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Perhaps there is no single factor that is as good for our mental health than being in a loving and kind partner relationship.
Benefits include unconditional support, caring and intimacy, and increased opportunity for personal growth and financial security. Such a relationship can also benefit partners’ families, children, employers and community.
Partnerships, when matured, provide a sense of purpose, connection, protection and meaning. In fact, science has found that in older loving couples, when one dies there is up to a 50-per-cent chance their partner may die within six months.
The brutal fact is, however, that many partnerships end up in divorce, or with individuals feeling trapped or in danger. In Canada, the sad statistic is that 38 per cent of couples end up divorced. Of the crime reported to police, 26 per cent is due to family violence, and researchers believe this statistic may be low because only 19 per cent of abused partners report to the police.
Why are so many partnerships failing, hurting or not thriving?
A relationship can be seen as a house that collapses because it was built on a faulty foundation. This micro-skill goal is to provide guidance for those who are about to build a new relationship or are thinking about doing so.
Too many of us are opportunistic. Metaphorically, many of us act unconsciously like the moth attracted to a light – not aware of the consequences of getting too close.
The light that creates first attraction can vary: status, money and physical appearances are examples. Go to almost any bar and observe the power of physical attraction that can become the sole foundation of a relationship. This is an example of a weak foundation.
Be aware that opportunistic attraction over time can often be misleading.
Before you interact with a partner, accept what you can control. You can control your behaviour, but you can never control another person’s free choice. Couples who thrive together do so because they choose to be together.
- Accept that without trust, you will not have a long-term future. Trust is earned, therefore building a relationship takes time. It’s a lifelong process, not just one decision.
- Accept that long-term expectations (e.g., we will be together forever) often kill relationships. Instead, daily common goals grow and sustain relationships (e.g., daily evidence of supporting and caring behaviours.)
- Accept that words matter but actions matter more.
Managing our head and heart can be challenging, so have a plan that provides you with a practical and evidence-based approach for building a long-term partnership.
1. Build your strategic partnership list
Write a potential partner list. Be clear on what you want and why. Keep in mind that once you build your list, you can change it. List only your major wants, the deal breakers over which you are never willing to compromise.
It can be challenging to write a list as it takes some reflection and perhaps discussion with trusted friends. Below is a sample:
- Values (e.g., honesty)
- Family (e.g., priority)
- Personality attributes (e.g., kindness)
- Money and career (e.g., income level)
- Physical attraction (e.g., body type)
- Intimacy (e.g., quality of sex)
- Common interests (e.g., animals)
- Passions (e.g., travel)
- Physical activity (e.g., golf)
- Lifestyle (e.g., non-smoker)
- Age (e.g., within 12 years)
2. Agree to a test flight
When you meet a partner who fulfills your list, you may want to take a test flight. Talk openly with your new potential partner about engaging in a test period before you would be willing to commit. If you do not feel safe talking openly and setting a goal, then most likely they are not ever going to be a partner.
Agree to your test-flight terms. For example, “if one year from today we feel like we do today, let’s discuss our next flight plan.” By removing time from the equation, it also removes expectations and pressure to commit to the long-term before you have evidence the person is who they claim to be or is acting to be.
After enough test flights, if things are working out as both want, then the partners may start creating specific flight destinations (e.g., living within the same space).
Couples who are in healthy and loving relationships who end up dying together, come to that point of privilege in their lives by making one decision at a time. They have chosen to be together, and have not stuck together simply because they felt they must.
Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.
You can find other stories like these at tgam.ca/workplaceaward.
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