The Three Things I Look for in a Relationship

It is not the beauty of a building you should look at; it’s the construction of the foundation that will stand the test of time. — David Allen Coe

I’ve had a decent amount of relationships in my young life and if there is anything that I can hang my hat on, it is that a relationship is always as strong as its weakest pillar. As I’ve gotten older, not only have I seen this to be true in romance, but also in friendship and in family. The three pillars are: emotional health, similarity and attraction.

I’m thankful every single day that my first real relationship was with someone who was healthy. I know too many people who started off on a bad foot and it has jaded their perception of love until this day.

Sad to say that I was the liability in that relationship, but I could clearly see the contrast between my neuroticism and her calmness. If I wanted to keep the relationship, I had to get better. I had to learn to trust her and be vulnerable, and I did.

However, it wasn’t enough. Once her parents shipped her to boarding school, I was having crazy withdrawal symptoms. I was being fed love (read: infatuation) and I needed the drug. My attention waned and although I didn’t physically cheat, my emotions were betraying me. I had to end it before I fully hated myself.

Years later, we would get back together. I was definitely less driven by infatuation and our attraction never waned much over the years we weren’t together. But it didn’t last because of the second pillar one needs in a relationship.

When I write similarity, I’m referring to shared interests and values. When you’re young, you don’t really care about that stuff. You mostly just want someone you’re attracted to. Everything else is gravy and you take it for granted to some extent.

Having things in common is what separates an acquaintance from a friend. Most of the strongest bonds I have are through a shared love of soul music and metal. But perhaps what is even more fundamental were the values. Integrity, religious tolerance, open-mindedness, artistry, dark humour, intelligence, sensitivity, responsibility and the list goes on.

When we got back together, everything seemed quite solid. Not perfect, but definitely solid. That is, until I stopped being Christian.

I never thought I’d ever give up the faith but the signs were always there. They’ve been there since I was four years old. When we’d talk religion, she would hear my burning questions but ultimately, she couldn’t answer them. No one could. But her faith was a core value she held. She held it so tight that she wanted to be with someone who shared the same faith.

At the time, I was upset by this. So many people make it work despite differences, not just religious. Then again, so many don’t.

Now, I don’t think she was wrong to end it. I’ve seen just how absolutely spectacular it is to be with someone who shares the same values as you, which I did with my most recent ex. You never run out of things to talk about and having your values and interests mirrored back at you is awesome.

The connection two people with shared interests and values can make is amazing. Almost too amazing. The reason I say this is because this will bond you to someone better than any of the other three pillars, but it won’t last if emotional health is absent. Actually, it will become the most exquisite trap you will ever find yourself in.

This was the problem with my most recent ex. The connection was unlike anything I’d experienced in my life up until that point. I was certain I found my person. I was certain I was her person. Life is screwy in this way. It was essentially perfect, but because of her fear of abandonment, it was like a unique brand of torture.

Everything would be fantastic and then, one misspoken word, one comment taken out of context would be enough for her to curse me out and cut me loose. Until she came back. This happened so much I lost count and then I lost my patience. When I walked away for good, I knew this would trigger her abandonment issues more than anything. That’s why I didn’t do it for a while. I also believed that things could improve, and she was.

But then I started to see just how emotionally unwell she was and I couldn’t take it anymore. I had misjudged her idea on what a relationship should be, and once I realized what she actually thought, it was a no-brainer. Naturally, I couldn’t just leave cold turkey. I wanted to maintain the friendship we had. She wanted no part of it.

This should be the simple one, right? Obviously you have to find the other person attractive because this is a sexual relationship. And you’re right, it is fairly straight-forward. It is also done unconsciously. It’s this unconscious aspect I want to touch on.

I had a girlfriend in high school that everyone thought was really attractive. As did I. The only problem was that I thought she was attractive, but I wasn’t attracted. Conventionally, she had all the attributes of beauty. But I wasn’t feeling her like that. She liked me, though, and I was flattered. I thought, “Let’s see what can happen.”

The more we spoke is the more I started liking her. She was intelligent and funny and all the clichés that make a person sound great. Eventually, I asked her to be my girlfriend and she said yes.

There were some bumps in the road, but she and I handled them supremely — the emotional health was there. We were both Christian but she was open-minded — the similarity department was decent. But within 2–3 months, my attraction went back to where it was at the beginning. It was so strange to me. I was so into this person just a couple of weeks ago. What happened?

What happened is that you can lie to yourself. You like what you like, and there was no point in me trying to be gregarious in giving this girl a chance. Maybe she would have been better off if I just told her I didn’t like her and moved on.

Sometimes we are simply not that moved by conventional beauty. I’ve felt stronger emotions for girls who were less beautiful by society’s standards than beauty queens. That’s okay. Some girls like dudes with dad bods and are actually repulsed by muscular guys. Whatever subconscious forces that let you gravitate to certain people physically, just let it be.

However, the forces that cause you to gravitate to certain people emotionally is another matter entirely. You have to ensure that you’re the type of person you want to date. Secondly, you have to ensure that you have healthy ideas of what love and a relationship are. Otherwise, you’ll end up with people who at best are incapable of giving you what you want and at worst, emotionally abusive jerks.

What you may have noticed is that each of these relationships were fine until pressure was placed on at least one of these pillars. One might think that because they have two strong pillars of the three pillars of a romantic relationship, that that’s enough.

Remember what was said at the beginning. The weakest pillar of the relationship is the pillar that is going to cause the relationship to crumble.

If you lose the attraction, you may look to sleep with others. Depending on your relationship, this could be a problem.

If you lose the similarities, you will not make emotional strides to keep the two of you together. You’ll grow apart. Sometimes this happens and it’s no big deal, other times it’s unwanted and completely avoidable.

If you lose the emotional health, you may be subject to abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc. People who don’t have much self-worth stay stuck in these relationships, but no one enjoys such a relationship.

For me, I’ve seen the limitations of only fulfilling two of the three pillars. The relationship can be going very well but eventually, the weakest pillar caves in and two people get crushed. Having three strong pillars is my intention. Ultimately, I have to keep my eyes peeled for the foundation that will stand the test of time. I recommend you do too.

Written by

Former Edu. Psychologist | Current Writer | Constant Learner | “By your stumbling the world is perfected.”

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