There are many theories about what makes a good and lasting relationship. In our present age, where romance seems to dominate the way we look at a long term partnership, many criteria have been called absolutely necessary for the survival of romance.
Some people believe that our partners have to continue to inspire us when things get boring and we crave novelty and excitement.
Others talk about the absence of negativity, and how important the containment of aggression is for a lasting bond.
I have been reading articles by the counseling pioneer Sue Johnson. Her main criteria for a functioning relationship is quite simple: safety and stability. “Adult love is a bond, an emotional tie with an irreplaceable other who provides a secure base from which to confront the world and a safe haven – a source of comfort, care and protection”, she writes.
According to her, a husband or wife is not responsible to provide ongoing excitement and exhilaration. This is why we have friends and an independent mind that makes us curious about the world.
Our closest relationship is more about attachment bonds. If we grew up in a house where the bond between parent and child was constantly threatened – by rejection, abandonment or addictions for example – then we will even more search for a secure person to connect with who can provide stability and safety.
This safety is being threatened when a couple engages in a pattern of critical attack by one partner and non-responsive withdrawal by the other. This kind of distance and rupture of the attachment bond are detrimental to a relationship, just as much and maybe even more than explosive fights that remain unresolved.
That means that the most important element in a longterm relationship is to stay connected to the other, even when one person or even both people are angry. What makes it hard is the implication that the bond is broken because it implies that one person, or both are turning away from the relationship.
“Sustaining emotional engagement, rather than other factors, such as the ability to resolve arguments, predicts long-term marital satisfaction”, concludes Johnson.
If you can make it clear that the relationship is not in danger, even when there are arguments and disagreements, then your partnership will most likely survive for a long time.
Gerti Schoen is a writer and psychotherapist. In her spare time she enjoys learning, being in nature and around animals.