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An Essential Skill for Building Satisfying Relationships

By Will Limón, MSW, author of The Rebuilding Workbook

Do you want satisfaction in your love relationship? You can get it if you understand and act on this important principle: Relationships are Behavior. Regardless of what you or your partner think and feel, the actual relationship is the interaction between the two of you. Use this principle to find and maintain the relationship you desire.

“What do you mean?” you may ask. “I love my partner and she loves me.” How do you know? Consider the couple at Sunday brunch. She’s reading the paper while he loads the dishes and scrubs the griddle. She’s thinking how nice it is that he cooked and now cleans up the kitchen. Though this pleases her and brings up feelings of love, she says nothing. He may guess that she’s appreciative, but without her expressing it in some fashion, her feelings of love remain just that: her feelings. Unshared, they are not a part of the relationship. However, if she shows her love through words or actions, then a connection is made, and it enters the relationship fabric.

Consider what it feels like to be respected. But what are the behaviors that lead you to believe that your partner respects you? Perhaps it’s listening without interruption when you speak, or helping you when you ask, or giving you space when you need it, or taking over one of your chores when you’re tired. It’s your interpretation of your partner’s words and actions that form your perception of respect. In the same way, your partner experiences the relationship by evaluating your words and actions. Consciously communicating the behaviors that fulfill desires can lead to positive connection and is the key to creating relationship satisfaction.

Here’s what you can do to make this principle work for you:

1. Make a list of what you want to experience in a relationship, e.g., love, respect, caring, kindness, excitement, sexual fulfillment, companionship, and so on.

For each item on your list, write down specific behaviors that bring you the experience you desire. Use the previous example on respect to guide you. Remember, a behavior is observable; not what you think or feel.

2. Depending on your current situation, use this list to make your relationships more satisfying.

If you’re not in a love relationship and want to be:

Share your list with trusted friends. Discuss the behaviors in your friendship that make it special. With new dating partners, communicate your desires and share the specific behaviors that satisfy them. This need not be complicated. Reinforce positive behavior, e.g., “I really like it when you’re punctual. I feel respected,” or, “I felt cared for with your thoughtful phone call. Thank you.” Be aware of whether or not they respond appropriately and share in kind. This tells you a great deal about the other person.

If you’re in a love relationship:

Both partners make a list and share with each other. Discuss how this feels. Check out the specifics so that each partner clearly understands. Remember, clear communication is “shared meaning.” In addition to giving positive reinforcement as in the previous examples, you can also gently give corrective feedback, e.g., “I know you’ve had a tiring week, but it really helps me when you let me know ahead of time what chores you must let slide. That way I feel valued and part of a team.” Strive to behave toward each other using these desired actions.

If your love relationship recently ended:

Compare your list to what actually occurred in the recently ended relationship. See what worked and what didn’t. Make it part of your healing process to determine how you could have communicated better and acted differently. Change your behavior in future relationships. Stay aware that relationships are behavior when choosing a future partner.

Being mindful that a relationship is comprised of interactions between partners will keep you grounded in reality, not stuck in fantasy or in longing for what you’d like to have. Also, it reminds you to be specific in teaching another what you want so the other person can care for you in ways that are meaningful. It also helps you keep learning and acting on the specifics of what your partner may want in turn. This interaction fosters the relationship satisfaction everyone desires.

Will Lmón, MSW, is education coordinator for, helping individuals through  Rebuilding seminars on divorce recovery, and training professionals to facilitate the program. For over forty years, he has written about and presented seminars on divorce recovery, relationships, communication, and energetic healing to thousands of participants. He is author (with contributing writer Nina Hart-Fisher) of The Rebuilding Workbookfor healing from relationship loss, and the internationally published Beginning Again, among others.

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