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Three Pillars of a Loving Relationship

December 21, 2014 | by Rabbi Josh Marder

Healthy habits for building healthy relationships.

Food is a great metaphor for relationships. If a person gets in to the habit of eating cakes, cookies, and candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it will be very difficult for that person to create a new reality of healthy eating. Relationships are no different. If a person is dating in an unhealthy way, having “fast-food relationships,” when it comes time to be in a healthy relationship, they will have created deeply entrenched negative patterns that are difficult to break.

Just like eating healthfully requires knowing the rules of nutrition, so too, we need some guidelines for developing “healthy” relationships. Dr. Sue Johnson, world renowned relationships expert (and one of my personal mentors), ascribes three pillars to a healthy relationship. Let’s examine those three factors to see what a healthy relationship looks like, and we’ll look at how Judaism approaches the establishment of a healthy relationship.

Pillar #1 – Accessibility

This refers to the ability to connect emotionally with one’s partner even when it’s uncomfortable. Even when I feel insecure in this relationship, I will stay open and accessible to work through it together with you. There will be times when the marriage feels uncomfortable. You will have to apply good ol’ stick-to-it-ism and be there for your spouse through the tough challenging times too. But in the online dating world of several dates with several different people already set up for the week, anytime it goes sour for a minute, the relationship is dropped. Hey, wait a minute! Guys! Where are you going? Don’t click off this article yet! Hey… wait… Exactly.

Pillar #2 – Responsiveness

This means that a partner is able to hear, understand, and respond on an emotional level to the needs of their spouse. Deep within all of us, we carry fears, loneliness, insecurity, and a need to be loved and cared for. Can you give me what I need? Can you enter my world, different from your world, see my needs, and provide them for me? Our generation struggles in the realm of relating to another person. One of the number one challenges of today’s technologically advanced communications world is the lack of eye contact. I do not really see you. Through emails, messaging, and texting, we dull the muscles needed to reach out and see what’s really going on inside of another person. Those skills are needed to create and deepen a healthy relationship.

Pillar #3 – Engagement

A relationship that is engaged is a relationship where both partners feel special to the other. It is where both share a special place in their heart for each other, willing and wanting to give a unique place in their lives for time, space, and attention to the other. It’s kind of like going to the movies with someone, but there’s no movie. Instead, all the anticipation and attention is given specially to your partner. Painful to many, this means turning off one’s phone figuratively, or sometimes when unable to fight that ‘gotta-answer-it’ reflex, literally. This will allow a couple to feel important to one another – a key ingredient in a successful relationship.

See, Hear, Connect and Appreciate

Sue Johnson created an acronym to remember these three relationship pillars, “A.R.E. you there for me? A.R.E. you with me?” Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Engagement are the three factors that support a healthy thriving relationship.

What are the steps needed to establish an A.R.E. relationship? The first step is to see the other. One has to be able to see outside of one’s self. There has to be the ability to acknowledge another person is there with potentially a completely different paradigm and experience of life. Second comes listening. This means listening intently to what’s going on inside the world of the other and caring. It means focusing intently and earnestly to each other’s deep vulnerable feelings. The third step is to connect. In this deep vulnerable place of sharing and understanding each other, connecting means to feel safe and secure, understood, and accepted. Finally, the goal is to reach a place of profound appreciation of each other and the precious relationship you share together.

These four steps: Seeing, Hearing, Connecting, and then Appreciating are actually alluded to in the first four names of the tribes of Israel: Reuben, Simon, Levi, and Judah. Reuben comes from the Hebrew word reiyah to see. Simon, or Shimon in Hebrew, comes from the word shemiya, to hear. Levi comes from the word leviya, to attach or connect. And Judah comes from the Hebrew word hoda’ah, to give thanks or appreciate.

When a husband can see what his wife is experiencing and listen to her share her feelings about it, he’s being Accessible. If he can then take that in and connect with her in that deep vulnerable place, he’s being Responsive. And when he then shows her how much he appreciates her for who she is at the core, how much he enjoys her sharing and being a part of his life, that is true Engagement. And it’s the same from her to him. These four steps: Seeing, Hearing, Connecting, and Appreciating are what construct an A.R.E. relationship of Accessibility, Responsiveness, and Engagement.

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