Have you ever wondered why some people adore their family while others have frequent fallouts, why some friends bond for life while others are eternal enemies, and why some couples stay in happy marriages for many years while others break up after a few months?
Every one of us, no matter how sociable or reserved, likely has at least one relationship in our life that is an absolute gem. This is the kind of relationship that we save a sincere place for in our heart, can always count on even when things get tough, and will go to great lengths to treasure.
This kind of relationship lights us up with overflowing energy, showers us with deep affection, and feels calm like a safe haven at the same time. In this kind of relationship, we feel loved, cherished, protected, and nurtured, and we are the truest and best version of ourselves.
With many years of my life still to explore, I feel extremely blessed and proud to have a handful of relationships that fit exactly into this description. I always knew they were great and special.
However, it was not until recently when I decided to take stock of my life that I seriously wondered what made them work so splendidly.
After much hindsight, reflection, and many earnest conversations, I discovered the five characters featured in the stories of all of my solid long-term relationships. They are Compatibility, Respect, Appreciation, Vulnerability, and Commitment.
Compatibility is someone from my professional circle who I’ve known for five years.
During the early stages, we bonded over shared interests and hobbies, including work projects, good food, theatre, and travel. We enjoyed picnics, saw classical plays, and went on business trips together. I saw her as a friendly colleague and a respectable mentor.
As our connection deepened, casual chats turned into more serious conversations.
This is when I discovered that we not only shared a taste for fun activities and goals for a meaningful and satisfying career but also had common values about matters of importance to us, such as political standpoint, moral philosophy, the environment, family, and money.
Despite the differences in our cultural background and life experiences, we continue to enrich each other’s lives. Whenever I see her, I feel understood, get excited, and turn from the quietest to the most talkative person I can be.
Respect is a friend of mine from university.
After spending our entire adult life as close friends, we’ve learned about each other’s dreams, fears, insecurities, and habits, gone on many adventures together, and can literally finish each other’s sentences without being in the same room.
We are inherently distinct people in many ways but, besides our similarities, it’s a mutual respect that glues us together.
First of all, we respect our unique identities, namely personality traits, lifestyles, and circles that define us, and stay friends for who we are, the good, the bad, and even the ugly.
For example, one weekend, we may make a trip to our favourite museum and restaurant; the next, I feel free to be my introverted self while she’s out being the social butterfly that she is.
Secondly, we respect each other’s goals and achievements.
In these modern times, when it is easy to get carried away with personal success and competition, it is comforting to be with someone who does this.
This person encourages us to pursue our passions and celebrates our success without feeling intimidated or envious. They are always willing to lend a helping hand but never interferes with fault finding or unsolicited advice because they trust us to be in the driving seat of our life and do a good job.
Last but not least, we respect our personal boundaries, which come in many shapes and forms.
We respect our material boundaries by understanding the value of our possessions and not taking them without permission. We respect our physical boundaries by not intruding into each other’s personal space.
By being punctual, we show respect for our time boundaries. By not dismissing, assuming, or taking feelings out on one another, we respect our emotional boundaries.
Finally, we respect our mental boundaries by allowing each other to voice opinions, even if they don’t align completely, and consulting each other before making decisions that affect us both.
Appreciation is my school friend of more than a decade.
She’s someone I initially could not imagine being attached to then ended up spending significant milestones of my life with. Over the years, we’ve seen each other at our best as well as our worst.
We’ve become intellectually, spiritually, and mentally connected. We hardly ever run out of ways to have fun and never doubt how we feel about each other. She taught me many life lessons and I’m incredibly grateful for having her in my life.
Appreciation is about learning and displaying each other’s love languages to actively show that we value each other’s presence and care about the things that bring us close.
This is reflected in not only grand gestures but also the most random and simple acts that we sometimes take for granted.
They can be: saying “Thank you”, “I miss you” and “I’m proud of you”; offering a warm hug; giving thoughtful gifts; doing nice things and favours for each other; and remembering and celebrating important occasions together.
Vulnerability is a younger friend who I happen to share a childhood home and many memories growing up with.
As an older sibling, for many years, I took it upon myself to pave the way forward, to protect her, and to be ready to give her guidance. This is exactly why learning to be vulnerable with her was a difficult but momentous breakthrough.
From my perspective, vulnerability starts with accepting and not being afraid to show that I am an imperfect human being who has feelings and doesn’t know all answers.
This manifests through owning up to my mistakes, letting myself cry in front of her, accepting help from her as a peer who can offer me valuable insights, and sometimes letting go of control to enable her to lead.
When I started being more vulnerable, my sister also reached out and opened up to me more often. What was already a stable relationship between us became an ever more concrete bond.
We’ve grown to be comfortable wearing our hearts on our sleeves, expressing our thoughts, and having faith in each other’s good intentions when we unintentionally do something that does not come across well.
Commitment is each of my parents, my most esteemed advisers, and my biggest fans.
I know our relationship is a priority because we care for our respective best interests and show up consistently.
To this day, it still warms my heart to think of when my dad wrote me a heartfelt birthday letter out of the blue or when my mom carved out time from her busy schedule to soothe me after I faced a major setback.
In exchange, I take responsibility for being a listener to their concerns, planning family getaways to give them a well-deserved treat, and calling them when I said I would because I know they worry easily.
Furthermore, we are committed to being a team with a shared vision and loyalty. This is especially important in times of difficulty and conflict, which are unavoidable in any type of partnership.
As we spend more years together, we invest in strengthening our connection, by establishing an open channel of honest communication that allows us to resolve differences in a healthy way.
Instead of broadcasting our issues, withdrawing from fights, putting each other down, digging up the past, or making comparisons, we try to adopt an “us versus the problem” mindset, show support for each other, and make compromises to meet halfway.
My family truly makes me believe that we are never too much for those who matter in our lives and who think the same about us.
Understanding the winning factors in my best relationships has given me a sense of wholeness and much-needed clarity in what to look for in all new ones.
I’d like to think that relationships are like seeds.
Once they are planted, depending on the environment that the gardeners cultivate, they either sprout or perish. Undeniably, deep-rooted and lasting companionships take work.
Nonetheless, when you surround yourself with people who are compatible, who you exchange respect and appreciation with, who allow you and themselves to be vulnerable and who are as willing as you are to commit, intimacy, trust, and love follow naturally.
As this virtuous cycle goes on, you, as a person, will blossom as well.