Ask around. Go ahead, do it. Ask people what they think is the greatest predictor of relationship happiness.
You’ll get a lot of different answers — answers like common interests or shared faith. Some will say that you’ll know because the relationship will be just so damn easy. Others will credit an absence of conflict while others still will state a feeling of intense passion and connection. There are a lot of answers, and while I think that all these answers have a certain amount of validity, I’d like to posit a different theory.
I think our relationships are only as happy — and as healthy — as we are.
If we want to predict relationship happiness, we don’t need to look for relationships absent of conflict.
I can guarantee that any relationship with no conflict whatsoever is either dealing with denial, avoidance, or both. It’s not that conflict doesn’t exist; it’s just not being acknowledged or addressed. Just because the relationship is absent of arguing doesn’t mean it’s healthy or fulfilling.
But there’s a faction that thinks the existence of constant conflict is related to passion, intensity, and chemistry. They attribute that push-pull relationship to the success of the union. This often occurs in dysfunctional, abusive, and codependent relationships. Constant arguing isn’t exactly what most of us would call relationship happiness, regardless of how spectacular the makeup sex might be.
When I say that our relationships are only as healthy as we are, what I mean is that we have to be able to work on our own issues first and foremost rather than hoisting them on our partners to deal with. If we need self-esteem and self-love, we don’t need to wait expectantly for our significant other to hand it over. We have to develop that for ourselves.
It’s the same with personal growth. We all have trauma and triggers and less-than-ideal ways of handling conflict. Instead of expecting our partners to do all the work to make us feel better, we need to direct our attention to dealing with our own shit.
By exploring and healing our own pain, we can be stronger partners in relationships.
At the same time, the health of a relationship isn’t predicated on the willingness of one person to work on it.
One person cannot save the relationship, no matter what popular media tries to tell us. It really does take two. Personal growth should be happening with each partner for the strongest possible relationship outcome. Then, with a strong growth game at an individual level, we can then address conflict in our relationships while showing each other respect, courtesy, and empathy. We can have the uncomfortable conversations that come with asking for what we need within relationships and dealing with conflict as it arises.
Conflict will arise — no matter how healthy the relationship we’re in is or how well we’re doing individually.
In the past, I was an expert at avoiding conflict.
I would rarely speak my truth, and when I did, I didn’t speak it effectively. I either lived in denial, settled for never getting my needs met, engaged in unhealthy arguments, or did some combination of all of that. My relationships were far from happy or healthy, and they ended badly.
It’s not that conflict didn’t exist. It’s that I was in relationships that weren’t partnerships. I had significant others who were either unable to deal with their own issues or refused to address the ones that arose within the relationship, but mostly it was a combination of both of these things. We weren’t in it together, that much I knew. I was on my own.
When the relationships didn’t work out, I had to figure out how to be alone, how to work on my own issues, and how to break the cycle of toxic relationships.
When I entered my current relationship, I was determined to do things differently.
In fact, at the time I ended up in it, I was taking a time-out from dating. I waited for the right person, not just any person. But I knew that I couldn’t go back to my old conflict-avoidant ways. I would do better because I knew that I couldn’t be true to myself if I didn’t.
But I honestly thought it would be easier. I’d made the determination to do better, but I thought it would somehow feel easier to face conflict with all this newfound personal growth and maturity. I’d had the time to consider how I would handle things during my time being single, and I was sure that when it came time to practice these concepts, it would seem second-nature.
Well, I thought wrong. It’s still hard. It’s still uncomfortable. I don’t do it perfectly- or even well. But I absolutely believe it’s worth it, and I’m invested. I keep trying because I believe that the only way to have a healthy relationship is to be able to work on my issues and to have the type of relationship dynamic where communication is open and conflicts are addressed.
For the first time in my life, I feel a sense of calm- not comfort- about addressing how I feel.
I seek clarity instead of making assumptions, and I’m more capable of asking for what I need now than at any prior point in my life, though it still feels challenging. I can honor my partner’s needs and still address my own.
It’s not fun, and I wish it was easier at times. But this is what strengthening a relationship looks like. It looks just like dealing with our feelings, and sometimes not doing such an awesome job of it. It looks like screwing up and having to apologize, make amends, and do better. It looks like being patient with our partners when they do the same. It looks like misunderstandings and getting clarity and making the effort to keep connecting even when it’s not easy.
I fully believe that relationship happiness is, in part, predicated on our ability to work through conflict.
Of course, many people who’ve been married so long they’ve become smug about it will say that divorce mostly happens because people won’t work through conflict and just give up. I’d like to call bullshit on this particular theory simply because, again, one person cannot save a relationship, and some relationships aren’t healthy enough to be saved in the first place.
So, I will say that I think happiness in a relationship is possible when both partners work on themselves and are willing to work together to address challenges as they arise in the relationship. It takes a team effort, and it doesn’t always work out. Our best efforts won’t guarantee some assured relationship outcome. I do think that this approach gives us the best possible opportunity to truly be happy in our relationships.
While I maintain that this willingness to see conflict as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship is a huge predictor of relationship happiness, I also think that there’s another factor that I will always credit as the strongest sign that a relationship will make it: that’s luck.
That sense of having had the good fortune to choose and be chosen by the ones we love is a powerful part of feeling willing to address discomfort and conflict in relationships. That lucky feeling and feeling of total gratitude for the one we’re with is significant, particularly when it’s shared with our partners.
If we want to predict relationship happiness, that’s the key. We feel blessed that our partners are in our lives, we’re willing to address conflict as it comes up, and we’re taking responsibility for our own happiness. I’m not saying our relationships will last forever, but I’m saying it just might give us the best possible chance.