First of all we need to be clear about what I mean by "relationship". In this instance I am talking of the long-term, bonded, probably sexual, live together partnership between two (or more) people — and regardless of the mix of genders of the partners.
So I've come up with ...
5 Keys to a Robust Relationship
It seems to me, as outlined on my website, that the best relationships operate at multiple levels with the partners dropping in and out of different roles at different times. Sometimes it will be lover-lover, sometimes parent-child (for instance when one partner is ill, or in fun), sometimes there will be child-child playtime. And so on.
Many things seem to spring from this. The more levels there are present the stronger the relationship is likely to be, although not all levels may be there all the time. Occasionally a level will go missing, and that may be when things feel out of kilter. That's fine as long as it returns after a while. And where a relationship is in trouble it is often because too many of the levels are absent for too long. Having a relationship which works only as lover-lover may be good for short-term lust but is unlikely to work long-term.
2. On-going Intimate Communication
There's an old adage I came across in business: Communicate, communicate, communicate. I wish more people would take it to heart, in business and in personal life.
Ongoing intimate communication between partners is essential for a healthy relationship. And by intimate I don't mean just about sex (though that is a highly important element) but communication about anything which is given in an open, honest, frank, straightforward and non-judgemental way — and is properly listened to, and considered, by the receiving partner. This builds respect and trust between the partners. Trust that the important things are being shared; trust that each partner can accept the other as they are; trust that any problem, great or small, can be discussed and worked through. Respect for the other person's opinion and values, even if you don't agree with them.
3. Mutual Trust and Respect
Trust and respect have to be built, preferably early on in the relationship. As we've seen above, communication is one key aspect of this. Openness and honesty are essential. It almost boils down to "do what you say and say what you do". Certainly keep your commitments (unless there is really good reason you can't in which case explain, honestly, as soon as possible beforehand why you can't).
Respect the other person's opinions and values, even if you yourself are unable to agree with them. We each hold our opinions and values for a reason (which we may not know) so they have an importance to us. So don't attack them or ridicule them. Discuss them by all means, in a civilised way, but accept that you may not come to mutual agreement, just mutual understanding of each others' views.
As that builds, early in the relationship, it should become apparent that you could trust your partner with your last shirt or your best mate. If you can't maybe you shouldn't be in the relationship?
4. Shared Bed
In my view sharing a bed is an equally key element of a relationship. You are going to spend 30%+ of your time in there so make sure it is a comfortable bed, which is big enough and soft (or hard) enough.
Physical intimacy is important. That doesn't mean it has to be sexual. A lot of the time it will not be sexual. Just the proximity of your partner should be something you cherish, something comforting. However miserable or depressed you feel, or however much you are out of sorts with each other, it is hard to fall asleep together without making up.
Even after many years together what better than to fall asleep embracing, to wake in the middle of the night to stroke your (sleeping) partner's body, to wake in the morning and cuddle into consciousness?
And if you can sleep in the nude, well it gets even better. Get a warm(-enough) duvet so you don't need pyjamas, knickers or socks and enjoy the delight of lying skin-to-skin.
5. Shared Meals
To me shared meals are also an important factor. If you are both working they may be the only time you get to sit and talk together, or as a family. For us evening meal is sacrosanct time. Time when we eat together, at the dining table, without the TV, book or computer game. Time to enjoy food and to talk. When we were both working it was often the only hour of the day when we could guarantee we were together, not pre-occupied and awake enough to be sentient. Thus it becomes important communication time and important decision-making time — we often sit for some while after finishing eating just talking, about whatever the subject at hand is: do we need to take the cat to the vet; shall I go to that conference next month; should we buy a new freezer; shall we have another bottle of wine.
Having said that, it is important to remember that meals are primarily about food, and enjoying food. What better way than to do this together, with a bottle of wine. And we often discuss food while we eat: ideas for recipes, what do we fancy eating at the weekend, does the wine rack need restocking. Most importantly of all, being together and enjoying food.
So there we have it. Five keys to a robust relationship, which boil down to communication, trust & respect and enjoyment.
Every relationship still has to be continually worked at. And each relationship will be different; working in its own peculiar way. Nonetheless I feel these principles will be the essence of any worthwhile, long-term successful relationship.
They certainly seem to be working for us!