How to know if you’re in a good relationship

It’s Valentine’s Day, and this one has been in the pipe for a while, so I might as well finish it.

closerThe question is: how do you tell if you’re in a good relationship or not?

 

[Warning: answer comes with major disclaimer(s)]

First: what do I even know?

Well … to be frank I do have a few experiences to back this one up. Some relationships were okay, and several were very good; but one, most recently, was truly exceptional. You guessed it, the last one was exceptional because we “made it” all the way to marriage. Hurrah for me. I can tell you’re thrilled. My horn has been tooted.

The point is, I have tried it a number of different ways (innuendo sustained), and considered this question myself, many many times. It is almost always a hard question to answer. Inevitably, the answer was “no” in every case except this last one.

Along the way, I noticed a few helpful indicators. Maybe if I share, you can skip some steps.

Answer one: Silliness

Does your significant other (SO) make you smile? Does he make you laugh. Does she make you act more silly than usual?

If so: good. It’s a very, very good sign.*

When I say “silliness”, what I mean is this: when two people start enjoying each other (in private and public) in a way that entails stupid jokes, silly faces, dumb sounds, ridiculous dances and charades, and so on. Basically, if you happen to be doing these things and your friends make vomit sounds in disapproval, then you’re likely on the right track.

Here’s why: most people need to feel pretty safe to get to this point. If you and your SO love laughing together so much that you don’t mind drawing the ridicule of your other friends, it’s likely because you feel accepted. And acceptance is a huge, huge deal. It is the beginning of, and/or the result of, real genuine love.

So the presence of laughter and silliness is in fact an indicator of a growing, healthy bond between two people — in many cases, at least. It’s not foolproof, but there’s a strong correlation, we’ll say.

Answer two: No Fear

As I said, silliness is just an indicator of acceptance. It’s not the only one, but it’s a common and helpful one.

By contrast, when this acceptance is not present, people put on masks and safe faces. They keep their guard up, keep their usual gambits in place, and perhaps have a hard time digging down to a true level of intimacy with their SO. Why? Fear! Because what happens if you reveal the deeper stuff, and you’re met with rejection? — or worse, apathy? That stuff hurts like balls. Once upon a time, you may have opened up some inner vulnerability to your SO, and it was met with derision or indifference. Man that sucks. This kind of trauma makes you armor up. Bad times.

But let’s rewind and play back the alternate ending. What if you reveal the hidden awkward uncomfortable self to your SO, and it’s met with acceptance, empathy, compassion, and embrace? That is beautiful stuff!

What does this do to a person?

It makes them less afraid of life, that’s what!

Down at the bottom of things, we are all greasy messed up knots of dysfunction. And most people know this, privately. So there is a certain insecurity to the human condition, where at any moment, we fear that we’ll be called out, judged, reviled, found unworthy, and condemned.

But if in that moment of your nakedness, your SO says “Wow, you’re as rotten as I am, so let’s stick this out together” … suddenly that insecurity begins to unravel. Suddenly a person begins to feel okay in their own skin, from surface to deeps. Suddenly it doesn’t matter if they look like a fool in public. Not as much, anymore.

Even the writers of the New Testament knew this: perfect loves casts out fear. Wa-bam! It’s for real.**

So the bigger picture is this: when two people begin to encounter each other’s rottenness, and still don’t turn away in revulsion, it is really the beginning of something impressive. Something worth hanging onto, even. Because that lack-of-revulsion, that compassionate embrace, is the foundation of love.

Disclaimers:

*People enter into relationships for different reasons, in different seasons. Everyone’s got their own morality. And while some elements from every story can be generalized, every story is also entirely unique. Thus, this entire post should be taken lightly. It would be serious folly to offer any categorical answer on such a deep topic, in 750 words. There, my ass is covered.

**Jesus, it turns out, is the ultimate SO, who looks us deep in the dark heart and says “Yes please”.

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