choosing and sustaining a life partner

choosing and sustaining a life partner

February 18, 2011  |  knowledge, life, main blog, motivation, philosophy

A reporter asked a man who had been married for 70 years what the secret to his long marriage was. He replied, “Two words….Yes Dear!” 

We celebrated my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary last year and while my dad does offer plenty of “yes dears”, the two of them are also sustained by a mature, devoted, lasting love that is almost beyond analysis. Yet we all find it hard not to go there – analysing what makes successful and unsuccessful relationships – looking for the recipe, if one exists.

Maybe it starts with us as individuals. In the same way that the flight attendant tells us to “put our own oxygen mask on before helping others”, the ability to care for, and share with, a life partner depends a lot on how well equipped we are for the journey ourselves.

Relationship counsellors often talk about the ability of a couple to live in all four rooms in their relationship – the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual rooms. Their proposition goes further to define the qualities which enable “mastery” of each room – discipline in the physical, wisdom in the mental or intellectual room, compassion in the emotional and integrity in the spiritual. Why I am therefore not surprised that my parents are one of those rare couples who exist comfortably in all four rooms?

So, even if we have come reasonably well equipped, having even modest doses of discipline, wisdom, compassion and integrity, how do we find a like-minded soul?

The world is awash with books, tools and advisers making a living from solving this question. The internet has certainly made it easier to meet more people, and of course, lady luck still plays a big role in bringing people together.

At the risk of trying to simplify very complex issues, I have a couple of thoughts to share about partner selection, borrowed from others, which may be worth reflecting on:

  1. A friend of mine, who has relationships at top of her mind right now, says that she asks just two questions about a potential partner. They are – “Would I want to have a child just like him?” …and, “Would I trust him with my life?” Two positive answers are needed to take the next step.
  2. Others have suggested that for successful partnerships, three prequisites must exist in combination – Chemistry, Communication and Commitment. Sounds pretty good…..but what if one is missing?

On relationship maintenance and nurturing, Kirsten Cronlund, founder of Lemonade from Lemons, adds another dimension in understanding heterosexual relationships. She suggests that the two secrets that are important for men to transform (or achieve successful) relationships are – # Secret 1. Women feel nurtured when men assist with tasks. # Secret 2. Women long for men to welcome their influence. She also has two secrets for women. # Secret 1. The goal of men is to reduce complexity in their lives. # Secret 2. What men want most from women is to feel appreciated. Does that resonate?

Then there is the much discussed difference between romantic love and mature love. When the sparks stop flying and the course of ordinary life weakens the intensity, relationships can be challenged. Individual needs and differences conflict and lead to frustration. Flaws become pronounced, criticism increases and sexual excitement abates. (Remember that joke about the marbles in the jar!)

Lucky couples who get through this phase and reach mature, sustaining, love find that understanding is augmented by acceptance. Tolerance is reinforced by patience and respect for differences. Commitment is redefined by a determination to communicate and compromise, rather than to leave. Couples in mature love embrace openness, accepting that they are “delightfully flawed” and feel safe and satisfied within the space they’ve created. There can also be the X factor – devotion, where bottomless joy comes from giving to another, the peace surrounding that giving and the deep understanding of connection. This is lasting love.


  1. Aren’t we lucky to have found that too.

  2. Great work Pa.. hopefully something for me to aspire to

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