Couples are brought together by common interests, common goals, a shared vision for their future and an irresistible attraction to one another, but these aren’t really the things that help a couple stay together. First, some of them won’t remain true. Over time, interests fade, change and even conflict. New goals are developed, old ones are discarded. Your vision for the future will likely change as well. In the end, what brings us together may not keep us together, but the good news is we can develop some traits that will.
Here are a few qualities that we discovered to be essential in a partner or spouse.
1) They Tell You What They Need
You might be married, or at least committed. When you’re newly in love and think your partner really “gets you” it can be easy to think they’ll automatically know what you need. In reality, they don’t and they won’t, especially as time passes and life gets busier with a more demanding job, children and/or aging parents to take care of or worry about. Trying to be a mind-reader is not fun. You can’t play mind games and win every time.
Uncommunicated expectations are preconceived resentments
This means the easiest way to create resentment in your marriage is to not communicate what you expect, need or want while still wanting, needing and expecting your partner to provide it.
What helps is a partner that tells you what they need, directly, without demanding. “I need you to understand how much stress I am under.” “I want us to have a date night out of the house this week.” “I need to just sit on the couch this afternoon and not talk to anyone.”
And yes, communicating what you want in bed helps too.
2) They Know What to Do After Apologizing
Spending a lifetime together guarantees that you and your partner will have to apologize to one another. More than once. You’re both going to regularly mess up, accidentally and selfishly. Your spouse will become the person you have to apologize to the most on this planet.
Being able to apologize is vital. “I’m sorry if… “ and “I’m sorry but…” are not real apologies.
“I am sorry.” is a complete sentence.
But what’s most important is what happens after the apology is given. Talk is cheap. Action speaks louder than words. Let’s not forget how true these platitudes really are.
I’m not talking about buying flowers.
Anyone can learn how to apologize. (Just Google “how to apologize” and check out any of the 389,000,000 results for help learning.) You can even fake an apology by saying you’re sorry when you aren’t.
What you can’t fake is how you act after apologizing. That’s because what’s required after an apology is a change in behavior. If you apologized for criticizing your spouse in front of the kids, you need to stop criticizing your spouse in front of the kids. If you apologized for never taking the garbage out or helping with the dishes, you need to take the garbage out sometimes and help with the dishes.
Whether or not a person can change their behavior after an apology or not depends on two things: their maturity and humility. A mature person can admit they are wrong without it shattering their self-image. A humble person is willing to change.
3) They Step Up When You Just Can’t
This one becomes more obvious after having kids. I can guarantee that no matter how much you love your kids and how happy you are to be a mom or a dad, there will be times when you just aren’t up to the job.
Some nights you’re going to be too tired to help with homework. Some weekend mornings you will find it physically impossible to get out of bed at 7 am to make the kids breakfast.
When you are a couple, you are partners. Likewise, marriage is a partnership. Sometimes this means you divide and conquer. I’ll clean the bathrooms, you vacuum and wash the dishes. You take the kids to piano lessons, I’ll pay the bills.
Other times it means you work as a tag team. When you need a break, you tag out and your partner enters the ring.
4) They Show You Appreciation
We all want to be understood and we all want to be appreciated.
How do we show appreciation? The obvious way is to offer thanks when you do something for them or to help them. This is the easy kind.
You made me a smoothie, thanks! You put gas in my car so I wouldn’t have to fill up on the way to the airport at 5 am. Thank you, that was so thoughtful of you.
The less obvious way to show appreciation is perhaps more important.
You come home from work after a stressful day and need to vent about all the problems you had to deal with. Your spouse shows appreciation for what you’ve gone through by listening and seeking to understand how you’re feeling and what you’ve experienced.
This kind of appreciation can be more difficult to offer, but perhaps not coincidentally it’s also the kind that’s sometimes richly rewarded.
5) They Accept You as You Are, But Still Encourage You to Do Better
You are a flawed and faulty person. There are things you are good at and there are things you are terrible at. If you don’t have a good sense of direction before the wedding, you aren’t going to develop one afterward.
Flaws and faults are not necessarily things you can apologize for and change. Perhaps you are clumsy or just naturally sensitive. Or you can never find the ketchup in the refrigerator, even if it’s at eye level. These are little imperfections your partner will have to live with.
After you’ve had a chance to wallow, you need a partner to remind you of all your awesome qualities (you have them and they know what they are) and encourage you to get back up and keep on going. If you failed, they help you see what you learned. If you are sad, frustrated, ashamed or lost, they will offer to be there as you find your way out.
They don’t expect you to be perfect, but they don’t let you stop trying.