4 Foundational Principles For a Healthy Relationship

There is more to attraction than you might think.

Photo by Scott Broome on Unsplash

We haven’t been taught how to find and cultivate healthy relationships. There was no class in school and no prerequisites required to get in a relationship. We either fumble our way through it or model our relationship after patterns we saw in our families. But these patterns may not fit our needs. Or they may be unhealthy.

This article is going to help you understand four foundational principles for creating and nurturing a healthy relationship.

Ditch the Checklists

Growing up, I often sat through lessons in church about marriage. But there wasn’t much relationship advice here. Instead, we were encouraged to seek a “holy marriage” and marry someone who shared our religious beliefs. But this wasn’t unique to my religion. Most churches encourage their congregations to do the same.

During these lessons we listed the qualities we wanted in our future spouse. My list usually said something like: funny, tall, cute, spiritual, smart, athletic, fun.

But after years of dating and six years of marriage, my little checklists proved to be an ineffective way of creating a healthy relationship. Even if every guy I dated was from my same religion.

Most guys I dated checked off most of the boxes. But that wasn’t enough. People are more dynamic than the ten or so qualities on your checklist.

Four Pillars of Attraction

Then I came across Viren Swami’s Four Pillars of Attraction while watching a documentary. This concept really blew my mind. I looked back on my failed relationships. I was able to understand them better. And see where my checklists had failed me.

For starters, you need to be attracted to your partner. Sounds obvious. But there is more to attraction than you might think. There are four major pillars that spark and nurture attraction between two people. Use these principles as the foundation to build your relationship on.

1. Physical Appearance: This is the most obvious. But it’s not the only thing that plays into what makes someone attractive. However, society puts so much emphasis on our physical appearance. We can become overly obsessed with our looks and attach our appearance to our lovability.

Personally, if someone I liked didn’t like me back, I often interpreted this as me not being pretty enough. Which created a lot of body image issues for myself. But after learning about the other three pillars, I could look back on those unfruitful relationships and understand other reasons why they didn’t work out.

You’re not shallow if you don’t find someone physically attractive. It is an important foundation of your relationship. But don’t only focus on their looks. There are three more principles necessary to build a healthy relationship.

2. Geography: Most people date individuals who are near them. Hence why long distance relationships are so difficult. Or why you’re dating someone who lives 15 minutes away and not 1500 miles away.

But geography can include more than just the town you live in. It can include the school you attend; the classes you take; the clubs, hobbies, and activities you do; where you work; what church you attend; what parties you go to; where you shop; and your social circles. All these areas in your life create your unique ecosystem. And if someone rarely crosses paths with you, you’re less likely to be attracted to them.

3. Similarity: You like people who are similar to you. You can bond over a favorite sports team, band, hobby, or restaurant. Yes, you can have differences (and that’s important for healthy relationships, too). But you are attracted to people you have things in common with. Healthy relationships include shared goals and lifestyles.

It’s hard to get along with someone you never see eye to eye with or don’t have any shared interests. If you enjoy fitness and eating healthy, you likely won’t be attracted to someone who is a couch potato and loves junk food. It won’t matter how cute you think your partner is if you never have anything you both want to do together.

We can navigate our way around our differences. That’s a sign of a healthy relationship. But being able to enjoy the time we spend together is important, too. And this often stems from liking similar things or having similar personalities.

4. Reciprocity: We’re attracted to people who can reciprocate our efforts to create connection and closeness. If we’re willing to be vulnerable and share our feelings, we want our partners to do the same. If we provide support to our partners, we want them to support us, too.

Healthy relationships require give and take from both partners. If one partner is giving too much or the other is taking too much, this creates resentment. Which is the opposite of reciprocity. This resentment will eat away at your relationship until it falls apart.

All four pillars of attraction are crucial for a healthy relationship. But sometimes we get caught up in one or two of them and ignore the other areas that are lacking. Maybe you want to date someone that you find physically attractive, but the other three pillars of attraction are nonexistent. Maybe you have found someone that you have a lot in common with, but they don’t put any effort into the relationship. You need all four pillars present in order to create a healthy relationship.

Forcing Attraction

Another problem is forcing a pillar of attraction. This happens when we are desperate to save (or start) a relationship, but some of the pillars are missing. We find ways to manipulate our lives to create false pillars. But this type of relationship acrobatics is usually one-sided. And it is not a stable pillar to build a relationship on.

This is what defined most of my failed relationships. For example, I often fell into relationships with people due to geography. But most of the time I wasn’t all that similar to the guys I dated. To bypass this important pillar, I would “like” the same things they liked. My personality and preferences would dissolve and I’d take on theirs. But no relationship can flourish if you are abandoning yourself.

You may force geography by changing your schedule, classes, hobbies, or friend group to be more available to your partner.

Maybe you force your physical appearance by dressing the way your partner wants you to. Or by wearing more makeup. Or going on a diet. Or changing anything about your physical appearance because it’s what your partner likes. Not what you like.

You can force reciprocity by being more physically affectionate or intimate with your partner than you are comfortable with. Engaging in conversations you don’t enjoy. Or giving your time, space, and resources in ways you don’t want to.

Yes, couples shift their lives here and there to accommodate their relationships. But forcing attraction happens when you give up more of yourself than your partner is willing to do. Or when you start to self-abandon and lose important parts of your personality for the sake of the relationship.

Evaluating Your Relationship

The four pillars of attraction are also a good tool to use to evaluate your relationships. You should consistently check in with yourself and ask if this relationship is good for you. Are you happy? Are you fulfilled? Does your partner provide the support you need?

To use the four pillars to evaluate your relationship, ask the following questions:

1. Does my relationship have all four pillars? If one is missing, it may be hard to cultivate a healthy relationship.

2. Am I forcing any attraction pillars? (answer honestly). Forcing attraction pillars is unhealthy and damaging to your individuality. It requires you to self-sacrifice and self-abandon until you lose sight of who you really are.

3. Am I doing the things necessary to nurture my attraction pillars? Attraction pillars need nurturing and continuous development throughout your relationship. If they begin to deteriorate, so will the spark between you and your partner. And your relationship will begin to suffer.

— Physical Appearance: Maintaining your physical appearance isn’t about always looking like a supermodel or being able to fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans. It’s about keeping your physical and mental health strong. Both contribute to your physical appearance and both can influence your relationship.

Take care of your physical health by drinking lots of water, eating nutritious food, getting enough sleep, and exercising.

Care for your mental health by engaging in self-care, meditation, yoga, journaling, breath work, and therapy.

Maintain the things that make you feel confident about your appearance. This includes your wardrobe, makeup, nails, hair, fitness and so on.

— Geography: Map out ways to be around each other while still maintaining your individuality. The key here is being flexible, creative and aware of each other’s needs.

Eat lunch together if that is more convenient than nightly dinners. Sit down together at the table to work on individual projects, homework, or work assignments. Do date nights on Tuesdays if that works better than Friday Night.

You can shift your geography to be closer. But make sure each other’s needs are still being met. If you give up your geography to fit into your partner’s geography, you’ll begin to feel out of control of your relationship.

— Similarity: We are dynamic individuals. And we change over time. This change can make it difficult to stay in a committed relationship. This is why you need to constantly nurture your similarity pillar.

Do your shared hobbies together. Or try a new hobby. Listen to your favorite music together. Travel to places you both want to visit. Cook your favorite foods.

Some commonalities may shift since the beginning of your relationship. You can still nurture this pillar by finding new similar things you both enjoy.

— Reciprocity: Nurturing your reciprocity pillar may prove to be challenging. It’s a game of give and take. And you need to find ways to make that game fair and effective.

Everyone has different needs and different ways of showing and receiving love. Resentment seeps into relationships when we feel unappreciated or taken advantage of.

I recommend starting with Dr. Gary Chapman’s 5 Love Languages. Understand what your partner’s love language is and help them understand yours. This way you can start directing your efforts to the things that matter most to your partner.

Next, if you’re married or living together, I recommend reading Eve Rodsky’s Fair Play. It’s all about dividing up household chores fairly between partners. And there’s no faster way to create resentment than by an imbalance in the domestic workload.

Work with a therapist. We all have trauma, big and small. But these traumas may create barriers in your relationship. Especially when it comes to reciprocity.

For example, your partner may want to be vulnerable and discuss emotions with you. But you grew up in a home where emotions were not okay to share. So this creates a reciprocity barrier in your relationship. Working with a therapist can help you overcome these barriers and strengthen your reciprocity pillar.

When Pillars Crumble

If pillars crumble due to neglect, you can attempt to repair your attraction pillars. Work with a therapist and consider the steps listed above to nurture your pillars. But there may come a point when you can no longer fix your pillars of attraction.

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, attraction pillars will fall apart over time. We may be tempted to force them when this happens. But forcing pillars is only a temporary fix. It won’t last forever. It won’t spark real, healthy change. And it may do more harm than good.

If nurturing your attraction pillars is no longer possible, it’s time to end your relationship. It’s hard. And scary. And painful! Especially if you’re married and especially if you have kids.

But you ultimately need to decide if this relationship is good for you. If it isn’t, then it’s time to move on. If you fear this is happening in your relationship, I suggest working with a licensed therapist to help you navigate these struggles.

Conclusion

If you want to create a healthy relationship, consider the four pillars of attraction. How are they working in your relationship? Are all the pillars strong? Are some crumbling or completely absent?

Using the four pillars as your guide, you’ll be able to create and nurture a healthy relationship.

Navigating adult life and writing about what I learn. My focuses are personal development, relationships, parenting, and writing.

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