After two and a half years of an on-again/off-again relationship, Diana called it quits. I asked her why and she said, “We had a big gap in our education. I love to move around. He likes to sit around. He has no spiritual path.”
The story is all too familiar – falling in love; life is light and breezy. The only thing you hunger for is each other. But endorphins only last so long. Eventually the breeze turns to tempest and good times are harder to find.
Partnering “because we love each other” is an obviously insufficient platform for moving from single independence to coupled interdependence. So, if love alone cannot sustain a long-term relationship, what will?
Among the hundreds of couples I’ve surveyed, I have found that building a joyful life with someone requires the presence of at least seven critical qualities.
1) Hunger for learning – curious and secure enough to see gaining competence as a gift rather than a source of shame for not having already learned
2) Autonomy – can stand on his/her own and is at peace in their sense of self
3) Caring – acts with love and kindness
4) Trustworthy – reliable and authentic
5) Physical – sexual or not, the ability for tenderness
6) Emotional competence – deals with anger, non-violently, and appreciates the ironies of life with the capacity to laugh at oneself
7) Grateful to life – the essence of spiritual consciousness
With these seven qualities, you can build any kind of life you’re interested in. You’ll note that neither money nor physical beauty made the cut. You can add them or other requirements to this list – a passion for scuba diving, perhaps – but these seven are fundamental. Without them, or a commitment to develop them, the relationship is pretty well destined for failure.
One close family member who was frustrated at her partner’s lack of financial contribution asked for advice. In looking at this list, the critical qualities were missing – autonomy, trustworthiness, emotional competence. We focused on autonomy as a driving force in the breakdown. Was it a quality she required? She hadn’t come to terms with the reality that he was a dreamer and incompetent at making his daily bread. “He’s trying,” she cried, “to be better in all these areas.” Alas, trying doesn’t equate to competent. He didn’t have the skills to generate regular work or a career, he lied about money, his anger was untenable, and he had no commitment to learn. Once she got clear about what she needed, she ended their two-year relationship.
The consensus of the elderly is: Life is short and then you die. Partnership of two autonomous beings who honor each other, are grateful to life, and have agreements for how to live, make us stronger and help us to en-joy our fleeting time on this plane.
What’s on your list?