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Five Key Qualities of a Spouse, Partner or Friend

Relationships determine the success of your satisfying retirement. Humans are not built to be completely alone. Interaction with others of our species is essential to our mental , emotional, even physical health. 

Assuming that is true, then there must be some important qualities or traits exhibited by one person toward another that keeps us healthy and happy. There must be some baseline of interpersonal behavior we could look for in others, and follow ourselves. Here is my list of the top five qualities that experience has taught me are crucial to a long lasting relationship, be it marriage, partnership, or even a meaningful friendship:

1. Empathy: The ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes, to understand what motivates, disturbs, empowers, scares, and drives him is the only way to truly relate to that person's life. In a healthy relationship, one person should be able to empathize with what is concerning the other. This doesn't mean you must accept that line of reasoning or agree with what it is that is causing distress. But, you must be able to suspend your own thoughts long enough to accept what that person is feeling is valid to him or her.

2. Sympathy: Feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters. It is much more than verbal; sympathy is the ability to put aside judgment, one's own beliefs, and any initial reaction to a situation, to be sensitive and tolerant, kind and sharing another's pain or disappointment. Blame for what may be causing this need for sympathy can have no place in one's reaction.

3. Openness to change: A stagnant relationship is a dying or dead relationship. Life is about constant change. Being able to accept change in yourself and another person is the mark of a mature relationship. Thoughts like "She is not the person I married," or "He doesn't want what I want anymore" should be the mark of growth, not stress. 

Sentences like these indicate the other person is evolving, changing, learning from life while you are not. Would you really want to be married to someone who is exactly the same at 55 as he or she was at 25? Would you really want a meaningful friendship to be still based on the big football win in High School or the days as roommates after landing the first "real" job after college?

4. Listening: I found some fascinating statistics while researching this post. Most of us hear between 20-30,000 words a day. We retain less than 25% of what is said. Studies show men listen with half their brain while women use both lobes (hold the jokes, this is basic biology). 

Listening intently, with full attention, to what your spouse, partner or friend is saying is a mark of respect for that person. You are showing that what is being said is worth your effort to receive. Much like empathy, you don't have to agree with what is being said, but you must grant him or her the right to say it. Most importantly, you don't begin to form your response before the other person has stopped talking. You receive the entire message, then you respond, if appropriate. 

5. Acceptance: When you are in a meaningful relationship you have agreed to a high level of acceptance of the other person. Be it their looks, their world view, their educational level, their food and clothing choices, you are accepting.

As point #3 states, over time that person will change. Maybe not in ways that entirely please you, but in ways that you have committed to embrace. Of course, you are changing, too, so the acceptance works both ways. Never forget that. And, change isn't negative in this regard. Over time, the two of you may find that your shared points of view are more in sync that they once were. Then acceptance is much easier!

To keep this post a reasonable length I decided on five key traits. There are probably a dozen more that should be on this list. So, your turn. What belongs on the list of important qualities in a long term, health relationship?


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