When you look at all of the statistics and do the math, only about 12% to 15% of marriages that last are happy, healthy, and fulfilling relationships. This is a frightening and disheartening number. The question then becomes “why is this so?”
I can boil it down to just one thing. Settling! That’s it! It’s as simple as that. All through our lives we’re told that we deserve the best. Just look at virtually every advertisement on TV and the internet.
On the other hand, when you start talking about dating and relationships, you’re told that you can’t have everything you want. You’re too picky!
Ultimately you get frustrated and lonely. You end up settling for “kinda good or okay.”
There are so many moving parts to an extraordinary relationship. Odds are that you only focus on a couple of key factors such as looks or personality or chemistry. And we all know that either the chemistry is there or it’s not.
Beyond that though, there are a lot of aspects that impact the quality of your relationship. For those of you that have followed me for a while, you know that I’m a big proponent of writing out your Must Have list, your Deal Breaker list and figuring out if you’re the person you’d love to date. That’s just the first step.
Here are 8 key elements to look for as you date and venture into your next relationship.
The Four Cornerstones
These are the foundational building blocks of all great relationships. All great relationships have a foundation based on a strong Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual and Physical connection. Each of these connections is important to the overall health and stability of your relationship and none is any more or less important than any other. Here is a brief explanation of each cornerstone.
Generally speaking, the Intellectual Connection will consist of sharing the same financial, social, and maybe even political values. It’s all about communication. As you develop an Intellectual Connection with someone, you discover their communication style just as they discover yours.
As you get to know each other you should start to develop respect for your mate’s intellect, hobbies, friends, etc. If this is a relationship with a lot of possibilities, you’ll be able to have very deep meaningful conversations with each other. The deeper the conversation, the greater your understanding of each other, and the stronger this connection becomes.
Your Intellectual Connection can be stifled though if you’re not a strong communicator. If you tend to hold things in you can damage the connection and frustrate your mate. It’s so important to learn how to become comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings, both good and bad, with your partner. If you don’t, or won’t, you can destroy a potentially great relationship even before it has a chance to get off the ground.
The easiest way to develop your Spiritual Connection is to share similar beliefs. For example you’re both Christians, both Jewish, or even atheist. The important take-away is that you should be on the same page spiritually. You may not necessarily be in the same place on your spiritual journey but you both should be moving in the same direction.
Can you be with someone of a different faith? Sure, but that puts a hurdle in your relationship that needs to be worked around. You’ll have to ask yourself whether you want to convert to a different religion or practice your faiths separately. I’m not talking about changing from Methodist to Lutheran or Baptist. I’m talking about converting from Christianity to Islam or Judaism or Buddhism, etc..
If you each keep your faith and practice it separately you still have a roadblock albeit mutually agreed to. You’re still going to church, synagogue, or mosque alone. And in your search for your forever love, weren’t you looking for someone to share your spiritual journey with? If you are strong in your faith, the answer should be yes.
Then, if you have minor children in your home, how will they be raised? What holidays do you celebrate? Or, do you try to practice all the traditions and holidays of each religion and water down your beliefs in an effort to accommodate each other. What message does that send to your children?
All these things need to be thought through before committing to a spiritually mixed relationship. In the early stages of a relationship these will seem like minor issues that are easily addressed. As time passes, these differences will start to impact the strength of your connection.
Let me share this experience with you. I was having lunch with a woman that had been recently divorced. She was Catholic and her ex was Protestant. You might think that even thought they were both Christian, there wouldn’t be much of a problem, at least she didn’t. They were married for seven years and in that time neither had never gone to the other’s church. Overall, she thought she had a great marriage. Never once had she thought that their spiritual incompatibility was a problem.
One day her husband came home and presented her with divorce papers. She was caught completely off guard. Did their spiritual differences play a big roll in the divorce? You bet it did! It wasn’t the only reason, but it was a significant contributing factor.
Think carefully about your spiritual needs in your relationship. Never settle for less than what you want and need in order to be fulfilled.
Often times we confuse love with the infatuation and raging hormones of a new relationship. When you’re first in a new relationship you’re excited to be with your new love interest. You probably feel butterflies in your stomach, weak in the knees, and an overall thrill of anticipation for the next time you can talk or see each other. This is the effect of infatuation.
Everyone that has been in a long-term relationship recognizes that there comes a point in the relationship where the infatuation has worn off. The butterflies, tingles, and weak knees are no longer there, and you become accustomed to your daily routine. This is when the Emotional Connection or your love for each other really starts to develop and deepen.
Consider the Emotional Connection as the desire to please your mate and to look out for their best interest. It is literally the glue that holds your relationship together. It’s the force that keeps you together during good times and bad. It’s the feeling that regardless of what’s happening in your relationship, this is the person you want to be with for the rest of your life.
This connection requires emotional stability and maturity from both partners. If either one of you isn’t emotionally mature or isn’t emotionally stable, you’re going to have a very rocky relationship and one that’s not built on a solid emotional cornerstone.
This connection isn’t instant and generally takes time to develop and nurture.
There are two parts to the Physical Connection. The first is the physical attraction that we all desire in our mate.
We all want to be attracted to our mate. Beauty is subjective and different for everyone. Just look at the couples you see daily. Look at their physical attributes. Some may seem like a natural physical match, but then there are others that you wonder how they ever met and became a couple. What did they see in each other?
“But Rick,” you say, “that’s so superficial!” You’re right, it is, but it’s a biological fact of life. Men tend to be more visual than women. Women will spend a little more time getting to know a guy to see if he has many of the qualities she’s looking for in a relationship. In the end, she still wants to be attracted to her man.
As a general rule, men on the other hand are more likely to pass on a woman regardless of her qualities based on if he finds her attractive. Again, remember, beauty is subjective.
Just look at some of the people you know. Did they get together because they had developed a great intellectual, spiritual, and emotional connection first? Probably not because of the second part of this connection.
The second part of this connection is the physical intimacy you experience with your mate. Studies indicate that 80% of all couples are in bed between the 6th and 8th date! Odds are that even before you really know much about each other, you’re having sex. This is why it’s so critical to wait as long as possible before having sex in your new relationship.
The Bible tells us that sex is a gift from God and should be preserved for marriage. Unfortunately only about 5% of couples make it down the aisle without first having sex. Since many, if not most of you won’t be waiting (statistically) studies show that the longer you wait to have sex, the stronger your relationship will be.
Why will your relationship be stronger? Simply because you spend more time getting to know each other. You see, when you have sex, biology takes over. Regardless of how right or wrong you think it is, your body takes over with a rush of hormones and endorphins. Pretty soon, you’re in a routine of getting together, having dinner, watching some TV or a movie and then into bed.
After the infatuation wears off, and you’ve spent all this time in bed with little more than small talk over the past several months. You wake up one day and ask yourself “Is this all we have?” Sadly, that’s about all you do have. When the hormones kick in we stop developing a deeper stronger relationship through the Intellectual, Spiritual, and Emotional Cornerstones.
Let’s use the illustration above to make the point. If you remove any one leg from the table that represents your relationship, it instantly becomes unstable. All to often I see relationships built on one leg and one leg only…the Physical Connection. You can certainly balance the table on the one leg for a while, but with the slightest disturbance it falls over. The same will be true for any relationship without all four cornerstones.
Discovering Your Love Language(s)
Based on years of observation and experience, I firmly believe that relationships are stronger when you naturally speak the same love languages. If you’re unfamiliar with love languages, check out the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.
In his book, Mr. Chapman describes the various love languages and that we generally seek to be “spoken to” in our predominant language. He goes on to say that you can learn to speak other love languages to be able to more fully connect with your significant other.
This is wise advice especially if you’re married or have been in a long-term relationship that you want to enhance. However, if you’re dating and just starting out, it’s usually much easier to find someone that naturally speaks your love language(s) than to try to teach someone how to accommodate you. My experience tells me that if you share your top two or “primary” love languages with your mate, communication, both verbal and non-verbal, will be significantly stronger.
In my workshops I use the example of growing up and speaking English as your primary love language. If you choose to move to another country, say France, it will take you quite some time to become fully immersed and fluent with French as your second language. It can be done, it just takes significant time and effort and you may never be as fluent in French as you are in English. The same applies to your love languages.
Shared Morals and Values
Morals and values share a number of similarities but are not the same. This is an incredibly important aspect of relationships that you don’t naturally think about. It takes a little time to discover someone’s true values and morals because they can be hidden or disguised…but only for a while. Eventually, your mate will let their guard down and then you start to see the real person you’re dating.
Values – This is what you, as an individual, consider to be important or beneficial to society. A value can also be a standard to which you choose to live your life such as humility, creativity, or intelligence. The values that you hold as important may be different from those held by others in society.
Morals – This is a shared ideal specific to a group or community such as honesty or not being jealous. Other common examples of a moral are the Golden Rule and The Ten Commandments.
For a deeper understanding of morals and values check out this blog from Udemy. Morals and Values: Understanding the Similarities and Differences.
Without common morals and values you place a road block in the way of a healthy relationship. For example, I think most of you would agree that honesty is an important value. How many of you want to stay in a relationship with a partner that lies? If one of you is consistently honest and the other isn’t, you’re going to have a problem relationship.
I had a relationship with a woman whose honesty was subjective. If it was to her benefit, she would be honest. If it wasn’t, she would have no qualms of cheating or lying. Let me share this experience with you. She was a penny-pincher. Whenever she would be shopping and going through the checkout line, she watched the prices like a hawk. At times she would even get indignant with cashiers if she was overcharged. On the other hand, if she was undercharged, or got more change back than was owed, she would simply walk out of the store without a word.
I know this doesn’t seem like much on the surface, but in the long run it speaks to the character of this person. We didn’t share the same morals and values because I speak up no matter what. If I’m overcharged, I’ll let you know. If I’m undercharged, I’ll let you know. We weren’t a good match.
Morals and values will take time to recognize. Remember, actions speak louder than words so always be observant.
This is another area that we tend to ignore. In fact many you are attracted to people you have little or nothing in common with. You’re attracted to being with someone that can show you new things, a new perspective. In the end, however, these relationships tend not to endure.
Studies show that while opposites do attract, these relationships tend not to last. These studies also indicate that couples having a significant number of things in common form a stronger bond.View this rope as your relationship. Each connected strand in the rope is something you have in common together and each broken of frayed strand is something you don’t have in common. Now, let’s use repelling over a cliff as a metaphor for your relationship. As you’re moving over the edge of the cliff and putting more and more weight on the rope, which rope are you going to want to use? One that has all the strands connected or one that is frayed in many spots?
As you move through life things are going to happen. One of you may lose a job, become seriously ill, or there’ll be the death of a parent or other loved one. Life events can put significant strain on even the strongest relationships. When these things happen, and they will, you want to have someone there that will support you unconditionally. The more you have in common, the stronger your relationship will be even in the rough times.
Shared or Common Goals
Couples that have common interests will also tend to have common goals. These are life goals that I’m talking about. When you’re in the right relationship you develop and start working toward common goals. These goals may range from retirement, to travel. From charitable contributions and charitable work to starting and growing a business.
Regardless of what your goals may be, they’re always easier to accomplish when you’re working at them together as a couple.
You Enhance Each Other
I’m not talking about making each other look better. I’m talking about the fact that you both have different skills and personalities so that when you come together as a couple you are able to accomplish so much more that you could individually. In my book Dating Backward: A practical guide to dating and finding your soul mate, we share this simple math formula to illustrate the power of the right relationship. 1+1=110
As a couple, you have great power when you are both focused in the same direction. This makes your shared goals so much easier to achieve. You will be each other’s cheerleader and encourage each other to accomplish your most important goals.
This the elusive component to most relationships. Almost everyone wants it and looks for it when they start dating. But do you really know what it is?
So often when we feel the butterflies and tingles it has nothing to do with “chemistry”. It has more to do with infatuation and raging hormones.
Infatuation is that initial excitement you feel in the early stages of a relationship. Studies show that infatuation lasts anywhere from 3 to 24 months. Infatuation is also what puts blinders on you that causes you to ignore red flags of a poor relationship or even just the lack of Must Haves. Infatuation is what causes you to settle for less than extraordinary.
In poor relationships, it isn’t until the infatuation wears off that you start to recognize the red flags or missing components of a great relationship. You start to see what your family and friends have seen from the beginning and more than likely even told you about.
The infatuation eventually wears off in great relationship too. The difference is that your relationship continues to grow and your connection continues to deepen and get stronger.
You really have to be aware of the impact of raging hormones. First, let’s define it. This is the time when your sexual desire is piqued. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re physically active. It can be sharing suggestive comments, sexual inuendo, sexting, or even phone sex. The more this is present, the more likely you’ll end up in bed before you really get a chance to know each other.
This is problematic because, as mentioned above, when sex becomes the focal point of a relationship you stop developing deeper, stronger connections to your mate.
This is a hormone that’s sometimes known as the love hormone. It’s thought to produce a dopamine effect through physical touch. It’s more prevalent in women than men, but still present in both.
These are the more technical components of “Chemistry” but, there’s so much more and it goes much deeper. It’s the desire to have this person in your life and the desire is reciprocated. It’s the connection you have when you look across a crowded room and your eyes connect…you both know what the other is thinking.
It’s a quietness, a calmness that permeates your relationship. It’s that phone call you get in the middle of the day from your mate and the moment you hear their voice everything is right with the world, if only for that moment in time.
You are naturally supportive of each other in their dreams, desires and goals. No aspect of the relationship has to be forced. You don’t have to struggle to connect. Your shared time together is precious to each of you and you try to protect it as best you can.
Beyond all this, “Chemistry” is a connection that runs so deep that these simple words don’t even begin to convey the feeling. It’s so deep and so complete that it literally defies words. Most people have never felt this connection. When you find your soul mate, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Be the Best You Can Be
The longer I coach people, the more I see the value in being the best version of you that you can be. This includes such things as knowing how to act like a lady or a gentleman and continuing your education long beyond high school or college.
Acting like a lady or a gentleman is not hard. It’s as easy as opening a door for a lady or ladies expecting to have a door opened for you. It means limiting the foul language you use in front of each other and saying “please” and “thank you.” If you want to get really good at it, find a good book on etiquette or get some personal coaching.
Continually educate yourself! I can’t stress this enough. It can be that you take courses in subjects you like at a local community college or simply read books. If you’re not much into reading, subscribe to Audible or even pick up audio books at your local library. When you immerse yourself in art, literature, self-help, or anything else that helps you grow as a person, you become more attractive to the opposite sex. Guys, I’ve not met a woman yet that hasn’t found an intelligent man sexy!
The key is to learn these basics and then keep learning! You’ll make a great and lasting impression.
All relationships take work. The 8 elements discuss above are foundational to extraordinary relationships. The more of these elements you have in place, the stronger your relationship will be and the easier your relational work load will be. In the end it’s up to you how hard you want to work. All of the couples I’ve interviewed and observed will agree, when you’re with your soul mate or in your extraordinary relationship, the effort to maintain the relationship will be much less than struggling to overcome roadblock after roadblock.
No one is perfect, but there is someone out there that is perfect for you and maybe you’ve already found them. To you I say Congratulations. If you’ve not found your forever love yet, be patient and never settle for less than extraordinary. You can never be too picky! You do deserve the very best that God has to offer.
Take this knowledge and start building the foundation of a great relationship. If you’d like to take a deeper dive into finding your forever love, request your free copy of The 5 Biggest Dating and Relationship Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. This PDF will help you recognize some of the most common mistakes you can make when dating. Learn to recognize these mistakes and avoid most toxic relationships before they have a chance to get started.