, partnership, or even a meaningful friendship:

1. Empathy: The ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes, to understand what motivates, disturbs, empowers, scares, and drives him is the only way to truly relate to that person's life. In a healthy relationship, one person should be able to empathize with what is concerning the other. This doesn't mean you must accept that line of reasoning or agree with what it is that is causing distress. But, you must be able to suspend your own thoughts long enough to accept what that person is feeling is valid to him or her.

2. Sympathy: Feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters. It is much more than verbal; sympathy is the ability to put aside judgment, one's own beliefs, and any initial reaction to a situation, to be sensitive and tolerant, kind and sharing another's pain or disappointment. Blame for what may be causing this need for sympathy can have no place in one's reaction.

3. Openness to change: A stagnant relationship is a dying or dead relationship. Life is about constant change. Being able to accept change in yourself and another person is the mark of a mature relationship. Thoughts like "She is not the person I married," or "He doesn't want what I want anymore" should be the mark of growth, not stress. 

Sentences like these indicate the other person is evolving, changing, learning from life while you are not. Would you really want to be married to someone who is exactly the same at 55 as he or she was at 25? Would you really want a meaningful friendship to be still based on the big football win in High School or the days as roommates after landing the first "real" job after college?

4. Listening: I found some fascinating statistics while researching this post. Most of us hear between 20-30,000 words a day. We retain less than 25% of what is said. Studies show men listen with half their brain while women use both lobes (hold the jokes, this is basic biology). 

Listening intently, with full attention, to what your spouse, partner or friend is saying is a mark of respect for that person. You are showing that what is being said is worth your effort to receive. Much like empathy, you don't have to agree with what is being said, but you must grant him or her the right to say it. Most importantly, you don't begin to form your response before the other person has stopped talking. You receive the entire message, then you respond, if appropriate. 

5. Acceptance: When you are in a meaningful relationship you have agreed to a high level of acceptance of the other person. Be it their looks, their world view, their educational level, their food and clothing choices, you are accepting.

As point #3 states, over time that person will change. Maybe not in ways that entirely please you, but in ways that you have committed to embrace. Of course, you are changing, too, so the acceptance works both ways. Never forget that. And, change isn't negative in this regard. Over time, the two of you may find that your shared points of view are more in sync that they once were. Then acceptance is much easier!


To keep this post a reasonable length I decided on five key traits. There are probably a dozen more that should be on this list. So, your turn. What belongs on the list of important qualities in a long term, health relationship?

14 comments:

  1. I think change is key. Every time we've moved has been a challenge but in a good way. You have each other to navigate new surroundings, make new friends and, in a way, reconnect in the process. Complacency can be boring and boredom is never exciting.
    b

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    1. Complacency in all its forms can damage a relationship and a retirement. Thanks, Barbara.

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  2. I'll agree with listening as very important. In fact I've rather taken to repeating back at friends something they said to me some conversations back if they refer to the same subject again. I'll say that "I remember you said x/y/z about that OR you said how you like x". They look slightly surprised - and then a smile goes across their face (ie because they've clicked that that means I was really listening to what they said/thought about it/remembered it).

    As a more general point - it's becoming clearer to me that it's important that someone is "in the same tribe" or at least appreciates where you're coming from in the viewpoints you have. It is astonishing just how much our environment has created the mindset we have. I've realised that since moving from a small cosmopolitan university city in England to a small town in the most "welsh" part of Wales. Prior to my move I assumed most people had a viewpoint of wanting to know what the objective truth is about something/trying to be unbiased/etc. In a very different environment now - I've realised that that was basically the predominant mindset in my home city and the predominant mindset here seems to be some sort of "group loyalty" and prepared to bend the rules for the sake of someone else (IF they are "local" too). My "everyone is equal - of course - and there shouldnt be bias" mindset is sometimes not very popular here and I can see it's a different "tribe" in effect.

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    1. I remember you had that observation in an earlier comment (see, I read them all!). I wonder if, overtime, you will find a bit of a thaw in the reaction to you as a newcomer and as someone who holds a different opinion about things.

      By definition an urban environment is likely to be more diverse, especially one with the influence of a university. A small town anywhere is going to be more of a challenge. Add in a different preferred language and country (even though part of the UK) and your integration will be interesting.

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  3. Wow, so true and so timely. I'm going to send this right now to two young people who need to be reminded of this!

    As for me, I can speak more from a history of failed relationships rather than successful ones--if my partner and I (okay if I!) had practiced more of these qualities we would have been much happier!!

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    1. Even though Betty and I have been married for over 40 years, this list makes it clear that too many of those years were not the best they could have been because of my attitudes and reactions.

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  4. I agree with all of these and also put a sense of humor high on my list, with the caveat that it's a similar sense of humor. But laughter is very important in my experience. And I would add shared values to the list. If you value different things or look at life completely differently on a values level, it's a no go.
    --Hope

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  5. George and I have been married 47 years. I honestly find this question difficult to answer. We married as 19- and 22-year-olds. We are and aren't the same people: I'm still as passionate about justice and he's still as stoic when facing conflict, but that's about all that's the same. I remember proudly telling my mother that when we had children, whom I dearly wanted, those children were going to adapt to our lives: we weren't going to change our lives because we had children. (Mom, I hope you know that I had far more tender feelings for my children as well as life experience by the time they came along.) My husband is not touchy-feely. At all. I am, among family members. He doesn't like to talk things out. I do, to exhaustion. I can deal with anything (my cancer, my disabilities, my recent brain surgery) as long as I talk out all possible what-if's and know how I'll respond to them. Imagine lots of eye-rolling with my husband, but he's still sitting there, at least appearing to listen although I suspect he's developed some techniques to send his mind elsewhere. We're both oldest children who believe there's only one right way to do things. Fortunately, we mostly share core beliefs, but when we don't . . . ! So, we must have a miserable, boring marriage, right? Nope. Some particular days, weeks, months or even a year or two have been miserable as one of us grew and matured at a different rate than the other, but what we shared was commitment. Commitment to the promises we had made to each other. Commitment to rearing our children together. Boring stuff, some might think, but that boring stuff is the solid steel core of our marriage that allows each of us to explore new ways of being and know that core will remain solid while we do that. When I try to get my husband to talk about how hard it must be to have been my caretaker for the last few years, he just shrugs and says there's nothing to talk about: that's what people do for each other. I send him off to do fun things when I can't--I'm trying to talk him into a fun adventure with his brother right now--and I truly wish him well. He tries to sit with eyes glazing when I explain something I've learned that day. I explore here. I love math and physics, and spend an hour or so reviewing each morning to stay ahead of grand kids who are now moving into AP classes at high school, as I'm the go-to homework helper via FaceTime when moms and dads are busy. Or perhaps my passion that morning is a plot problem with my latest novel or the exciting new clue I've learned about an ancestor. I ignore him when he's angry with me for forcing him to go to the doctor because his skin is gray or he's drinking too much water or some such something. (I'm always right, following my true oldest child nature.) We have our separate lives and our together lives, but we know we will always be there for each other, so we stick out the occasional bad year or two of growing pains.

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    1. What an excellent summary of a life built together, Linda. I can identify much of what has gotten Betty and me into our 41st year. We are such different people except when the core values are involved. Then, our trust and commitment remains solidly in line.

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    2. I love this: "We are both oldest children who believe there's only one right way to do things." It's SO true in our marriage and we've had to work through that situation so many times. Great insight.
      --Hope

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  6. What I would like to add to the list is to cherish the other person. That means not taking them for granted, loving them in spite of and because of their obstinate particularity, and wanting the best outcome for them - whether financially, healthwise, in their current project, or just that their team wins the playoff this year. It means putting them first in your thoughts and your actions. And of course this works best when the other person also cherishes you!
    Jude

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    1. Cherish is a good word and concept. Putting another person first is hard for most of us-humans just aren't built that way, it seems. But in a solid relationship we learn the joy of seeing the other person blossom, feel protected and cared for, and that rubs off on us.

      Thanks, Jude.

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    2. I agree with Jude. That's an important trait.

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