The Three Questions Every Successful Relationship Must Answer
By Ian Denchasy
Having been in my present relationship since 1988, I’ve had many years to not only enjoy (and, at times, suffer through) my marriage to Alicia, but reflect on what has made it successful over this long period. Neither of us believes in the “soul mate” connection, whereby we’re destined to be together forever, nor are we particularly suited over others for long term monogamy. Indeed, surveying the many couples we’ve come to know over the past quarter century, it’s surprising to see some break apart who seemed so much more compatible than ourselves. Yet, somehow, we find a way to love each other at our worst and remain together for the best. As far as relationships go, each day together propels us to the next.
So how do I gauge my own success in my relationship with Alicia, or indeed any of the failed partnerships that came before her? Personally, it all comes down to three simple questions:
1. Am I a better man because I’m in this relationship?
2. Is my wife a better woman because she’s in a relationship with me?
3. Are we better collectively as a couple than apart, individually?
If the answer to any of these queries is negative, I feel I should either make every effort to turn them positive or, if failing to do so, exit the relationship entirely. Practically everything my wife and I do together, from raising our son to being responsible financially falls under these three basic principles.
Being a better me.
When I met my wife, we were both in our prime dating years. She was dating two or three others, while I was involved in a casual situation with a college classmate while waiting to depart the country for a job overseas (teaching English in Japan to female tour guides!). When I first saw her across our campus pub, where I worked as a bartender, I had an instantly powerful attraction and, amazingly, she was sitting with a mutual friend (who would prove instrumental in setting up our first outing). After our first date, I had fallen head over heels in love and, suddenly, thoughts of bedding numerous conquests in a foreign land were replaced with overwhelming desire to turn this initial encounter into something long term — even permanent.
Unfortunately, Alicia wasn’t quite as smitten, so I had to tread lightly, despite my emotional inner self screaming to declare my lofty intentions, and show myself worthy of her willingness to commit.
In other words, in that moment, I was suddenly moved to become a better man. Her very presence in my life presented an opportunity for me to take a giant step forward in my maturity and think beyond the bedroom and my next sexual dalliance to being an actual partner in something larger and more meaningful. Suddenly, my propensity to lie, my impulse to drink to excess, my habit of spending time partying all night with friends, and my tendencies to run from commitment were washed away, replaced by a higher purpose grounded in love. Three months later, we were engaged, my trip was cancelled, and we had moved in together to begin our journey in partnership. And, from that early point forward, not a day goes by when I don’t examine ways I can contribute toward the betterment of our union. Alicia, by her mere presence in my life, makes me want to be a better man in almost every way; a better husband, a better father, a better friend, and a better provider.
A better she.
The answer to this is a bit trickier, requiring some conjecture mixed with observation over our long tenure. I can, however, point to a couple of facts that she didn’t mind me mentioning in this piece. First, she was out of control with her credit card spending and had a fairly substantial debt coming into our relationship. $5000.00 doesn’t sound like much, but to have racked up a bill with so little to show for it (spent mostly on meals, impulse items, and clothing) directly conflicted with my more modest approach to material possessions. My belief was — and continues to be — more minimalistic, going so far as to possess so little I could fit literally everything I owned into my car. Once safely committed to marriage, I offered to pay off Alicia’s outstanding debt, which she has repaid over the years with remarkable financial restraint. There are certainly times when the consumer bug bites her, but for the most part we’ve made it through three recessions, bought two properties together, and kept clothes on our son’s back. I believe my fiscal responsibility and economical thinking has made her a more responsible person.
Other examples are less tangible, but no less important; being the only child of a father who abandoned both her and her mother (and failed to provide any financial support), Alicia had always been extremely leery of men and the role they played in her life. I feel that by being patient and showing her everyday that she could live without waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop, Alicia has learned to trust in me as a husband and extend that trust beyond our tiny family and into the world. She has become a loyal wife, friend, lover, and true companion and I hope I’ve contributed to this extraordinary growth.
She plus me equals exponential energy.
Like two atoms meeting to create nuclear energy (or something like that), the combination of us together is nothing short of magical. Whether we’re out together with friends, raising our son, volunteering for (insert cause here), or finding ways to bring joy to the world, I am still amazed by the sheer energy I feel when we’re together as opposed to apart. Like laughter, our combined energy can be infectious and I could never have imagined being so driven to be with another person and, though I can’t predict what each day will bring, I do know each moment will pass with twice the jolt with my wife in my life; a life which has included adventures at Burning Man, bungee jumping, skydiving, gardening, surfing, camping, cooking, and too many others to list, with many more to come.
So ask yourself, is your relationship answering these questions affirmatively? If not, what can you contribute to change the answers? How can you help your partner to be a better individual? How can your loved one do the same for you? Can you work together to create more joy in your relationship universe?