What makes a relationship work?

The secret to a successful relationshipSometimes the most interesting conversations are born while doing the most mundane of tasks, like putting away the groceries. Case in point: T recently asked, “Why is it that we never fight, and everyone else seemingly has such major problems?”

Well, a lot of the people he knows are just prone to drama. That’s how they live. That aside…

I can honestly say I got a lot out of my first (and only other) real relationship. I got a lot of my immature and destructive behaviours out of my system. Today, I’m a lot more adjusted. More stable, emotionally. More secure. It helps when your partner (oops, fiance!) is happy to show affection and loves freely and unabashedly.

And just generally, age has put paid to some of those tendencies anyway. I do recall a few incidents in the early days of our relationship that I’d rather forget; I’ll just plead teenagerism, thanks. That, and maybe drinking – I rarely do that anymore, but certainly a few cringeworthy, diva moments on my part back then were alcohol-fuelled.

Not that we haven’t had our ups and downs. We broke up once, for a few days, in that first year. But thankfully, I was not too proud to go around and say that maybe I was too hasty in calling it quits. And we certainly argued about money after moving in together. And again, nearly gave up on it all during the dark days of 2009, aka, the long employment drought (I think I’ll avoid looking for a post to link back to in this case…). We were going around in circles, having the same arguments, stuck in an expensive lease for a damp house in a bad area.


I don’t believe any relationship is infallible. We have committed to getting married, but as strong as we are together, I can’t say for sure that there’s nothing that could split us up.

But the thing we have going for us is that we essentially share the same morals and priorities. We say, and show, that we care – every day.


Sometimes we snap at each other, but we’re big enough to know we don’t mean it. It’s just fatigue, or hunger, or another external factor talking. Sometimes this takes some lip-biting and silent huffing and a lot of patience, but it beats silly arguments for the sake of it. Mostly.

Over the years, we’ve gotten used to each other’s ways, where some of our friends are only just beginning to discover how many things a couple can clash about. Credit is due here to him; he’s really good at smoothing things over, and hates having the air hang heavy over us for long. And we are insanely comfortable with each other: No topic is off-limits for us.


Also,  he knows to defer to me, because I usually know best 😛

Latest case in point? I brought up the name changing thing last week, and he didn’t even argue (it’s been a point of debate in the past). Trust me, I hate my surname, but it’s mine, and it’s my byline. Changing was never an option; his name after mine sounds ridiculous, and it’s not any less unusual, either.

Thoughts? Are the three Cs – communicate, compromise, compatibility – what matter?

14 thoughts on “What makes a relationship work?

  • Reply Kim March 18, 2011 at 10:13

    I teeter between the theory that any relationship will take a lot of commitment and effort, and one that basically says if you’re with your soul mate, who you’re passionately in love with, then things will work out. I guess it’s a commitment versus love thing, not that they’re necessarily mutually exclusive. For the most part, I believe in both, and that both are necessary to make a relationship work and last.

    One crucial thing that I learned through experience is to not always expect the cookie-cutter, Hollywood type of big love, all the time. This goes hand in hand with avoid comparing your relationship with others – many relationships that seem perfect on the surface are bitter and contentious, and vice versa. I think it’s natural for people to fall out of love a bit at times, and that the kind of crazy, over the top, always-passionate love that is touted by Hollywood and ads around valentines day are not sustainable in the long run.

    I read this in a magazine, didn’t think much of it at the time, but now I’m a firm believer in it. The magazine asked people who are in long, happy marriages for their tips of a sustainable relationship, and one person said “the key our happy marriage is that we never fall out of love with each other at the same time”. There has to be at least one person willing to make it work at times, as long as it’s not always the same person, the relationship as a fighting chance.

  • Reply eemusings March 18, 2011 at 10:15

    That was beautiful, Kim, and so true. I love that quote.

    I think comparing yourself to others in any aspect of life is a recipe for unhappiness. Everything that Hollywood portrays is just a fantasy.

  • Reply Amber from Girl with the Red Hair March 18, 2011 at 13:19

    I really, really like this post.

    I think, like people, each and every relationship is beautifully different. Just because one couple bickers over who should do the dishes every night and another couple NEVER bickers doesn’t mean that one is more likely to last than the other.

    I also firmly believe that those feelings of MAD, PASSIONATE love don’t last forever, but rather happen on-and-off throughout the relationship. I obviously felt that way at the beginning of mine and Eric’s relationship (as most women probably do) but there was a time (when we were going through some tough stuff) that I didn’t feel THAT in love with him (that sounds bad but it’s hard to explain. Basically I loved him but didn’t feel head-over-heels, passionately in love). Then over the last year my mad, passionate, so-in-love love has suddenly come back with a vengeance.

    I’m sure at some point in our relationship, when we are going through a hard time, it will wane off again but I’m reassured to know it will always come back too 🙂

  • Reply Lindy Mint March 18, 2011 at 14:21

    The three C’s pretty much sum it up for me. I don’t think there is anything that can’t be worked out unless one person stops trying.

    I have a friend who thrives on drama and arguments, and always was attracted to equally fiery guys with whom she fought constantly. Then she ended up finding the right match for her, and they never fight.

    There will always be ups and downs and contentions that require both people to bend, but as long as you’re on the same team, you’ll be okay.

  • Reply Daisy March 18, 2011 at 14:33

    I think they all matter. I think compatibility comes in different ways – for instance, most people wouldn’t see my boy and me as compatable. He takes things slow, I like to rush stuff. He’s patient, I’m super impatient. He’s quiet, I’m social. He’s careful, I throw caution to the wind.
    But then as you get into relationships for longer, you (or I did, anyway) tend to adopt the other halves tendancies.
    I am now a planner at the best of times. I am now a tiny (& I mean tiny) bit more patient. He’s a bit more social. I’m more of a homebody.

  • Reply nicoleandmaggie March 18, 2011 at 15:59

    Very mature!

    We don’t understand why some people put up with (encourage?) relationship drama either. http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/the-mommy-boards-are-making-me-sad-again/

  • Reply SP March 18, 2011 at 16:40

    Does everyone else (your friends) really have major problems? Most of the coupled up people I know (and I’ll readily admit to a relatively small circle of friends) seem to have quite stable and seemingly normal relationships.

    I think that I’d add respect to the list of very very important things. I know this mostly because I didn’t respect my previous boyfriend in the same way I respect my husband, and it was toxic to our relationship. Mutual respect. And yes, you can love someone without completely respecting them, or at least you can when you are 19 and silly.

  • Reply Emily Jane March 19, 2011 at 02:07

    This was a fantastic post. I think an open mind is a key part of relationship success too – being open to the other person’s actions, thoughts and feelings being different than your own, and open to them being just as valid, and actually paying attention to WHY they may be different instead of “they’re different, therefore we’re going to argue about it.” Also, big picture thinking 🙂

  • Reply First Gen American March 19, 2011 at 03:58

    I think I just don’t like fighting and neither does my husband. He does get annoyed that I slam the back door all the time. I will eventually learn though. I just say “keep telling me” and I’ll eventually remember not to slam the door. I think if people are willing to work on the little things that drive us crazy that’s 1/2 the battle.

  • Reply Clare - Never Niche March 19, 2011 at 04:24

    So thought provoking!

    Having been through a few relationships myself, I think the formula for true success is mutual adoration. People can be different as day and night, dramatic, argumentative, and so on, but if you truly adore one another, the willingness to make it work is instilled because you don’t ever want to give them up. So you’ll put up with the things that bother you and they will as well.

    After a bad break-up a few years ago with an ex that bullied and criticized constantly, a friend’s mother told me, “Clare, don’t even go on a first date with someone that doesn’t obviously adore you.” I stuck to her advice and I’ve been with D. for over a year now and have never been treated better or been more in love. Neither of us are perfect but I adore him too, meaning there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him.

  • Reply Amanda March 19, 2011 at 11:02

    Firstly – congrats on the engagement!
    And secondly, I found that post really interesting to read – for so, so many reasons.

    Being 19 (gah, not for much longer!) myself, the main chunk of my friends are between my age, and about 21-3. It’s been funny for me recently, because all of a sudden I took a second to pause and reflect on the fact that it seems so many people i know are in long-term relationships. Heck, the mere fact that *I* myself have finally committed to someone – to the point where I’ve gotten over my fear of being someone’s girlfriend – is saying a lot.

    I think that I agree with your point about age: my boyfriend and I were initially “sort of together” 2 years ago, when I was in 7th form, and he was 2nd year at uni (but hes only 15 months older than me), and that just didn’t want to work out. We were at a completely different point in our lives where we thought if we did everything to not complicate things, everything would be chill. Wrong. The “trying not to complicate things” itself made everything more complicated – because we withheld things, didn’t communicate 100%. We were younger, wanted different things at that point in time, and then went through the past 2 years in a love/hate rela/friend-ish-ship with each other. And suddenly we’re back together.

    I keep thinking “how is it that there is nothing wrong?” – we don’t fight, there’s no drama, and no complications, and it’s not like we’re TRYING to make it that way, it just is. So I guess that means now that we’re older, we’ve managed to nail communicating well (learnt from the first time) and compromise better? Although I can’t think of anything we really compromise over except when to see each other now that uni has started, since we’re both extremely busy. Oh, and the fact that i like to stay up all night and sleep all day, and he’s the opposite? Since compatibility was never a problem, so I guess we just had to grow up.

    Anyway, sorry for that long, long ramble. I’m basically just saying how yes, I think you’re right – communication, compromise and compatibility is the key.

  • Reply Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog March 19, 2011 at 14:15

    I think that there’s quite a bit that goes into making things work the way you see it in your friends or on tv or whatever. I think communication and understanding are probably the two biggest pieces of the puzzle because no one has had the exact same life story and upbringing, so that skews your views a lot.
    Learning to let go and just leave things alone that dont matter is pretty big too – it’s not worth getting upset over something lame.

  • Reply The Secret to Making Relationships Work April 3, 2011 at 23:59

    […] What makes a relationship work? (eemusings.wordpress.com) […]

  • Reply jane June 8, 2011 at 18:30

    Love your blog.

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