Sunday, July 22, 2012


Some may wonder if I’m qualified to expound on the “secrets” of any “happy” and successful relationship” given that I’ve been married twice. Some may label me a “two time loser” though I’ve learned a lot in my 69 years and on that basis alone (I’ve been a good student) pretty much understand what the so-called “secrets” are.  But, with my humanity I was unable to put into effective practice (despite counseling) a sufficient number to recover those relationships. Granted these were two-way streets with lots of issues not of my creation.  While I won’t totally throw myself under the bus and while trite to say it - I certainly have accepted a grand share of the responsibility.

When a Friend and co-worker who had recently slain the dragon of deception and rejection asked me what the three ingredients of a successful relationship were, I paused as I wanted to preface any offerings by first making the point that given a sincere, honest and mature commitment between two people, most of this elemental advice is a given.  For those in successful relationships, you already get it. You know there is no great mystery or conventions of behavior, only a common sense, honest approach to the vagaries of living life in a committed relationship.  The key word is committed. If that word isn’t in your working vocabulary/heart/soul then no amount of advice will work.  Don’t waste your time by reading the rest of this post and understand that all your relationships will probably be short lived.

So for those successful folks there are no “secrets” though surely they can be fodder for inane posts (?) and the sometimes superficial window dressing for those other long-in-the-tooth, idyllic, exclamatory and nostalgic folks married for fifty years (or more) exclaiming and pronouncing their success and all because they followed certain cardinal rules. Now, mind you, they mostly offer good advice especially for inexperienced folks sincerely striving for that level of success.

So, we will now also offer the obvious - that the world of yesterday and today even from my parents’ generation to now, are as different as comparing the Puritans to the Unitarian Universalists. The world has changed and basic issues like communication while easier now are far more complicated (AFAIR). My generation of WWII babies followed by the fully liberated Boomers set the stage for this change which remains, thankfully, a work in progress.  

We surfed around the Internet to see what other folks were saying with many well intended couples offering their opinions and indictments of their imperfect understandings of the complete relationship.  I noted a few “cleave/bend unto me” and 180 degrees away from “obey and submit,” outdated specifics on how to deny and discourage any amorous overtures from a partner.  We rejected all as the symptoms of previous ages and repressive societies. No, they don’t work in the here and now…

Now come some of the hackneyed and clichéd offerings that still stand the tests of time though seem more appropriate to an introductory primer. We aren’t going to elaborate on the physical aspects of a relationship, just concede that it is an important part of a successful relationship.  We’re going to touch on a few pointers - just for starters - understanding that you first need have the maturity to make smart decisions based on the right criteria and then positively build the relationship. In short, you gotta wanna…   

Be good Friends - know what you need to know and to the best of your ability understand your partner before moving in together, putting ink to paper or tying the knot – no child molesters or axe murders please!  Engaging any relationship is a challenge and knowing right up front that along with the happily-ever-after, even perfectly matched people cannot always enjoy that delicious perfect harmony all the time.  Successful couples are motivated by the assumption and understanding that life is sharing all the good times and the bad – happiness and hardship. The mature realize that the “for better or for worse” premise is real, accurate, will probably be part of their future and that, Ladies and Gentlemen, requires commitment. Mature couples in truly successful, committed relationships love each other despite their faults and reject the mantra of instant gratification in our mostly disposable society. 

Listen, listen and then listen some more. I’m still working on that. Listening is the most challenging and difficult aspect of all communication and will have a major impact on the quality and ultimate success of all your relationships, personal and business. Active, aggressive listening skills are absolutely critical, period.  If you don’t understand how your partner feels then you have essentially given your relationship the death penalty.  Successful couples keep communicating, whatever and however difficult the topic and the circumstances.
Psychologists tell us that the ability to negotiate disagreements and differences of opinion to the degree you both feel OK is absolutely critical.  Just look what domination and the inability to collaborate and negotiate has done in Washington, DC – stalemate and contentious division. My Mother always repeated the old maxim, counseling us to always clear the air following a disagreement then learn, move on and never go to bed angry. Well, wonder of wonders, scientists now tell us that retiring and, “…going to sleep after experiencing negative emotions appears to reinforce or preserve them.” Mother was always right… always having the last word and winning at whatever cost is actually losing.  Agreeing to disagree is OK and knowing when not to push an issue over the top and keeping everything in context is a key relationship building skill.

Those that know me and read this post understand my HR roots and have heard me expound on the virtue of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. His tenets despite some contemporary controversy are as alive and applicable today as they were in 1943.  In any relationship when you satisfy the basic needs of an individual you can then move on to the two top tiers of Maslow’s Pyramid – Esteem (Respect) and then on to Self-Actualization where individuals, “reach a state of harmony and understanding” allowing them to proceed on to their full potential.  Well, my take is a little different from Maslow in that I think the mature and committed are in all those modes - probably most of the time - with the difference being a level of consciousness.
Mutual respect leads to a greater sense of worth that times two is a critical part of the formula for success. With trust and respect outdated and repressive concepts like domination and submission remain in the marriage manuals of the nineteenth century and before.  Mutual respect becomes the critical catalyst for the evolution of the healthy relationship.

Couples that fall into the trap of taking each other for granted are in for a rocky ride. Share household chores and don’t wait to be asked.  If something has to be done – just do it.  It’s also another great way to share time and what should be a reflexive, involuntary opportunity to walk the walk and be a real partner. 

It's tempting, once together, to forget polite and respectful protocol - little courtesies like opening the door, standing when your lady, an older person or VIP enters the room, serving your partner first or even when walking on the sidewalk concede the wall side - protecting them from the street and demonstrating your respect at the same time. These are not outdated niceties and do not diminish equal status in any partnership.

An aside here – I worked for a Japanese company for many years and while I found some of their practices as relates to women objectionable, I always admired their corporate culture and the courtesies extended each other.  We can learn a lot from the Japanese especially by the way they share meals.  For example, at the table you never pour your own drink and you always pour your partner’s glass.  Meals served in a business setting follow the same protocol where one never fills their own glass.  Meals are perceived as the opportunity to build and enhance business relationships. That’s an easy segue into a personal environment.

As a senior officer of the 78th Fraser’s Highlanders I would attend periodic “smokers,” essentially cocktail parties where we would entertain new candidates for The Regiment. There were hors d’oeuvres, lots of single malt and several Miladies of The Regiment. We engaged the candidates, got to know them better and carefully watched how they handled themselves socially, especially with the Miladies. Those that did not demonstrate the proper sensibilities, etiquette and respect were not invited back. Yes, organizations that uphold and embrace those values still exist.      
And now the coup de grâce which goes sideways with just about every relationship counselor and all the marriage manuals I have seen but appears to be real in our society today.  That one elusive element is pure unadultered luck, being at the right place at the right time; to be in the position to meet that best, right person even to start the process or when that greatest challenge happens it all seemingly works out?  Embracing luck as a component of a successful relationship does not diminish the verities of hard work which probably put you in that position.  Indeed, one does not come without the other - hard work and effort begat luck.  They go hand in hand. … you make your own bed – good or bad - but then you have to know the difference.  I have seen relationships where love was abiding and central to that relationship yet still failed though with a little luck they would have continued to flourish.

So, all the above along with some timely luck that will put you in that exclusive club of happy and committed couples who get it and make it happen.  Always live your days together to the fullest and strive to appreciate, as President Obama has stated, “that tension between familiarity and mystery.” Don’t necessarily hold anything back but keep spontaneity and surprise a part of your relationship. Love your partner like there is no tomorrow.

Then get down on your hands and knees and thank God for the miracle of it all.


Ned Buxton

Dedicated to CE who will flourish and find that right partner worthy of her attentions.  Aye, NB

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