Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.
On Marriage
Kahlil Gibran

It does not matter how long you’ve been together, what matters is that you are two independent pillars with the winds of heaven between you. Maintaining your identity and independence within your relationship is paramount to its health. While doing so is easier said than done, especially in that early honeymoon phase, it should be a goal for your relationship: two separate people that come together at strategic places and in key times as a couple and then separate again for their own focus and identity.

A good relationship is not an end goal but an ongoing activity. Here are some tips to keep you strong, yet independent.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Respect, respect, respect.  Inside and outside the relationship, act in ways so that you first respect yourself on all levels, then your partner.  Personal and mutual respect is essential to a good relationship.

Acceptance
Accept yourself with all your good and bad traits. Then, accept your partner for all their good and bad traits. You can change. However, do not try to change your partner. You can learn from your mistakes and act differently in some situations. Your partner can't become someone they are not. You have to love the other person the way they are.

Negotiate
Learn to negotiate. Modern relationships no longer rely on roles cast by the culture. Couples create their own roles, so that virtually every act requires negotiation. It works best when good will prevails. Because people's needs are fluid and change over time, and life's demands change too, good relationships are negotiated and renegotiated all the time.

Listen
Listen, truly listen, to your partner's concerns and complaints without judgment. Much of the time, just having someone listen is all they need for solving problems. Plus it opens the door to confiding. And empathy is crucial. Look at things from your partner's perspective as well as your own.

Manage Differences
Know how to manage differences; it's the key to success in a relationship. Disagreements don't sink relationships. Name-calling does. Learn how to handle the negative feelings that are the unavoidable byproduct of the differences between two people. Stonewalling or avoiding conflicts is NOT managing them.

Human beings crave intimacy, need to love and be loved. Yet people have much trouble doing so. It's clear from the many clients I see that lots of folks have no idea what a healthy relationship even looks like. This is by no means an exhaustive list. But it's a start. Print them out and pin them up on your refrigerator door. I won't test you on them, but life will!

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