Years ago, I stumbled upon a video on Mark Manson’s website that radically changed my views on what makes a relationship great. It addressed three core elements that need to be present in any relationship – romantic or not – if you don’t want it to turn into a toxic wasteland. In this article, I’ll explain and summarise what I learned from that video.
(Feel free to check out Mark’s video for yourself here. Just note that you have to be a paid member to watch it.)
A healthy relationship comprises many elements – efficient communication, sturdy boundaries, sound compatibility, secure attachment styles in both partners, etc. However, three elements stand out from the bunch in terms of importance. These three principal elements are mutual respect, trust, and affection.
Yes, these three simple values can make or break your relationship. If yours lacks even just one of them, the other two begin to diminish as well.And when that happens – when your relationship doesn’t have respect, trust, and affection intact anymore, love begins to fade as well.
And while it is possible to save a relationship devoid of affection or respect, it’s virtually impossible to turn around one where there’s no trust. We can even argue that trust is the foundation for any healthy relationship, while respect and affection only additional layers build upon it.
Below, I’ll dive into the importance of trust, respect, and affection and discuss how you can develop these three elements to better your relationships.
Trust is another one of those terms without a precise definition, so nailing it down is often tricky. the American Heritage Dictionary defines it as a “firm belief in the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing; confidence or reliance.”
In essence, if mutual trust is not present in your relationship, the whole thing becomes dysfunctional and brittle. But if it is present – and hearty – it makes both partners feel more secure, and helps cultivate a stronger emotional bond between them. Moreover, all of the benefits of mutual trust contribute to the greater overall satisfaction of one’s relationship.
So yeah, trust rocks! But how does one develop it?
Well, it’s simple. Trust develops automatically over time with the accumulations of many tiny connection-focused interactions between two people in a relationship.
“Trust is built in very small moments, which I call ‘sliding door’ moments. In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner. One such moment is not important, but if you’re always choosing to turn away, then trust erodes in a relationship- very gradually, very slowly.”
— By John Gottman
So every time you have an honest, vulnerable, or pleasing conversation with your partner, trust develops. Every time you’re showing each other devotion, affection, or admiration, trust develops. Every time you meet each other’s emotional needs– what do you know – trust develops.
It’s also worth noting that it’s natural for trust to fluctuate occasionally. These fluctuations happen because of our tendency to continuously keep (consciously or subconsciously) determining what our partners’ behaviors sub-communicate.
If your partners’ aims are consistently selfish (e.i, lies or questionable actions), your trust for them lowers, but when they’re made in the name of supporting the relationship, your trust goes up.
However, that’s not all. There’s also attachment types to consider. On the one hand, people with an insecure attachment type will find it difficult to trust their partner no matter how they show up, while those with a secure attachment style won’t have trust issues at all – if any.
Like with trust, you can’t define respect by a strict definition. It’s one of the reasons why most couples think they’ve got the mutual respect box ticked, while in reality, they don’t.
Most couples define respect by their standards and experience, which in itself defeats the purpose of mutual respect. But here’s what it really means, and simultaneously ways to develop it.
Respect means understanding and accepting your partner.
The feeling involves understanding that your partner is quite different from you, meaning that their needs and preferences and how they want them met are different from yours.
Mutual respect requires you to a) acknowledge your partner’s differences and b) understand that their desires and preferences must be heard and considered.
It involves accepting that no one is more important, nor is one’s opinion most vital in matters that affect both of you. In other words, you and your partner are equal in terms of mutual importance – You’re a team.
Respect means clear cut, open communication.
If mutual respect means understanding your partners’ differences and considering them during any decision-making process that affects the two of you, how can you become aware of these differences without effective communication?
Exactly, you can’t. That’s why open communication and vulnerability are paramount for developing respect.
Both you and your partner should be free to express your feelings, opinions, and thoughts to each other without feeling rejected. In fact, you should accept your partner and their internal world for what it is and vice versa.
However, it doesn’t stop there.
As much as mutual respect involves listening to your partner’s interests, thoughts, and ideas, how you respond to them is also crucial in maintaining and showing mutual respect. Therefore, respond respectfully.
A respectable speaking manner will involve ensuring your lover how much they mean to you, even amid disagreement. And I’m not talking about sweet-talking or flattery, but conversing with them in an honest and non-overcompensating way.
Respect means having your lover’s interest in mind.
Another aspect of mutual respect involves having your partner’s interests in mind when making certain decisions. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that you put them first, you also don’t put them last.
As a rule: ensure that you make important decisions together, and if you can’t, maybe due to their absence, the outcome of your decision should be in both of your best interests.
The bottom line is that responsibility is vital in relationships. You should understand that your words, the way you say them, and your actions and inactions are significant in establishing mutual respect with your partner.
Being affectionate towards someone translates into many things. A form of affection could be giving your partner a back rub or cooking them a tasty meal. But it could also mean taking them on a fancy date or saying nice things to them like “I care for you” or “I love you.”
In general, the more a couple respects and trusts one another, the more affection there is in their relationship. However, sometimes, certain people don’t respond well to affection – they are unable to give or receive it freely. But why is that?
Well, the cause is often linked to a person’s childhood. Scientists concluded that there’s a direct correlation between the amount of affection we received from our caretakers and our capacity to show affection in adult life. This conclusion means that the more warmth and love we received as children, the better we can deliver and respond to those things later in life.
So hopefully, you’re with someone (or will be with someone) who was cuddled a lot in their childhood.
But, but, but… what about love?
Notice how love is not the core component of a healthy relationship. Most people are shocked when they find this out, but the truth is, if your relationship is primarily built on love, you’re in for a world of hurt.
Here’s a concrete example; Let’s say your partner cheated on you with the milkman. But, you love them like oh-so-much, so you give them another chance. But, they cheat again. Who would’ve thought! And so, you provide them with yet another chance. And then another one. And then another one.
In the end, your partner knows that you’ll love them regardless of how they treat you. Thus, they realize that there are no consequences for fucking the milkman. So they do more of the same.
And each time you let them get away with cheating, they lose a shard of respect for you, and you lose a shard of trust for them. At this point, it’s all downhill, and it’s only a matter of time before your relationship fails.
So here’s the reality about love. It’s not something one should base their relationship on. It’s merely a sideproduct of mutual trust, respect, and affection between two partners. And when love is a sideproduct, it also tends to be unconditional.
Unconditional love the kind of love that is given without any attachments to the outcome. Meaning you nor your partner think, “I will love XYZ only if they say or do ABC.” You love them regardless.
Ultimately, when a relationship contains two healthy, compatible, and secure individuals who are in it for the right reasons and know how to love the right way, a strong sense of trust, respect, and affection will naturally form between them.
But, if two partners share emotional or compatibility issues, unhealed traumas, or insecure attachment styles, their relationship usually becomes toxic. And therefore devoid of trust, respect, and affection.
Many people ask me at that point if there’s a chance to turn their toxic relationship into a healthy one. My answer? It depends. It is possible, but is it worth it? That’s for you to decide. I’m going to go with a “no.”