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Relationships go through stages, the honeymoon stage, the couple stage, then disillusionment. Many don’t make it past that. And, yet, it is at disillusionment (also known as reality) that we can move to real, deep love and intimacy. Are we in or out? Sometimes, we stay even if we should get out. We forget what’s really important, what feeds our soul, and creates a loving environment to grow, give, and thrive. For most people love, acceptance, communication, trust, and humor are important in a romantic relationship. These are basics, at least for me. Some people don’t care about humor, for example. I do. There are more: passion, engagement—and I don’t mean rings—and security. Many of these overlap or grow out of and into each other. I like these five, and without them, due to inertia, old patterns, or fear, we don’t stop and say, “This is what I want; I deserve it. And I will give what you want, because you deserve it.”
These are (some of) the five things I want in my next relationship. And the more I get, the more I have to give. That’s how it works for me. Real love, love with integrity, and emotional maturity is endless, like the sea. A wave goes in, a wave goes out. There are always more waves.
#1 Real love. And I will even say, adoration. I don’t mean blind you-can-be-a-total-creep-and-I’ll-support-you-anyway adoration. I mean, I not only love you, but I adore you as a person, in the world, independent of me. I watch you with others and I see someone kind, or brilliant, or hilarious, or special in whatever way you are, and I adore you. I love you, but I also would adore you, even if we were not romantically involved, because of you. Alternately, if you love me, but don’t like me (and no one likes everything about anyone), then it’s not going to work. In the honeymoon phase, it’s easy to be attracted to that which we wish we had in ourselves. When the rose-colored glasses come off, we may realize we don’t actually like these traits in our partner. Don’t stay. Like her. As a person.
#2 Acceptance. Often when you first fall in love, it’s a haze of lovemaking and candlelight dinners. And that’s OK. That’s why it’s the honeymoon phase. And then you settle in as a couple. This is a critical juncture. Do you choose to accept your partner’s flaws, to accept that she may leave a dish on the counter, has some emotional baggage, or snores? Or is she a project, and you are going to make her better? Are you going to take a grown woman and make her feel less than because she doesn’t fit the fantasy of who you should be with?
Judgment is insidious. It eats away at a relationship, from both sides. Women do it too, all the time. Of course, some flaws are unacceptable. And, I hesitate to call them flaws. They are get out now red flags. Drug abuse, domestic violence, verbal abuse, those are get out now red flags. Those other things, they make her human. If you are going to nag her (or implode) every time you see an errant dish or fork, then maybe she’s not the woman for you. Or, put the damn things in the dishwasher and know that she has other wonderful traits. Love and accept her for who she is. It is incredibly safe and comforting to be loved for who you are, all of who you are.
#3 Communication. It’s a common stereotype that women talk more than men. A new Harvard study suggests that context is the key to whether or not that is actually true. The study looked at interactions in two settings—students collaborating on a project, and employees socializing during lunch breaks. In the first setting, women talked significantly more than men, except in groups of seven or more when men talked more. In romantic relationships, women use communication to discover how they feel and often what they want to talk about. Conversation is an act of sharing, and an opportunity to increase intimacy. Contrary to that, men often use communication to problem solve.
One easy way to address this is for the woman to say, “I just want to talk, and I need some time. Are you available?” or for the man to say “Do you need me to help solve this, or to just listen?” Just listening is typically critical for women. When we don’t feel heard or we feel like a problem to be solved, we feel dismissed. We need support and we need to know you are there for us.
And, by that same token, we want to know how you feel. What’s going on with you? It doesn’t have to be a long, emotional diatribe on how you and your father never played catch—unless you want to go there—in which case we are all ears. It can be a three-minute rant about your boss, how he’s undermining you at work, and you’re frustrated. And that’s all, let’s go out to dinner now. But we want to know. Because we love you.
#4 Trust. This is a given. On both sides. Honesty and trust are essential in any relationship. She wants to feel like you believe in her, you don’t question her faithfulness (a huge red flag), any more than you question her choices. Mistrust can be as seemingly innocuous as telling her which route to take while driving, the best way to cook a certain meal, or how to make a hotel reservation for your getaway weekend. Have faith in your partner. If you love her and believe in her and you know she has your best interests at heart, trust her to drive decisions sometimes, just as she should with you.
Of course joint-decision making is great, but not always possible or necessary. No one wants to feel that their credibility is always on the line, especially with the person with whom they are most intimate and vulnerable. Feeling that your partner trusts you and is not questioning your choices, whether they’re about choosing a parking space or a career change, is empowering. Yes, self-esteem comes from within. But, when our partner challenges us, it chips away at our confidence.
Also, don’t lie. Just don’t. Of course, we don’t have to tell each other everything. You know where the line is. Think of what would hurt you? If she was flirting for two minutes with the barista at Starbucks, do you really need to know that? Probably not. If she cheated on you and you had both agreed you’d be monogamous, she’s lying to you. Give her the same courtesy.
#5 Humor. And finally, but not exhaustively, humor. I love a guy who makes me laugh, who can laugh with me, at himself, at life, and who does not take the world too seriously. Of course there is a time and place for seriousness. Goofball all the time with no awareness of others’ feelings, the state of a room, and appropriateness of place and time, those are issues. But, to be able to bust a gut, especially if I am the one behind it, that’s high on my list. For me, making a man I am attracted to laugh, well, there is nothing sexier. OK, there are few things sexier, but that’s for another article. I did stand-up comedy, with the remarkable good fortune to have never had a bad night—just don’t ask me how many shows I did. I love the sound of laughter whether from family members, my children, friends, strangers on the other side of a mic, but mostly from the man I love.
In a relationship, it’s sexy, endearing, and enhances intimacy to laugh together. Find ways to do so. And if you don’t share any humor in common, not a stitch, at least for this woman, well that may be a deal breaker. But don’t give up too soon. There are so many ways to laugh and so many things to laugh about. Laugh with your love. You’ll love each other more. I promise.
Also by Jenny Kanevsky
Photo Credit: Getty Images