Don’t let the PERFECT be the enemy of the GOOD ~Voltaire
In a previous relationship help article (Relationship Perfection, Disappointments and Why Your Partner Will Fail You), I discussed the motivation and pitfalls of expecting to achieve emotional completeness with a loving-caring other, and why we’re often not fully conscious of our own desires to experience relationship perfection.
In today’s article, I’d like to offer what I consider a healthy (and realistic) option to striving for relationship perfection: Consciously creating the “good-enough” marriage/relationship. Let’s turn our attention to what a good-enough marriage/relationship might look like.
10 Features of the Good-Enough Marriage/Relationship
1. Expect good-enough
Our expectations have a profound impact on how we experience others (as well as how we think, feel and behave). So it’s important to raise awareness of your relationship expectations in order to discern which expectations are reasonable, which cause you both to grow and keep the relationship moving forward, and which are a recipe for frustrations and failure. Set the relationship bar high, but not out of reach.
Expect and anticipate mutual effort toward your relationships goals, as well as missteps along the journey; celebrate the wonders of each other (whenever such gifts happen to show up in your relationship) and always work toward improving the bad.
2. Acknowledgment of your own fallibility
When you acknowledge your fallibility, your inherent humanness, you are adopting a pro-relationship mindset that arises from the virtue of humility. In the good-enough relationship, humility takes center stage: In essence you are saying,
“We’re both going to make mistakes. This isn’t an excuse or a way to avoid taking responsibility, but the fact is that relationships take a lot of work and we will both screw up at times. Let’s accept our imperfections, not deny our blind-spots, and be kind to one another whenever those imperfections get in the way.”
3. Own your baggage
Creating and living a good-enough relationship is the result of heightened awareness of: How your current behaviors impact (positively or negatively) your spouse/partner; how his/her behavior impacts you; and how the shadows of your pasts (your unresolved family-of-origin emotional issues) continue to get in the way of creating a meaningful relationship.
4. Keep it honest
As part of your value system, it may seem like a no-brainer to make honesty a top priority in your relationship. Where couples get into trouble is when they allow emotional issues to go underground because they don’t want to hurt or upset one another—they start withholding from each other rather than respectfully and honestly speaking one’s truth (especially when one’s truth stirs strong reactions in each other).
When this type of honesty is lost, parts of your relationship go underground. And what goes underground at some point resurfaces with a vengeance—so keep it real and honest.
5. Understand your relationship rhythms
In the good-enough relationship mindset, couples realize that the levels of connection (emotional, physical, spiritual) will fluctuate. To expect a constant level of emotional connection is to expect perfection. There are many factors which impact the intensity and quality of the intimacy that can be achieved. Feeling a deep sense of connection may change because of circumstances outside the relationship (stress at work, illness of a friend) or because of what is transpiring within the relationship (unresolved disagreements, not enough time together).
These intimacy fluctuations mean that a process of closeness and greater distance is the norm; claiming and reclaiming intimacy is the relationship journey.
6. Fight the good fight
Some couples are conflict-phobic—they don’t like rocking the relationship boat, even when it’s obvious the boat is capsizing. Fighting for your marriage/relationship is a sign of commitment and love; fighting to prove your righteousness, however, is a form of relationship suicide. Fight the fight for a good-enough relationship, never fight to feel superior and better than your partner.
7. Nurture the positive
Research on successful marriages and relationships show that there need to be more positive than negative interactions for the union to remain strong. Couples mired in cycles of negativity lose hope and burn out. A good-enough relationship balances facing the difficult issues that need to be addressed while also celebrating and highlighting the positive. Build on activities that feed emotional intimacy.
8. Do together
Being in a relationship means acting and behaving like a couple. And couples spend time and do things together. This might seem obvious to you, but it’s an oft-overlooked fact for the hordes of couples who realize that they’ve grown apart and now feel like roommates or strangers. In the good-enough relationship, couples make it a priority to engage in activities that they can enjoy together—this might take some mutual exploration, but it’s well worth the effort.
9. Do apart
While it’s vital to prioritize and nurture your relationship, it’s just as important to nurture your individual pursuits and interests. A healthy marriage/relationship requires a balance between giving of yourself to your spouse/partner, receiving and accepting from him/her, but just as importantly, giving to yourself. Defining yourself only from the standpoint of the relationship can lead to self-atrophy and the painful sense that you’ve somehow lost your identity because of the relationship.
10. Surround the relationship with healthy relationships
You and your relationship do not and should not exist in isolation. For good or bad, what surrounds you impacts you—and the same goes for your relationship. When striving for a good-enough relationship, it’s important to remember that no relationship is immune from influences and forces outside the relationship. To this end, it’s important to connect with other couples who hold similar values and healthy expectations about their marriage/relationship.
These ten features of a good-enough marriage/relationship can be incorporated into any relationship/marriage—to do so involves creating a plan and then committing to some ongoing elbow grease to keep the plan implemented.
Remember, good-enough relationships include great moments, but these elevated moments aren’t unrealistically set as the litmus test for the entire relationship. It’s the day-to-day connection and the strength of the relationship overall that are the true markers of a solid union.
Here’s to creating a good-enough relationship!
Dr. Rich Nicastro