If you are considering a lifetime commitment to your current partner, who should by now be your lover (at least in the larger sense of the word) and best friend, you need to know that you are capable of a commitment in these seven important elements of a relationship:

1. Unconditional Love

Unconditional love is the ability and willingness to love someone regardless of their actions or beliefs. When you love someone unconditionally, you love them for who they are… not what they do or don’t do. Will you keep on loving just the same when your spouse messes up or fails?

Ask yourself if there are any conditions under which you would stop loving. If there are, you do not have unconditional love. The best way to develop your ability is to discipline yourself to think loving thoughts, reformulate your perspective on behaviors you don’t like, and keep on giving the benefit of the doubt.

2. Mutuality

Before you decide to enter into marriage, you need to start thinking in terms of mutual interest on a daily basis. Up until you began dating your dream mate, your life probably revolved mostly around you. And unless you have children or are currently taking care of someone, it should have! But now that you’re considering spending the rest of your life with someone, your way of thinking needs to change in order for your marriage to be successful. Your life will revolve around you and your mate as a couple, a team, a partnership. It’s the two of you together against the world, if need be. You’re making decisions that are right for both of you—and keep in mind that from this point forward, you might not always be the one making the decisions.

When it comes to the bigger things in life, you’ll have to consult your partner, hear another point of view, consider it, and make a joint decision based on both of your thoughts and feelings. And even everyday decisions need to be made in the context of the consequence for the other person.

3. Trust

In healthy relationships with mutual trust, couples will be comfortable away from each other for short periods of time, and possibly extended periods of time with lots of check-ins. In fact, keeping up with some of your own interests is crucial to your happiness and the health of your relationship. However, too much self-interest can be troublesome. Some couples have such separate interests that over time, they have less and less to talk about, which means their relationships have less and less connective tissue. Also, the busiest couples, even if they do their socializing together, are going to run into problems.

An intimate relationship requires downtime and alone time. The key is to find the balance of time together versus time apart that works for your relationship. This varies from relationship to relationship. You’ll know that you’ve found a good balance if you savor time together, but have enough trust in the relationship that either one of you could be absent without worry. In an ideal situation, you’ll be okay when you’re apart and relish togetherness.

4. Honesty

You can’t have trust without honesty. If you’re hiding something, it’s going to hurt you—and your relationship— in the long run. Blurting out startling information after the fact makes a spouse feel justifiably duped, so make sure all big revelations are confessed somewhere between date five and fifteen, so that there is time to assess the situation and decide if he or she can handle the information prior to commitment. And keep in mind that whatever you might be afraid to say is potentially less hurtful than withholding. Secrets are omissions, and anything less than the whole truth is a lie.

Now, being honest doesn’t have to mean making a laundry list of every quasi-terrible thing you’ve ever done. If you don’t have any large skeletons in your closet, just be honest about the little things as they come up.

5. Respect

If you don’t have mutual respect, your relationship is doomed. Respect is what keeps things civil when you’re having a disagreement, in private or in public. Respect is what every human being desires and deserves. That means not taking out your daily frustrations on your partner. The second he or she becomes your punching bag—emotional, verbal, or otherwise—it’s no longer you two together against the world; it’s you versus your mate. Always keep in mind what you love about them, and if you’ve had a rough day, count to ten, meditate, or stop off at the gym before you walk in the door. You may want and need to talk to your mate—just don’t do it until you can share your woes without hitting him or her over the head with them. Don’t be a doormat, and don’t turn her or him into one. A true partnership is not bonded servitude. It is adoration and mutual respect.

Respecting means loving and believing in who your partner is today, and not punishing for anything he or she may or may not have done before you were together.

6. Desires

People aren’t always as forthcoming about their desires as they are about their goals, but desires are just as important. You have all kinds of desires—physical, financial, emotional, social, and geographical—and so does your partner. Are yours similar, or at least compatible? You don’t have to have all of the same desires, but they shouldn’t contradict each other. Make sure you talk about your desires now so you’re not caught off guard by a seemingly strange sexual fetish, or a sudden desire to move to Australia. And while your partner doesn’t have to share the desires that are deeply heartfelt for you personally, you should be sure that they are going to help and support you in your journey towards those goals.

7. Sex

For the most part, by the time people marry, they have set their sexual pattern. But whether or not you and your partner have had sex, it’s important to talk about your intent for the future. Do you want sex three times a week, once a month, every day, or never? Whatever the case may be, talk about it now so you both have a realistic expectation of the other person’s sexual needs and how they will be met.

Your options are sexual compatibility, compromise, and the agreement to disagree with a lot of physical and emotional affection to fill in the gap.

Before you make the big decision, you need to be sure that not only is your mate the best possible love for you, but that you’re willing to put in whatever it takes to make your love succeed—and that your chosen mate is as well.

Click here for a complete list of all Dr. Janet Blair Page’s articles.
Janet Blair Page, PhD, author of Get Married This Year: 365 Days to “I Do”, is a psychotherapist with more than thirty years of experience in private practice in New York and Atlanta. She teaches at Emory University and has been in the New York Times, Glamour and on CNN, FOX, Good Morning America, and The Early Show. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
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