How strong is your relationship? Is it absolutely, positively unshakable?
If so, do you know why? If not, do you know what the problem is?
This article has seven “pillars” of a strong relationship… if all seven are standing firm, your relationship will be strong and reliable. If one of them falls, the relationship gets a little more shaky, as the others have to pick up the added burden of support.
The pillars all support each other, as well. That means that as one falls, the others are weaker, and more likely to fall themselves. This can cause a domino effect, where a relationship that has been relatively good completely falls apart in an amazingly short time.
The good news is that a pillar can be repaired, but it requires a lot of time and effort for most of them, so if you notice one of them starting to become unstable in your relationship, fix it before it falls completely.
So now, here it is, what you’ve been waiting for, the seven pillars of a strong relationship (or how to make your relationship unshakable):
Honesty is important in every aspect of life, including relationships. If you are not honest with your partner, then you are intentionally erecting internal walls that keep them away from who you really are. Keeping your partner at a distance is not conducive to a strong relationship (see #6).
There is someone it is even more important to be honest with than your partner, however, and that someone is probably someone you’re very used to deceiving… you. If you aren’t honest with yourself, about who you are, what you want, where you are going… you can’t possibly be honest with your partner. So be honest with yourself first.
Nothing makes a relationship shaky faster than broken trust. Trust is (relatively) easily given the first time, but once broken, is very difficult to repair.
The trust referred to here isn’t just about your partner being able to believe what you say. It’s about them being able to trust you completely… trust you to not hurt them, trust you to be committed to them, trust you with everything from the smallest detail up to and including trusting you with their life.
It isn’t just big things that break someone’s trust, either. Little things can chip away at it until it’s so fragile that the slightest burden shatters it.
If you want a solid relationship, respect is an essential part. You need to respect your partner’s needs and wants, their weaknesses and strengths, their dreams and goals. You need to respect who they are. Don’t try to make them be like you… don’t treat them like they are wrong any time they differ from you. Very little in the world is black and white, wrong and right… understand that and accept that their differences don’t need “fixed”.
It’s also important to remember that you need to truly respect them, not just make a show of it in front of them. If you truly respect them, then you won’t disrespect them to your friends or family, or anyone else. Doing so, even if they never find out, only weakens your respect for them further, and doesn’t help your commitment, either.
No list of things which are important to a relationship could possibly be complete without listing communication. Communication is a part of so much of the rest of a relationship… it’s hard to trust someone who won’t communicate with you, it’s hard to have intimacy, attention nearly always includes a communication component… virtually every aspect of a relationship is touched by communication.
That’s why it’s important to know how to communicate well and effectively. A big part of this is body language… become aware of your body language, and make certain that it reflects the actual words that come out of your mouth… in other words, don’t be thinking about what you’re going to do tomorrow (which will affect your body language) while you’re talking to your partner about something important right now.
It’s also important that you understand that listening is as big a part of communication as what you express yourself. Don’t make conversations a competition, don’t try to “fix” everything your partner tells you (Men, pay special attention to that one), and don’t be just waiting for them to stop talking so you can speak.
What you should do in communication is focus on things that you have in common… that’s what brings you together. Focusing your communication on things that you don’t share makes it harder for your partner to relate to you, which is certainly not going to help with strengthening the relationship.
I’ve mentioned attention a few times before, in previous articles… attention is the means by which you give something or someone importance in your life. Everyone knows this instinctively, although being consciously aware of it is much more rare.
This means that when you give your partner and your relationship attention, they will notice and respond. When you give them less, they will notice that, too. Indiscriminate, undirected attention can become oppressive, however. You need to give them your attention in ways that show that you are thinking about them, not about you.
Giving your partner attention doesn’t necessarily even involve time with them. It can be picking out something that they will like and getting it for them, or making them something, or planning a trip that they will enjoy, etc. Giving them attention simply means spending time and energy on them, even if most of that time and energy isn’t actually with them.
Many relationships have drifted from a husband/wife relationship to a friends relationship because of a lack of intimacy. This doesn’t just mean sexual intimacy, although that is important, too… it means dropping the walls you have inside of you and letting your partner deeper than the surface level that you keep up to protect yourself from being hurt.
It means trusting them enough to let them in to where they can hurt you. The more intimacy (by this definition) your relationship has, the stronger it will be… provided that the intimacy is mutual. When only one person allows the other past their walls, it is very hard, and very tiring, on the other person. It also starts affecting many of the other pillars, as the person who does open their walls will start to wonder why the other doesn’t (trust), whether the other person cares (attention, respect), and if they can continue to count on the other person (trust, commitment).
Letting down your walls with your partner can be very hard, especially the ones deep inside, the ones that you don’t even let down for yourself… but your relationship can only be as strong as your intimacy allows.
Commitment… everyone needs it for a good, strong, deep relationship. Many people will deny that they do, but that’s only at the surface… if they’re honest with themselves, they will admit that they need commitment for the relationship to move past a certain point.
The commitment I am talking about here doesn’t have to be marriage. It simply means that you can rely on the other person to be there, to put effort into your relationship, to keep you near the top of their list of priorities. In the US, at least, and every other culture that I know of, this is most strongly expressed and embodied in marriage… it’s a sign of commitment that everyone can recognize.
On the other hand, just because you are married doesn’t mean that you have commitment. People get married for bad reasons, or forget to maintain their commitment, or other things may happen (lack of intimacy and communication can weaken commitment, marriage or no marriage).
Regardless of whether you’re married or not, commitment is important.
Each pillar is related to at least two others. With some of them it’s not too hard to see how they are related… it’s very difficult to have trust without honesty, for example. Others are a little less obvious, like the fact that a lack of attention to your partner weakens your commitment to them.
When you think about the relationships between the pillars, it makes it easy to see why it’s important to regularly ensure the strength of all of them. The crumbling of one pillar can easily pull one of the related pillars down with it, and even if it stops there, that’s knocking out two of the seven pillars… that’s a lot of shakiness and instability to have suddenly injected into a relationship.
I don’t think you can say that any one pillar is more important than the rest, but it is easier to focus on a few and strengthen them, which then strengthens the pillars to which the few are related, eventually strengthening the whole relationship.
So go ahead, pick a few to focus on, but don’t ignore any of them. An unshakably strong relationship will be your reward.