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Making Relationships Work

Many couples go into a marriage thinking that love will see them through anything the future may hold. While this idea is romantically appealing and is fueled by the passion of love in bloom, it falls short of ensuring a happy and productive marriage.

Relationships don’t just happen. They require work and care to endure and, with time, to evolve in ways that keep both partners fulfilled. Such labors are well worth the effort, though, since a lasting marital relationship can be the most rewarding bond in life.

Laying a Solid Foundation

One of the difficulties faced in intimate relationships is that opposites do attract. We are often fascinated by personal traits or background characteristics in our potential partner that we, ourselves, do not possess.

It is not unusual, for example, for an only child to marry someone from a large family because she is attracted to the excitement and seeming closeness of her partner’s large family. At the same time, he is attracted to her quiet and apparently peaceful family. It may not be long before she is accusing his family of being “overwhelming” and he is describing her family as “too withdrawn.” This is the point at which it is important to stop and recall what brought the partners together. With understanding, self-awareness, and a good measure of humor, each is more able to see the advantages and disadvantages of their own as well as their partner’s traits and circumstances.

Women and men also need to be equals in their relationship. A good marriage is not built upon the foundation of one partner feeling like a child and the other feeling like a parent. Only when partners relate as peers is it possible to experience mutual respect, sharing, support for each other, and the ability to disagree without the threat of losing the relationship. With that type of underpinning, the marriage will thrive.

Boundaries around the individual and the couple sustain the health of a relationship. This means having “individual time” and “couple time.” In successful partnerships, boundaries are created to determine when, where, and to what extent other people are a part the life of the individual and of the couple. Boundaries (with negotiated flexibility) are important for establishing and maintaining intimacy in a relationship.

Finally, intimacy is the foundation for the development of lasting bonds in a relationship. While sexual and physical connections are important, they are not the only kind of intimacy in a relationship. Emotional, spiritual, aesthetic, and recreational aspects of life are also areas in which intimacy grows. Without these, sexual intimacy is purely physical and unlikely to sustain a relationship over the long term.

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Suggestions for Reflection and Growth

The following suggestions may help couples to think about the challenges they face within their own relationships and inspire new approaches to old problems:

  1. See the reality of your partner (and of yourself), not a fantasy of perfection.
  2. Stay in the present. Deal with what is happening now; you don’t have to dredge up old baggage.
  3. The giving and receiving of unconditional love is not to be taken for granted. Certain aspects of love are earned.
  4. Not every attack is personal. Avoid overdramatizing.
  5. Be more concerned with loving and being loved, caring and being cared about than being right. Many right people are very lonely.
  6. See the situation from the other person’s perspective. Forgo blaming or judging.
  7. Say as much as you can to each other. The more that remains unspoken, the greater the risk for problems.
  8. Nurture a sense of humor. It is difficult for us to be defensive when we can laugh at ourselves.
Making Relationships Work

Charleen Alderfer

APA Reference
Alderfer, C. (2020). Making Relationships Work. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.