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The Key to Being a Happy Couple: The Four C's

There is a natural tension between individualism and the kind of collectivism that being a couple represents. Here's how to bridge the gap between the needs of individuals and the real joy and power of a healthy couple.
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Whenever high-profile celebrity relationships break up, many of us wonder why. The problem may be that the focus on these couples is not on their relationship, but on each of them as individual stars. The pressure on these couples is tremendous. Not only do they need to maintain their individual star-quality, they need to maintain a connection as a couple in their own lives and in the watchful eyes of the media. Meanwhile, they are each constantly bombarded by temptations all around them. These temptations are not necessarily different than what everyday people face with the limited amount of time they spend with their partners. How does any couple manage to withstand these challenges and keep their couple a priority? How do couples maintain a commitment to lifelong love and nourish it in the process?

That is the challenge of our modern individualistic "age of narcissism." There is a natural tension between individualism and the kind of collectivism that being a couple represents. We show, in our book, "Lifelong Love", how to bridge the gap between the needs of individuals and the real joy and power of a healthy couple. For many people, being in a couple seems like an added obligation, needing extra time and energy. We have to give more and get less in return, we might think. What is missing here is the acknowledgement of how powerful a relationship can be, an oasis rather than another obligation.

The key to having this kind of rewarding relationship is accomplishing the four C's of our program, Couple Power: Commitment, Cooperation, Communication and Community. Together (and in this order), they constitute the path to a healthy and loving relationship. The sum of what couples have together is truly more than just the sum of the two individuals.

So, the first step is the commitment, not just to the other individual, but to the couple as its own entity. The couple, then, begins to take on providing what is needed as its own entity and for the individuals.

Being in a relationship is being part of a team and this requires cooperation. It is commitment in action and requires acknowledging each individual's strengths. It is essential for the individual to get past their own self-interest to cooperate with their partner, this allows them each to find a way to be satisfied without feeling deprived of their own needs. What might at first look like incompatibility is actually diversity and versatility.

As part of a team working together, the third C of communication now becomes important. It is the third element, not the first, as many people think, because without the firm foundation of commitment and cooperation, words may do more harm than good. If, for instance, we concentrate on clear communication first, we may use it to attack, blame, criticize and hurt each other, serving only to reinforce the battle lines. For communication to be truly useful and successful, we must commit to communicate responsibly, working together as a team to reach a mutual goal. Good communication now becomes the vehicle for reaping the fruits of the relationship.

The fourth and final C in the formula is Community. This task, when it is achieved, ties it all together. Couples in a world of individuals do not have much support. But without support of other couples and a community where relationship is valued, a couple is likely to feel isolated or overwhelmed and the two partners might seek help separately which may only discourage them more or even drive them apart. It is our experience as clinical psychologists treating couples for more than thirty-five years, that is take a village not only to raise a child but, also, nourish and support a couple. The key to joyful and durable relationship is a sense of community with other couples.

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