Couple relationships can be as different as the individuals who comprise them. However there are some important ingredients to enable relationships to work well, and others to work well enough. So what constitutes a ‘good enough’ relationship?
In my research and in what clients have taught me, the ‘good enough’ relationship is one in which both partners are aware of their needs and get them met most of the time. This means that both feel safe and valued, and each knows their needs and is able to ask for what they need. For example, instead of allowing frustration to build up because the man is not helping his partner with household tasks, she needs to respectfully ask for assistance or brainstorm other ways to reduce her stress. If we ask nicely we are more likely to get what we want.
Repair the relationship before resentments build. Admit when you have been thoughtless or pre-occupied with other things; no subject or feelings are off the agenda. When there is an overarching awareness of the need to connect and reconnect, couples can understand and continue to know each other more as they negotiate through different life experiences and changing preferences.
Take responsibility for one’s own feelings and opinions though not your partner’s feelings and opinions, while still showing an interest in and compassion for the partner’s feelings and opinions. Generally, we are each 50% responsible for the relationship.
While communication is important, feeling connected is even more important. Small kindnesses help to build connection in the relationship. For example, gentle touches, smiles, jokes, notes left in surprising places, small unexpected gifts, and text messages of appreciation. These small bids for connection can mean a lot. They show we’ve thought of the other and that we are on the same ‘team’. They also deposit in the relationships’ emotional bank account for more stressful times.
Every couple deals with differences, so couples need to manage them. John Gottman, American Family Counsellor and Researcher, has measured that even couples in healthy relationships agree only 31% of the time!  This leaves much opportunity for communication, negotiation and acceptance. Respectfully agreeing to disagree is OK too.
To listen to each other, to hear each other and show compassion can be hard work when we are distracted by our own work, relationships, and daily life stresses. Gottman conservatively estimated that partners could be emotionally available to each other only about 30% of the time. This means that 90% of the time partners are not available to each other at the same time. So it can be hard work: isn’t anything worth having hard work? However the challenge can be fun if both want what is best for the relationship. Taking time out together and separately helps to recharge and refresh. Taking extended time to “be” together can provide an environment in which we can grow personally. We need to be able to listen to each other at least some of the time on a regular basis.
Accept conflict as a way to grow, to learn more about each other, and to discuss issues. Just attack the issue and not each other! Turn conflict into creative conflict – you can be so powerful here! Be patient with yourself, and with each other. Have faith and trust in yourself and the relationship. Love and forgive yourself and each other extravagantly and unconditionally.
An acquaintance recently asked me, as a relationship counsellor, what kept my marriage together. I guess it works well enough! Well enough to know when we need to reconnect, and when we need to have time apart. Well enough to know when we need to repair the relationship. It’s about our commitment based on our shared values; and investment in a growing relationship that improves with age, like a good wine! A ‘good enough’ relationship is OK.
 Gottman, J. & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. Harmony House, New York, USA.