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The Essential Glue That Holds Relationships Together


There seems to be a mystery surrounding why relationships remain constant, but, when one looks at them closely, especially the reasons why they fall apart, it is not difficult to see what binds relationships tightly, what really holds them together. This glue consists of three main elements: Attraction, Communication and Respect.

Attraction is very important in the beginning to bring the couples together, especially this mysterious chemistry which everyone hopes to have. Whether physical, emotional or intellectual, strong attraction has to exist between the couple for the relationship to work. Some people in arranged marriages might learn to love their partner over time and find them appealing. But in Westernised societies, falling in love through attraction is the crucial enabler of all relationships. Physical attraction plays a key role at the selection/dating stage and beyond because it fuels communication. That is why as soon as attraction goes the partners lose interest in each other. Sadly, that attraction can never be regained because communication follows soon after, though other factors (like emotional and intellectual needs) might come into play to keep the parties attached.

Communication is very important to sustain a relationship. The first sign of trouble between a couple is an absence of dialogue or general communication. One person might freeze up through hurt or anger, and the other through resentment, at a particular behaviour. Once someone stops expressing their feelings, their hurt, their joys or pain to their partner, they will either get bloated with resentment or they will find another person to communicate with. Communication with others validates who we are and reinforces whom we wish to be. Regardless of the cause, if communication is not maintained, failure in the third element, respect, is not far behind.

Respect is the final part of the glue which cements relationships. No two people can exist together in harmony without respect. No one can profess to love another without showing them respect either. Once respect goes, the relationship is doomed, because respect is an essential component of love and demonstrates someone being held in the highest esteem. One cannot have love without respect and what makes respect such a difficult thing to give, and receive, is the six dimensions it has within it.

Six Dimensions of Respect
Respect begins with curiosity, so if you are no longer curious about your partner and have little interest in her/him, the loss of respect has started. Second is attention. If you are taking your attention outside and giving it to someone else, the respect has gone for your partner because attention leads to dialogue and, in the absence of such communication, there won't be attention either. Next comes the most crucial part of respect: sensitivity. If you are no longer sensitive to your partner's needs, there's no respect.

We cannot say we respect someone when we have little sensitivity to how they feel because sensitivity personifies respect and gives that person value. When we are sensitive to someone else's needs and feelings we genuinely care about them and respect what they cherish. We believe them to be worthy enough for our love. Showing sensitivity also leads to empowerment of that person through reinforcing them, their aspirations, culture and beliefs. There is nothing more affirming than being treated significantly to show we matter. It's a very powerful form of self-affirmation.

Finally, empowerment leads to healing, especially where there has been past hurt in the relationship. Often in an argument, when negative things are uttered which are not often meant, it can cause prolonged bad feeling. Showing continued respect to a spouse, especially through sensitivity and empowerment, can help to dull the effect of such negative times and heal the wounds caused by them. Healing is important in any relationship because it allows for forgiveness and moving on. It also keeps resentment at bay. No matter how much you believe you 'love' someone, without this essential glue to reinforce that love, the relationship stands no chance.

How strong is the glue that holds your relationship together?

You can test its strength against the attraction you feel for each other now, the communication you share between you daily and, above all, the respect you give to each other routinely on all six dimensions. For example, how much would you rate each element out of 10 as it currently applies to your relationship? Any total under 20 on either side spells trouble ahead or already in place. I guarantee that if you both did it separately and compare notes, you would be in for a huge surprise in perception! However, it would also allow you to take account of any discrepancy between you to begin the remedial process today, instead of ignoring it until it's too late.

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The Single Most Important Thing in Any Relationship. Do you have it in yours?


If you are a single person, you most likely dream of finding the right soulmate, according to all the ideal attributes you have in mind, and according to the needs you require to be fulfilled. That is how all relationships start: from an individual, selfish perspective of finding the right person who conforms to a kind of stereotypic ideal we have built up over time. If we did not follow that selfish course, we would not find others appealing. By reflecting the mirror image we have in our heads, potential partners ease themselves through the door of our consciousness and take root.

However, once we meet someone, the whole situation shifts gradually to something else, if there is real success in the relationship. Being basically selfish, many people do not understand or appreciate that shift because it is difficult to suddenly change from being selfish to being a sharer. Once we are in a relationship, the important fact about it is that the relationship is not about us at all, or our needs. It gradually switches to the needs of the other person. Put simply, a relationship is about your partner and their needs, not you or yours. If they regard you in the same way - you and your needs being first to them - you have the most successful and endearing union to enjoy for a very long time.

Marian met someone she regarded as a 'wonderful guy' and tried to change her work schedules to arrange meetings with him, which she found rather difficult, in her senior position, but felt it was necessary to give them both a chance together. She was excited about the potential development between them and tried to be 'as flexible as possible', despite her busy demands. However, he wouldn't budge at all in his world to accommodate meeting times, unless they suited him entirely.

The result was that it became frustrating trying to do anything together so she decided to give him a miss. If he had put her first, he could have arranged more dates with her schedule in mind. With her putting him first as well, there would not have been a need for him to change things too much because there would have been greater compromise between them. However, when one person is insistent on demands from another, merely to fulfil their own needs without thinking of the other party, it just won't work over time. The pressure of one person pleasing him/herself will rob the relationship of its reciprocity and enjoyment.

Switch Focus to Partners
Relationships fail because people tend to care only about what they want, from their very single and narrow perspective. That might be fine for the early stage but not when they are together. People often find it hard to register the needs of their partners in the rush to fulfil their own desires. It's all about me and me and me. However, if we stop to switch the focus for a moment, and accept that our companions are very important for the union to work, we'll start focusing on them and work more in partnership with their perspectives to ensure success. As they would also be trying to do the same thing on your behalf, understanding of each other's perspectives is bound to increase and be more accommodating, loving and compassionate.

For a start, there will be no competition between the couple because when we truly love, there is no desire to compete. There'll be no put downs, because we'll be looking out for their interests and being more supportive of their dreams. There are likely to be fewer unrealistic expectations because their feelings will be taken into account more often; also very little resentment because the couple will be working more closely together to achieve mutual aims, and there will be no looking out for No.1 as the focus will always be on No.2. There will be a greater desire to compromise because the happiness of our chosen partner will gradually become more important than our own, and there is no greater feeling of worth than to see our positive effect on others.

A year after I parted from the guy I called 'the love of my life', the one who always puts me first, he wanted to celebrate my birthday with me. He rang me a week before to ask if that was okay and to find out how I was doing. My small business had just collapsed after 14 years so I was not feeling too good and mentioned that to him. We had the most amazing 3 hour lunch and he gave me a card at the end and asked me not to open it until he had gone. I wondered at the sudden secrecy and gingerly prised it open when I saw him off. Inside was another small envelope with a note that said simply: "Happy Birthday, darling. If your business is not there anymore, you will need this," attached to £500 ($800) in cash. Words simply failed me at this unexpected generosity. Being very proud as I am, he knew I would have rejected any offers of help. No wonder I will never forget him.

Obviously, where you have only one party being selfless and putting the other first, the relationship won't work either because it needs reciprocity, give and take, to ensure its success. However, many relationships hit the rocks because each party is merely looking out for themselves and what they want, competing with their spouse to be right or to occupy the moral high ground. Of course, in a partnership built on sharing, selfishness has no place. It is a contradiction of the shared objective and becomes totally counterproductive. The key factor in the success of any relationship is definitely putting our partners first. They would be motivated to put us first too and we could be surprised at the difference.

Three little words 'I LOVE YOU': But How Do You Like to Enjoy Them?


I love to hear the words 'I Love You', either face to face or over a telephone. It is the most beautiful statement of intent in a relationship, especially when said in front of a person where you can see the sincerity on that person's face and see the love in their eyes. Yet many people find those words hard to express because they fear how the recipient will react.

It seems that most of the discrepancy between couples when expressing their love comes down to the type of person they are and how they see that expression taking shape. Some people like to show their love with gifts. They find it hard to say aloud and would prefer to let an item of love express that feeling for them. Other people believe that doing things for their loved ones should show their feelings enough and so they don't have to say it. Worse still, they probably feel embarrassed being openly told "I Love You" or being given gifts, and might mistakenly believe that the other party doesn't love them enough because they are not doing similar things to match.

"I Love You" is very poignant and beautiful, but many people also fear its consequences, just in case they say it to someone who then expects great things of them. So, sadly, they clam up. Or they might believe that uttering the immortal line ties them into a relationship forever and so they stay mum, robbing the friendship of its magic. But saying 'I Love You' does not predict anything about the future. It is mainly about the present and the depth of feeling we have for another significant person at this stage. It simply reflects our feelings for that moment in time.

In a week's time you might not feel you love that person, for whatever reason. But just for that magical moment, 'I Love You' seems so right and should be shouted from the rooftops with joy!

So how do you want them to be expressed to you? Which way of expression do you find more meaningful and romantic?

Are You Just an Option For Someone Else, Instead of Their Priority?


On the second page of Elaine's Den I have 12 Lessons in Life which are very important to me. Among them is the statement: Never make someone your priority when to them you're only an option.

Those words have ended up being the most popular search key words for my website, especially from North America! I am not sure why that is. However, my own instinct tells me that a few people have read the 12 Lessons, then cannot remember the website but remembered those awesome words and are passing them on to friends or colleagues, who are then trying to find them. I wish I could take the credit for them being my own statement because they are very powerful words which should be heeded every day of our lives, coming as they do out of simple self-value.

In relationships, we should be a priority, every time, not an easy option that anyone can cast aside or ignore whenever he/she wishes. That is so debilitating and destructive. When we have little self-esteem, when we hold ourselves in low regard and when we lack self-respect we tend to put other people above us in needs and value.

We might be in a relationship where:

* the person won't commit;

* they make regular excuses for not being able to ring us or see us;

* we instinctively feel that they might be seeing someone else;

* they deny us love and affection and take it elsewhere;

* we feel alone and neglected.

But do we do anything about it? Noooo. Do we get out of there fast or clearly put our own needs on the table? Not at all. We continue to make excuses for our pain and frustrated hopes and expectations and to make excuses for our partners. We suffer in silence, and martyrdom, while continually hoping for something else to happen, even when we feel deep down it won't be forthcoming, while becoming increasingly unattractive in the process through worry and stress.

Many people, especially women, sit and bear it, hoping daily that the person will change, that they will begin to treat them better. That they will eventually be No.1. Even when these women (and men) can clearly feel that they are a low option for their lovers or partners, that they come last in the diary, the schedule, the job, the scheme of things, they still hang in there taking the crumbs that fall off the table instead of being the main bread themselves. Such a situation, where the relationship is clearly imbalanced, is not good for either person.

Consequences of being an option

First of all, for the uncaring partner, such attention and acceptance feed their ego, reinforce unwanted behaviour, place them in a perceived higher status and encourage them to continue in the same vein of treatment both inside and outside the home. By being allowed to treat another person as dispensable they get to set the rules, to set the tone of the relationship, to set the degree of connection, and ultimately dictate the results, exactly in the manner they desire. Most importantly, it encourages them to take their partners for granted and to mainly please themselves. Theirs is not a partnership of reciprocity but a self-serving one which suits their intent and boosts their esteem. Why should they change it?

Second, for the person on the receiving end, it keeps them feeling anxious, low in esteem, impotent and inadequate. They are kept feeling trapped, not in an equal partnership, but one where they are relegated to second-best. It deprives them of other love, affection and attention they could be getting from someone else, it cements their perceived low-esteem in their own eyes and, worst of all, over time, it robs them of self-love and self-respect.

Usually, such partners would say that they 'love' the other person who treats them as an option. But true love does not hurt, harm or neglect. It is the greatest force of empowerment in our lives. Once we love, the object of that love is a priority, truly, because that is all we care about: showing that lover just how much they mean to us. There is no place for options in that relationship. They become an indispensable part of us.

We only make people, who treat us badly, priorities in our lives when we have no self-love. We believe we do not deserve anything better because that person is the best we can get. We stay put, perhaps for convenience and full of fear, while dying inside from anxiety and neglect. Not realising that as long as we keep reinforcing the behaviour we do not like, keep reinforcing ourselves as dispensable options, keep hoping for better that never materialises, we will never become a priority for anyone, least of all, for ourselves.

What to do if you are scared of losing him (or her)


When we love someone and we feel they might not love us as much, that they are attracted to someone else, or they seem distant and detached from us, it can lead to many anxieties as to how to keep the love intact. It is natural to wonder why a guy might be behaving that way and whether you might lose him. But the first thing to do is to understand why you feel like that and then take any remedial steps you believe might apply in your specific case, because every situation is likely to be different.

To begin with, the fear of losing someone, especially when it is very strong, comes out of a lack of self love. This makes us terribly insecure and apprehensive. Many people do not really love themselves and expect partners to love them instead to compensate for that lack of love. They tend to be clingy, anxious and worried in case they are not loved anymore because losing the person who loves them would be hard to bear. The object of their love thus becomes the centre of attention, the focus point of their life which can make it hard for that partner to live up to expectations. That kind of imbalance is what often drives guys away because they tend to find the intense attention hard to deal with and take their attention outside. Understanding that fear will help to put other things in perspective, like what you could do in the situation.

1. The first action you could take is to start valuing yourself. Get rid of the fear and start to live your life in a way that, if your guy goes, it is not the end of the world. Ask yourself what is the worst that could happen if he/she goes, then face this scenario in your head. What would you do, exactly? By facing the possibility and making contingencies for it, you will find the prospect easier to deal with, even if it doesn't happen. This is important to do because if a guy wants to leave, for whatever reason, nothing will stop him. There is really nothing you can do about it, especially if he has found someone else. By getting detached from that fear, you also loosen his/her power over you. Deciding on options in your head that you would have available, should he/she leave, empowers you to deal with the prospect without too much pain.

2. Next, communicate as much as possible. Often relationships begin to fracture because people grow apart, they take each other for granted, or partners have changed in their ambitions and aspirations; they have been too busy to reinforce and affirm each other or they have just not listened to one another. Talking and listening are essential if you sense something is wrong. If you find out what the problem could be, there might be a chance of saving the situation. However, ironically, this is the time when people dread talking together because they also fear what they might hear, or they fear upsetting the other party, so they are likely to clam up instead.

3. Third, take the focus off your guy/gal and place it on yourself. The more anxious and worried you are is the more unattractive you become. How do you physically look? Are you as attractive as you used to be, or have you let yourelf go? This is the time for a makeover, perhaps; for doing things differently; for getting back to what you both used to be before things became too routine. Time to overcome your fear and anxieties by socialising more, widening your circle of friends and activities, especially taking up new hobbies, and becoming much more self-loving and independent. People who have their own life, who are also a little detached in their relationships and who give enough space to each other to develop and grow, tend to keep their love alive in a more effective way. The best way to keep your man is to show that you desire that person, you love him being in your life but you don't 'need' him; that you will still be functioning at full capacity if he/she weren't there. That's a very important point to note.

4. Finally, people leave relationships when they are not happy and mainly because they do not feel valued or affirmed. If that is the case, both parties need to begin to appreciate each other, to be expressive, caring, loving and affectionate; to show mutual value and respect. That is not always easy to do, especially if things have been allowed to slide into a rut.

When we truly love we love without conditions. We then acknowledge that we come first, and the love starts within us, not outside of us. If we don't love, respect and value ourselves, it is difficult for others to love us too because they simply cannot love what we ourselves reject. Relationships are meant to aid our development along our journey, and not necessarily to last a lifetime. If the person goes, we will still be wonderful, still be desirable and still be valued. All we have to do is to learn the lesson and move on.

Most important, should he/she go, especially if you have done all you can to encourage him to stay, don't forget that there is likely to be someone even better waiting for you, if you care to look ahead instead of just looking back in regret.

3 Key Steps to Resolving Personal Issues


Imagine an everyday situation. You are at a party or reception, network or gathering, with your spouse or partner. Everything is going well for the first hour or so. But then, gradually, you begin to feel uncomfortable. You can clearly see that your man or woman has been latched like a limpet to the great looking guy or gal in the corner of the room for at least the past hour!

You feel excluded, unwanted, rejected. In short, you feel terrible and you are not sure what to do with those feelings because making a scene or accusations would not be kosher. So you wait until you get home, fuming all the way in the wake of his smug smiles and innocent, quizzical looks. You can't wait to tell her what you saw, how selfish she is and how you believe she does not love you any more. He's is clearly a two-timer and 'something must be going on', etc., etc.

As much as that would make you feel better momentarily, such an approach, particularly the words, would not be advisable. Not only would you be thinking for your spouse/partner/lover, but you could be making rash accusations because those words would be expressing YOUR meaning and perception of the situation, not his/hers. People warm to others mainly because of the need for 4 things: They seek significance, appreciation, value and inclusion. Whoever treats us with basic respect in those four ways have got us for life because those constitute the main elements of RESPECT. Your partner/lover could just be basking in the attention of some significance or value he/she might believe is absent from home, especially where they believe they are taken for granted, but actually straying from the nest could be the last thing on their mind.

We cannot be all things to all partners. No one person can ever fulfil all the emotional, occupational and intellectual demands of our lovers. There will always be something that person needs from outside the home to complete them as a vibrant, thinking, feeling person. It helps their development and sense of identity. Futile jealousy and control kill relationships. Only space and understanding keeps them fresh, meaningful and enjoyable.

Observations First
Back to the scene at the party. If you are feeling left out, one thing you could do, before you jump to judgement and evaluation, is to start with simple observation of the bare facts. "I saw you talking to that person for over an hour. You were clearly enjoying yourself, which is fine. But what effect would you expect that to have on me? As I didn't feel I was entirely welcome to join in, how do you suppose that makes me feel?" Then LISTEN.

Questions serve to both challenge and affirm the other person as valuable to you.

But that is only Step One. There is more to do. Just merely having an argument serves no purpose except to keep the bitterness suppressed and your needs unfulfilled. Stage Two is to define your feelings clearly: e.g that you feel 'dejected', angry', 'excluded', 'invisible', whatever you like in that vein, but avoid victim words which suggest that he/she was actually doing something to you, or responsible for your reaction. They are responsible for their action and you are entirely responsible for your reaction to it. Always remember that. No one MAKES us do anything unless we are forced against our will.

Stage Three is the tricky bit: Stating exactly what you need from your lover at that moment. Often we talk a lot about what is wrong with our relationship, or with the other person's behaviour, but not how it can be put right. What would you like that person to DO? Then and there, tomorrow, this week. Not some vague time in the future. Specific things which can yield results and give your spouse a sense of fulfilment and pleasure doing something for you. If you are vague about your needs it becomes overwhelming for the other person to fulfil them and invites procrastination and denial. Don't tell him/her what you want, then refuse it, or question their sincerity as a kind of punishment when they offer. That merely keeps the resentment and bitterness going for no reason.

Avoiding Judgement

Finally, ask nicely, don't demand or make veiled threats. Demands merely ignore the other person's needs in preference to your own which does not help in the long run. Just because you are together does not give either party the right to any demands. People also prefer to act when they feel respected and valued, not when they are taken for granted and expected to deliver. In this way, you not only state how you feel and then get what you BOTH want, you will also avoid evaluation and judgement before discussion, while recognising that whenever anyone appears more attractive and engaging than our partners, something is likely to be missing at home, or in that person! Being indignant might give temporary relief while suppressing the problem, but being communicative, appreciative and enquiring is more likely to keep the relationship intact.

These four steps are the key to resolving any tricky situation. Even if there is a lot of anger and argument at first, coming back to these basic steps in the end, will empower both parties, and can only result in a win-win situation and reduce unnecessary resentment and blame between them.

The TOP 6 values essential for success in relationships


Some time ago, after I met the guy I called the 'love of my life', and labelled him '11% short of heaven' (because of the scores we kept getting on every relationship quiz we did). I was fascinated to find out why we had clicked together so amazingly, despite our different backgrounds, etc. The love between us was so awesome, I spent quite a while reflecting on why being with him enhanced my happiness and sense of worth so much.

I began to list the things I liked about him and our interaction and realised that everything I was listing were the things that I valued the most. I began to put them in order and then had a Eureka moment! It literally flashed in my subconscious that some of the things I liked about him were values which represented the essence of me on three levels: the things I cherished, the things I felt comfortable with, that confirmed who I was and aspired to be, and the things I desired from a partner to enhance my happiness.

Sadly, we went our separate ways but five years on, on meeting another potential Mr Right, the reactions seem to be exactly the same: we have clicked on a fabulous level with my little list delivering the goods again. I began thinking that I couldn't be unique in this process. That this list must be universal to everyone, but, obviously, the priorities would be different, depending on our gender, culture and perspectives. During those years, I have tried out various aspects of the list on willing volunteers. Now honed and fine tune, I thought I would share them with my audience.

It seems that your values, say 12 attributes like loyalty, honesty etc., can be anything that makes you happy. However, while you can be flexible with the bottom 50% of your list, you cannot compromise on the top half. You will just be very miserable. In fact, why not make up your own list, then use it to assess your 'failed' relationships, rating each aspect out of 120 to see how your former partners measured up? You should get a score out of 10 if you use a similar list to mine below. You could be in for a big surprise, but are guaranteed greater understanding of what makes you tick.

These are the top 6 priorities of the 12 values any relationship should have, but they are in my priority order which may differ from your order.

1. Communication: I am a wordsmith and if I cannot have a good conversation with my spouse, the relationship is doomed before it begins. I need to communicate in all forms: telephone, face to face, email, texts. I am very interested in my partner, I want to share his dreams, aspirations, achievements; I want to comment on life and current issues; I want to read a poem to him now and then, get his opinion, or tell him that he is magnificent. In fact, in the first 10 days I met my latest guy, we spoke for 25 hours on the phone. On one day alone it was 8 hours on and off! We just couldn't get enough of each other's words. So, this, for me, is the most important aspect. Once communication goes, everything else is not far behind.

2. Attraction/Chemistry: You have to feel attracted to that person, feel a strong rapport, feel the urge to hold them, be close to them, have a need for their company. If you don't feel drawn to them, or have no wish to see them, what kind of relationship is that? People don't seek each other to stay apart from one another: that can be done as single people. We are not talking about being claustrophobic and in their face. We are talking about desire, and desire is an essential part of attraction and chemistry. That's how we get that elusive 'Wow' factor. If it feels lukewarm at all, don't go there! Sometimes, things take a little time to develop between two people, but you should still have that butterfly-in-the-stomach feeling when you see that person.

3. Interest and Attention: If a person really cares about you, they will be interested in you: in your thoughts, your dreams, your vision, your hopes, your pain, your hurt and your needs. Interest is the essence of attraction because we should be curious enough to want to know about that person. Communication and interest are strongly linked because where there is very little communication between people, there is little interest too. People tend to talk about themselves, making constant statements rather than asking questions, mirroring their partner's topics or encouraging their dreams and efforts. If there is no interest at the dating or honeymoon stage, there will be no interest later on either! People who are only interested in themselves will not be interested in anyone lelse. And we cannot change people into what we want. We can only enhance what they already have. PLEASE bear that in mind, ladies, in particular! This part also implicitly carries affection and sex within it.

4. Reciprocity: The dictionary define this beautiful word as, "Exchanging things with one another for mutual benefit," and it is a very useful word to know. I prefer to use the simple give and take. If your relationship is NOT reciprocal, it means there is one taker and one giver in it, or two takers. If there are two givers, it will be reciprocal because each person is looking out for the other. A simple litmus test of reciprocity in your relationship is this: when you tell your partner something positive, or tell them you love them, or do something loving for them, what do they do, exactly? If they remain silent, they do not respond, or they tell you that they won't reply when you 'solicit' or 'fish for' compliments, that's a sign of control and insecurity and you'll be the loser. A lack of reciprocity is the first step to be taken for granted and the biggest killer of spontaneity in a partnership, which usually leads to resentment and then tit for tat. Once that loving feeling is replaced with revenge, or the desire to hurt instead, that's the beginning of the end.

5. Honesty and Trust: Once the lies begin, trust goes out of the window. Some people might put this value as their no.1 but my reasoning is: What's the point of having honesty if you cannot communicate to someone and there is not much attraction between you? Having honesty and trust still won't get you anywhere in that sort of scenario. If you sense the person is not really being honest at the beginning, as a gut instinct, it is most likely they are being economical with the truth. It is difficult to stem the flow of lies once they begin, so set a high standard to start. For everyone, honesty and trust has got to be a high priority in any relationship.

6. Humour and Positivity: This is one of my essential values. No doom and gloom person for me. Positivity keeps us in good spirits and our bodies in good health. There is nothing worse than a misery guts or a whinger. It really kills motivation to be with someone who finds it hard to smile. I love my smile and I love to keep it bright with lots of laughter. There is no great action in being gloomy, but a smile can make someone's day. My guy has to have some humour and a positive outlook on life which we can both share because it will keep us happier and living longer. However, I do try to avoid those who pointedly set out to make me laugh because I am not seeking a comedian for a loverI Usually that becomes boring after a while because it loses its spontaneity and becomes a chore to prove something. So long as the couple is behaving naturally and don't take themselves too seriously, the jokes will come. There is no need to force them.

These top 6 are non-negotiable for me. If they are not there in abundance at the start, the relationship is not going to get any better. Yes, some people do grow more loving after a few years, but only if the positive foundations are already in place. People's basic personality seldom changes after marriage or setting up together. We all come with our unique imprints of life which give us the values we choose to live by. We tend to add to what we have, or subtract a little from it, but we seldom ever ditch a value completely and start over again with someone else's value.

For example, if you are basically generous, you might start off a little cautious until you see what your partner is like, and then you might choose to pamper her, or hold back if he's a spendthrift. But a mean person will not suddenly become generous because they are in a relationship, though they might temper that meanness with random acts of kindness, perhaps to impress. However, they will remain basically mean and stingey.

The next 6 values, I can be more flexible on, and be more compromising, because no one will fulfil everything I seek 100 per cent.

Do Large Age Gaps In Relationships Really Matter?


Large age gaps do matter, very much, because of our individual stages on our journey of life. Relationships do not crash without reasons, and often the invisible force of our individual development over time is the real death knell of many unions. The implications of our emotional evolution on relationships are crucial to our understanding of why they fail.

For example, the different stages of the age continuum means that if a person in his fifties or sixties is courting a twenty-year-old, their perspectives relating to personal evolution are going to be almost diametrically opposed.

The young person will be focusing on money, self-image and transience; forging an independence and personal growth that includes no one else. Although that 50-year-old might try to align himself with this process and pretend he is emotionally parallel, his experience would affect the perception of the relationship. He would expect his partner to behave like him; perhaps comparing himself to her, unfavourably, of course, feeling much more insecure, inadequate and more vulnerable, a process which would make him more critical of his spouse.

Thus relationships which have a very wide age gap between the two parties seldom survive for too long. While the older person has already evolved into a confident one, brimming with experience, having sorted out priorities at the different emotional stages of her life, the younger person will just be embarking on his own turmoil and anxieties. It will then be difficult to share significant milestones in a meaningful way or to appreciate personal motives or objectives. Hence there are likely to be constant feelings of anxiety and insecurity, particularly in the older person, that the younger party will move on to one of his own peers in due course, which is a most realistic expectation.

Trophy Partner
Most of the time when people of vastly differing ages are drawn together this is due either to a desire for money, security, a mother/father figure, a trophy partner, or to prove one's self as still virile and appealing. Rarely is such a union based on simple attraction and a sharing of mutual perspectives because the individual needs would not be entirely congruent. In fact, they are bound to be very different. A successful celebrity of 62 years recently married someone 28 years old; a woman who friends felt complemented him absolutely as they got on 'so well'. Others might say that his title, fortune and artistic status would also be highly significant factors linking them together!

However, the age gap of 34 years (he'll be 80 when she is a mere 46) is not an insignificant one. He is in Stage 5 of his emotional evolution, at the prime of his life and accomplishments, a serene time of self-fulfilment and reflection, while his new wife has just reached Stage 2 with all her angst still waiting in the wings. Quite a difference in experience and awareness; one that could unfold negatively down the years. As for mortality, if he lives to be the average age of 78, he can only look forward to about 16 more years of life, compared to her 56 years left as a woman! It will be fascinating to watch their progress.

There is a similar problem with people in their teens setting up home. They have barely started Stage 1 of their emotional life, untouched by the experience and knowledge necessary to balance their personalities or to make appropriate decisions. As they have all their growing up ahead of them, it is almost impossible to remain anchored to another person when the turbulence of Stages 2 and 3 begin to lash over them. They are likely to be new people a few years down the line, which could dramatically change their perception, expectations and life choices.

That is the main reason why marriages go to the wall after a few years because people would have virtually evolved into brand new versions of themselves, with different perspectives and desiring something different, especially if they have been welcoming the changes in their life and environment. If they have been resisting those natural changes, then the pain of renewal becomes more intense and longer lasting. Hence why many relationships drag on over time without being really fulfilling to either party.

Three Minefields to Avoid in Your Relationship


A. Money Problems.
This is the perennial problem of life. How to make ends meet or have a good existence. Problems arise either because there is insufficient money or one party wants to spend it on something which is not agreeable to the other. Either way, money is one of the biggest causes of break-ups for couples, especially when investment in individual dreams or visions is not supported or encouraged within the partnership.

Relationships are most vulnerable when one of the parties loses a job, has to relocate, loses savings, or has a problematic or insolvent business. Any self-employment within a relationship must have consistent support from the other partner if the venture is to work or to thrive. One person seldom succeeds alone with a new business. Furthermore, a time of general recession, when jobs are on the line, is not exactly helpful to keeping relationships intact. Any sign of money troubles is thus a very testing time for couples and only the strongest and most committed tend to survive this period. The only answer is to work out basic financial priorities in advance, particularly in relation to joint accounts. It establishes the parameters and avoids a lot of embarrassment and accusations later on.

B. Emotional and Sexual deprivation.
Not being sufficiently attentive, expressive, affectionate, supportive, caring or loving. Being there physically is not enough. We cannot expect our relationship to thrive if we withdraw emotionally for extended periods of time. In order to be fully present, we must be aware of our partner and be willing to show how we feel. Expressing love through affection and care is crucial to keeping a relationship strong and vibrant. Small, regular moments of intimacy will usually be enough, and the most important times of day to communicate positively are when we wake up, when we reunite after a long day and before going to sleep. Spontaneous and unexpected displays of affection and care are also highly recommended and avoid the tedium of routine and pedictability.

Speaking of sleep, many people in troubled relationships use this as an excuse not to have sex. This occurs in the relationships of 45 per cent of couples seeking marriage counselling, which is an exceedingly high proportion. But sex is never the basic problem within the relationship. It always masks something else going on which remains unresolved. Very few people want to make love if they are sad, angry or frustrated. In fact, such negative feelings in the bedroom work better than any deterrent to keep partners apart! If the problems are never addressed, the absence of sex is likely to be permanent and used as a weapon or punishment against the partner who is perceived to 'deserve' it. This then leads to further resentment and a marked deterioration in sex, affection and care.

C. Differing Approaches to Children.
A united approach in public, to children is the best, no matter what is disagreed in private. After children are born the workload becomes much greater and many men often opt out of cooperating at this stage, feeling left out and marginalised by the newcomers. Parents also tend to disagree about how to raise and discipline their children, which causes even more conflict, especially with weak parents who allow youngsters to play off one adult against the other. This leads to jealousies and criticisms relating to one parent being perceived as either 'too soft', or the other 'too harsh'. This is usually the time when the word 'team' is essential.

Children need boundaries but they will also test the elasticity of those boundaries every time. It is up to parents to keep those boundaries in place, no matter how elastic they are. Begin as early as possible with some basic rules, especially when they go to bed, which will then give the parents opportunities to be together instead of the child being up at all adult times. Be flexible, yet firm and caring. Often the caring and appeasing take priority over the firmness. But being consistently firm will yield bigger dividends than being erratic or compensatory. For example, in my marriage, we stuck to firm bedtimes for our children, especially up to 14 years old. It meant that we gave them our all when they were awake but we always had some time after work to simply relax together, to enjoy each other's company and reinforce our love.

Children are wonderful additions to the family, but their presence and constant need for attention often do not help the relationship to grow positively. They also rob the couple of intimate time together and can actually precipitate break-ups in vulnerable relationships, especially where one partner got married primarily for the sake of having children. Once that is achieved, interest in a partner, who has done the job expected, is often affected negatively, which then causes acute resentment. Both parents need to work together to look after the children in a way which also leaves some space for their relationship and reinforces the importance of both guardians.

Top 10 Relationship Issues For Therapy: How many relate to you?


It is no easy feat putting two strangers in the same space and asking them to become a single couple when they are both complete individuals with their own perceptions, beliefs, identity, aspirations and behaviour patterns. There are bound to be issues between them which will gradually arise as they get used to each other. Throw in the extra problem of a recession where money troubles loom large and relationships become pretty vulnerable.

The top 10 relationship concerns for therapy are the following, in order of their effects:

1. Deprivation and Neglect

Relations are fine at the early days of loving and trying to impress each other but, soon after people marry or settle together, when they feel comfortable, they begin to take each other for granted. It's almost as if once the partner is 'in the bag' the couple doesn't have to try anymore. It's not too long before the relationship loses its attention, affection, love and support.

2. Cheating

This is one of the most common causes of relationships hitting the buffers, because, well before any actual cheating takes place, certain things would have already been happening: like jealousy, fear, dishonesty, perhaps from one partner, lack of trust, lack of intimacy between the couple, and feelings of neglect and inadequacy. Any form of cheating strikes at the heart of trust and respect which then has consequences for any future harmony in the relationship.

3. Friends and Family

Where the couple have separate friends or controlling relatives, trouble looms. A fine balance is needed to accommodate the requirements of both sets of families. Additionally, there is the problem with past relationships and persistent 'exes' who refuse to go away. That is always a source of conflict in a relationship, especially where children are involved.

4. Communication

Good communication prevents resentment, anger and frustration gradually building up. When communication goes badly wrong, as in one partner being verbally abusive, engaged in name calling and refusing to listen, or the other party is secretive, introspective or generally uncommunicative, there is often no resolution of routine problems.

5. Scapegoating

Partners tend to blame and criticise instead of being loving and caring. They constantly seek scapegoats for their frustrations or unfulfilled expectations. This often leads to an air of persistent negativity as the positive elements are ignored while the focus is placed on weaknesses and wrongdoings between the couple.

6. Annoying Habits

Interestingly, most annoying habits were not annoying when the couple first met. They might have been seen as 'cute' then, accepted as part of the person and hence the package. However, when these little habits surface in a confined pace and also have new unexpected ones added to them, they often lose their 'cuteness' and become downright irritating, if persistent.

7. Living in the Past
Some people find it hard to get out of the past. They hark back to it at every opportunity, they compare their relationships and their lovers, they continue to bring stuff that happened ages ago, even though they might not be applicable at that time. The past has probably been so painful, it becomes the ongoing focus instead of a learning experience and often kills the joy and potential of the present relationship.

8. Controlling Partner

Some partners are very insecure in themselves. They probably had a past issue with cheating and they use their fear to stifle the other party's actions. Being controlled is not good in a relationship because it stops partners developing their potential, it robs them of personal space and enjoyment, it tempts them to be dishonest and ultimately limits the possibilities between the couple.

9. Different Directions/Goals

Having one's own interests is very important for a healthy relationship. However, once the couple begins to go separate and individual directions, with very different goals most of the time, that's no longer a relationship. It's two people sharing space for convenience and expediency.

10. Dependence/Independence

To be dependent on a partner is often stifling, limiting and can be claustrophobic. Yet to be totally independent can lead to a feeling of being unwanted, loneliness and neglect. Getting the balance right between being still single and being a couple is most important.

No couple has to suffer these issues in silence. By seeking help and support in the form of counselling, or having regular discussion and communication, they can be gradually lessened or overcome.

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The Main Turn-Offs in Relationships


Different role perceptions – who does the cooking, who makes the decisions, who works outside the home, etc., all have to be decided jointly, honestly and openly from the very beginning or at the first opportune moments. It's no good hoping or assuming, that the husband will help with the cooking and the wife will stay home with the kids. There could be big surprises ahead! New roles must be confirmed by both parties to avoid ambiguities.

According to Dr John Gottman, a noted marital researcher, "men who do more housework and child care have better sex lives and happier marriages". Other psychologists have found that when wives and husbands make what they both feel is a successful effort to divide chores fairly, both spouses benefit. Yet inequalities in housework and childcare have profound consequences for the satisfaction of women, which then gradually affects the quality of the relationship for the men as well.

I remember, a few years into my last marriage, one of my neighbours complaining bitterly to me that she had four children to cope with all day and her husband came home religiously at 5pm and expected his dinner "on the table". He felt that, having been to work to provide for the household, he had earned the right to put his feet up for the rest of the day. However, she got no break at all until the hyperactive children were in bed, which was often quite late at night.

It meant husband and wife had little time together as a couple and she had hardly any help with the children, which made her tired and resentful. If he had helped her when he got home, they could both have enjoyed some quality time together because her day would have ended earlier. His actions would also have signalled an understanding of her responsibilities and an appreciation of her role. Instead, she was resentful and frustrated, especially as she was not assertive enough to ignore his dinner or to stand up to his selfish actions!

Equally Shared Roles

In our home we started off in the usual gender fashion of me doing the cooking, cleaning and other household chores while my husband did everything else. However, as the children grew older and demanded more care and attention, we gradually agreed to either share certain roles, like the cooking, or take over the ones we liked. It was a good move because he is a brilliant gardener. He did all the outdoor chores and shared in the cooking while I focused on the cleaning and ironing, which I preferred. For many years this worked perfectly until he decided he was a much better cook as well and virtually took it over. My little offering gradually became inadequate and resentment began to creep in.

Women feel more respected and loved when husbands share in the household chores and child-rearing. But, despite our liberated age, the latest statistics reveal that men share housework or childcare only 20 per cent of the time, on average. Women still have the greater burden of homemaking, on top of their jobs, a key reason why they are increasingly rejecting marriage or setting up home together.

Many men are often blind to the connection between how few chores they do and how their partners feel about them! Yet if a woman feels like a servant in the relationship, that will affect her perception of her value and the intimacy of the union. Being the sole person to clean the toilet and wash the floors is definitely not an aphrodisiac, or any kind of turn-on! The message you send to your spouse when you do very little around the house is mainly one of a lack of respect for her. When there is a feeling of mutual respect and appreciation, both partners tend to give more and the relationship prospers.

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Power Struggles Within a Relationship


Between four months and a year after meeting someone, depending on the pace of familiarity, a covert struggle begins between the couple. The fight in this 'familiarisation' phase is for power, individuality and boundaries which clearly define unacceptable behaviour. As expectation plays such a huge part in the relationship, this is the stage where all the differences and disillusion prompt both parties to start adjusting individual expectations to make the union real.

Unfortunately, it is not that easy to do because disillusion and frustration lead to a tendency to blame and past events now become significant in the ensuing power struggle. Many people also marry expecting the relationship to meet all those childhood, personal, unspoken needs, but it can't. One person just cannot do it all. We need another life as well. That is why when one partner is stuck at home, they are desperate to chat when the spouse comes home, but that's when he/she just wishes to be silent and to chill out.

This stage of conflict actually reflects our 'personal baggage' because each person is the product of his/her past history. Along the way, the individual learns by trial and error how to get his needs and desires fulfilled: following an entirely individual path to the present point in his life. His personal happiness is his state of being, dictated by his thoughts and actions at any given moment. The expectation of getting happiness from a partner is thus a selfish one which removes the responsibility from the individual and places it squarely on the shoulders of another.

For this reason, we cannot expect another person's means of expression and action to be identical to our own because he/she would have gone through a different 'school of life' or set of experiences. We can make our relationship needs known to our partner through polite requests, but the exact method the partner uses to show her love and care is completely her choice. It will also be based upon her individual life experiences, one which will be often at odds with your own. While no person is independent enough to survive without the care or input of others, total reliance on partners not only leaves us feeling inadequate but also burdens the people we care most with unrealistic expectations and makes the relationship oppressive.

Learning How to Discuss and Disagree

The key to greater harmony is learning about the new person, her/his positive and negative ways; learning how to discuss, disagree or to argue a point and still be able to love, and feel loved, with mutual respect. This is a most vulnerable stage, especially for the person who most desires the relationship to succeed. As you gradually discover what is important to you, it becomes necessary to reclaim yourself as a whole individual, instead of as an extension of someone else, otherwise you are likely to die inside with frustration, or end up despising your partner.

Some people devise coping mechanisms for success at this important time, such as not encouraging discussions which might get out of hand, but this does not encourage openness and actually breeds more resentment. Others might still remain in the besotment' stage and play to expectations. A few might not argue, or they avoid going to sleep on an argument, making up soon afterward to prevent any animosity being carried over into the next day.

In this domestic power struggle the focus tends to be on the present, with much embellishment from the past. There is also a nervousness about the future, even with some anxious questioning as to whether there will be a future. Trying to find a common bond can be exhausting, and sexual desires may become less intense. During these periods, you may need to take a break from each other or seek to discuss personal anxieties relating to what is going wrong and where you are both going. Some relationships, particularly those of younger couples, never survive to this point because the parties lack the maturity, communication and 'stickability' to deal with the negative aspects, those invisible forces that emerge in their partners.

Many young couples are surprised that they could get so vicious toward each other. As no one told them this would happen, they are often shocked at the developments and, in this confused state, they are likely to decide that the relationship is over. That is why many relationships last only about nine months. This key stage is one where, if the couple is married, divorce is likely to occur or couples are likely to seek counselling. Focusing positively on what you both can do to improve the relationship should sort out some thorny issues and take you to the next critical stage of alignment.

What To Do When He Forgets An Anniversary


Q. My husband has never really placed much importance on "occasions" but has certainly never forgotten one before. I reminded him about our 10th wedding anniversary as I truly think it is important and would like to have done something special. I was surprisingly disappointed. But he thinks it is not an issue at all and has done nothing to even apologise or attempt to redeem himself in anyway. Am I wrong to have feel let down?

A. You are not wrong to feel let down at all, but if your husband has never forgotten before and he also does not seem remorseful or apologetic for missing such a major occasion, it is likely that he has done it deliberately out of resentment for something else. This is the time to seek a very calm and quiet chat, which will be on four levels:

1. First, to affirm him and thank him for being a wonderful husband and for everything you've both enjoyed so far. Often when something goes wrong, we merely concentrate on the negatives, forget the value of that person to our lives and make things worse.

2. Then let him know how disappointed you were about him forgetting and how surprising that was for you, as it was not like him at all. Let him know how much you have both appreciated the celebrations.

3. Ask if he's feeling all right about things. Is there anything bothering him you might be able to help with? Is he really happy? And then LISTEN. It is not just about one party in the relationship, and often we focus on ourselves a lot forgetting the other person's needs.

4. Tell him that you hope he can appreciate how disappointed you feel as you are proud of the marriage and naturally wish to celebrate it. You are also sure he would be disappointed if you forgot something very important to him. Ask if you can both do something else to make up for it soon. Then see what happens.

Expectations and their unfulfilment kill relationships by encouraging resentment and tit-for-tat behaviour. If he is a very good husband otherwise, I would forgive this lapse, praise him to the skies and wait for the next occasion to see how he behaves. If it becomes a pattern, and celebrating anniversaries really matter to you, then you have real trouble brewing!

The Biggest Effects of Bad Relationships on Our Lives


People who are unhappy in relationships begin a domino ripple effect which then affects every other aspect of their lives in subtle, negative ways, especially through low esteem and weak self-love. When we don't love ourselves, or we don't feel appreciated, we have nothing to give others and we tend to be unhappy or controlling. We also focus inwards as we are unable to relate to others sympathetically. That's the time we are likely to be aggressive, to seek constant attention in negative ways, to be critical and to find scapegoats.

The very nature of relationships ensures that we lose that sense of love and compassion when we have trouble at home. In fact, I am willing to bet my last dollar that behind every chronic absentee at work, or any hyper-critical and difficult boss, there is low self-esteem, a lack of self-love, a relationship in trouble or no relationship at all!

Those affected by a break-up also tend to expect the worst to happen again, either blaming themselves or partners, and living in a state of fear from then on. They often use old partners to judge potential new ones (bad mistake!) and remain unduly bitter and vengeful for years afterwards. It is natural to be hurt by a broken relationship, especially if you did not instigate it. But, if, two or three years post-divorce, the person is still stuck back there, it will waste his life and retard her talent. Negativity simply destroys. It builds nothing. Only positive action achieves what we want. We cannot rebuild our lives, or help any children caught in the conflict to feel good about themselves, if we do not reduce the animosity and blame, especially in our heads, and look ahead to something better. We can never change things in the past. It is low esteem which keeps us back there replaying old events in our minds, and irresponsibly using our children as pawns in the break-up, while our present rattles mockingly past us.

Stuck in the Past
In fact, you can always spot someone who perceives him/herself to have had a raw deal from, or to be the victim of, a broken relationship. They usually recount their negative experiences at every opportunity, becoming more self-righteous in the telling as they gloss over their part in it. They are usually stuck in the past, using it to make judgements on their future while neglecting opportunities and making excuses for their present, especially if life hasn't improved as they hoped. This makes them wary of other relationships, a reaction likely to prompt them toward a series of disastrous short-term ones, that only reinforce their fears, or no relationship at all.

Apparently, this detached approach is supposed to either prevent them being 'caught' again or to allow them to wait eternally for Ms/Mr Right, depending on their perception of themselves. However, their situation has a way of repeating itself, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy because, subconsciously, they continue to behave in the same way as before thus repeatedly getting whatever they have always got. Only forgiveness makes them whole, and success and happiness will forever elude those caught in such negativity until they truly forgive themselves – and others, change their approach and perception of potential partners and move on.

Unwittingly caught in this revolving door of low self-esteem, continuous blaming and handy scapegoating – with an ego to match – some men and women even lose the ability to woo someone afresh. Many still cling to old partners after separation, which prevents both parties from moving on to a new life or finding new soulmates. However, the longer they take to get back into stride, to enter a meaningful relationship which reinforces their worth, the longer they are likely to remain single and unhappy. They often become increasingly unattractive in the process, tending to use their fears and tales of woe to bore new interests to death. If this happens around the ages of late thirties to early forties, the time of the mid-life crisis when the need to prove personal appeal becomes strongest, the results can be tragic. At such times, too many become desperate for any relationship – and, as someone once said starkly, 'desperation has no deodorant'!