My ten year relationship, to a man I loved deeply and imagined a future with, ended.
Truthfully, not because I wanted it to, but because I just couldn’t live in the internal state I was in any longer. Being alone had to be better than being with someone & still feeling unloved, lonely, anxious, and other unpleasant feelings. Right? (The answer is yes btw, but there’s more to it which we’ll talk about later.)
I’m not sure if when I made the decision to end things, if I fully understood the amount of fear and panic that would ensue shortly after me saying one morning, “If you don’t want to try then I can’t stay here anymore. I’m done. I have to leave” Followed by a shocking reply, “…. yea. I think it’s for the best.”
But this story isn’t about how to recover from the crippling effects of a breakup (I’ll save that one for another time). No, this is about 4 years of research for the answers to all the questions I had.
The most pressing: what makes relationships work & last?
It’s true that having similar core values is important and even having similar trajectories help (wanting marriage and kids, etc.). But those things have not proved to be very “reliable” in my experience. They are helpful for lessening conflict, but not stand-alone predictors of success for a lasting relationship.
For example, “on paper” my ex and I: enjoyed each other’s company, rarely fought, were always respectful, had similar trajectories (at least initially), had harmonious living habits, loved each other’s families, shared many core values (like personal growth & development), both came from families where our parents were happily married for 30+ years…the list went on.
But I couldn’t understand how we could have most of the things you find listed as “necessary ingredients” to lasting love, and yet, things still went the way they did.
Sure, I could say, “Well some things just don’t work out. It is what it is.” But that’s not me. I like to deep dive and find out WHY.
So down into the research rabbit hole I went. I didn’t watch an ounce of TV for 6 months, and then very little for the next 2 years. Instead I spent every shred of free-time learning. I listened to psychologists while I cooked, walked the dog, got ready for the day or bed, drove places, cleaned, and while I worked out — any time I could listen I would. When my eyes and hands were free, I read.
And what I found has been seriously life-changing (and that’s what I’m going to continue to share with you in this blog series).
One day, an epiphany came to me in the form of a picture. All of the “dots” of everything I’d read, watched, & tested came together.
It was the picture of a house.
I realized that there’s actually a minimum of five pieces needed (to varying degrees, depending on which pieces you already have) — without the five pieces (and The X Factor) there’s just a slim chance the relationship is going to make it.
The more pieces you have and the more sound/solid you are in each of the pieces the better the relationship, and the more fulfilled you can feel.
The House – 5 Golden Pieces for A Lasting Relationship
As I’ve mentioned before, everyone has a different starting point, so some of these you may already have or do quite well. While other things you may really need to double-down on.
Let’s adopt the mentality of staying curious even when we think we may already know something.
I’m going to break each one of these down in much greater detail in upcoming posts, however, here’s a very general overview:
#1 The Blueprint
These “instructions” show us a good overview of many of the intricate details of the house. They show you to avoid criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt. They urge you to turn towards bids, and be mindful of the positive interactions vs. negative.
The instructions show you how important gentle soft communication is when it comes to requests from our partners, and the importance in the quality of friendship that you have with your partner. They also let us know, that we’re probably going to make a mistake at one point & knowing how to repair is worth its weight in gold.
It shows us the importance around a few key ingredients like safety, trust, trustworthiness, and attunement.
However, “instructions” alone don’t build the house, so let’s see what else we need.
#2 The Roof
Yes, starting with the roof is not the technical way to build a house, but the “upper” concepts are the easiest to understand, so we’ll work top down.
The roof is sort of a “cherry on top” it can add a little bit of comfort, but a roof on its own can’t really shelter us. We’d have to stand there holding it up, and that would be exhausting. So we see that it has importance, but it also needs the other pieces.
So what does the roof translate to? It’s the things that you need. If we can identify our needs, meet our own needs mostly, ask specifically for what we need, be able to receive, and give love in a way that is more in the language that our partner speaks then this is a useful tool to have so we can feel a bit of comfort.
#3 The Walls
This connects the floor to the roof, and can be thought of as the thing that helps “hold things together”. This is where we see relationship skills coming into play.
How well can you communicate with your partner? Are you able to smoothly navigate differences? How well can you relate & collaborate? Understanding how to have tact and speak in a way that can be heard by our partners is essential.
The thing is, even with the best communication skills there is often something deeper “lurking”. These can show up as the persistent feelings of loneliness, sadness, anger, anxiety, depression, etc. We will begin to find that even when we learn to ask for support from our partners, we may find what we’re getting is not “enough”. We may even find that at certain times, we are simply unable to access the skills we may have.
If we can dare to look a little deeper, we can begin to identify that there’s actually an internal narrative going on, which makes it important to go down to the next level…
#4 The Foundation
If you build a house without a foundation, there’s no way that thing is going to hold up. Just a light breeze might make the whole thing come crashing down. Which is why having a strong foundation is so imperative.
This is where there’s a blend between pieces. Between 3 & 4 we see the blend come together with vulnerability and communication. We have to be able to see the “dance” that we do with our partner. When he/she does X, that triggered me to think/feel ___, then I did Y (which usually triggers my partner to do X again). Thus, we see the dance. We’ve got to understand this dance so we can change the music and dance differently together.
Then we have the blend between 4 & 5. This is where we begin to dig deeper into our own internal world. This is when you start asking why. WHY was it that when my partner did X that I felt ____? What is it about me (beliefs, wounds, coping mechanisms) that made me do Y? As you dive in, you begin to see that you must go deeper for true healing and happiness.
#5 The Ground
Hopefully it’s obvious that this is the most important piece. All the pieces above cannot hold/stand without the ground.
This is where happiness actually comes from. It’s the internal work & nervous system regulation. It is the work that brings inner peace, and calm to your body. It’s what gets you to operate from your true authentic self vs. that shadow self we talked about in the last post.
Now that we have the pieces (or levels) laid out, there’s two last things that must be understood before we go into the HOW (aka the actual action or practical things you can do).
The X Factor
As I’ve been doing all this learning, reading, researching and practicing, I’ve also been watching. Watching the couples in my life and ticking off the 5 golden pieces to check for accuracy.
In the couples that had healthier relationships, they did most of them. They weren’t perfect but they were like 80% there.
However there were also some couples who did some of the 5 pieces, but it was hard to get a gauge on what percentage they were at — but it was obvious there was a lot of room for learning/growth/improvement.
Of course, I don’t have a crystal ball, so there’s always a chance these couples split in the future— but it was interesting that even without the pieces they are still together. Some of these couples have been together for 40 years.
This puzzled me for a few years. All I knew was that there must be some sort of X Factor. Something, that in spite of not having the pieces (or even the healthiest behaviors), that they somehow are still together.
Then one day, while listening to another podcast, the answer became crystal clear.
The X factor is that they WANT TO BE THERE.
Yes, there’s a chance that that ‘want’ is coming from an unhealthy place such as codependency, trauma bonds, or perhaps even “fulfilling parental/societal expectations” (aka people pleasing).
However, there’s also the ‘healthy want’ which really shows up as a willingness to be vulnerable, relate, and collaborate with their partner.
Both people have to want to be there. Both people have to show up. So even if you aren’t perfect, it still can work if both people want it to.
Even without the skills (or pieces), you can fumble your way through if you want to badly enough.
I will say, though, struggling through a relationship for 40 years does not sound like the life I’d personally want — which is where the 5 golden pieces come in (they will improve the quality of your relationship tremendously).
One last bit on The X Factor: the ‘want’ can wane at times. But this is when it will move into “uncertainty”. Uncertainty is not to be confused with “not wanting to be there”. Even the uncertain partner will still have some level of willingness.
To Sum It All Up
If you want to have a lasting relationship that has passion, happiness, fun, and all the good stuff then there’s five pieces that you’ve got to pay attention to and how you are showing up in each of them.
The 5 Golden Pieces are:
- The Blueprint (aka the overview of things to do/avoid)
- The Roof (aka the cherry-on-top that can provide a little added comfort)
- The Walls (aka the glue that holds the relationship together)
- The Foundation (aka solidifies the health of the relationship)
- The Ground (aka is what makes the relationship possible & what reveals the beauty of it)
While you cannot control/change your partner, you can foster a different relationship environment that can encourage them to heal and show up differently as well. You also don’t have to be perfect, you just have to keep learning and growing.
The X Factor that really keeps people together is the desire to be together. While that desire could be unhealthy (and much more at risk of not being a long-lasting relationship when it is unhealthy), a healthy ‘want’ is essentially a continued willingness & attempts to be vulnerable, relate, and collaborate with a partner.
Now I’d love to hear from you! What was the major takeaway that you learned from this post? What questions do you have?