The forming and maintaining of relationships is some of the most important work we do in this life. And the forming of successful primary relationships is definitely not easy.

A really good primary relationship I define as one where two people love each other, encourage each other to be the best that they can be in all ways and nurture each other in individual growth and in coping with life’s challenges.

I’ve spent much of my adult life in dysfunctional primary relationships caused by my making poor choices.

I’ve also spent years and decades not seeing many really good marriages around me, either.

One of my first Christmases in Maine I spent the day with four other single women. We had a great day of camaraderie with each other and our children. We talked about many things. We all compared and contrasted each of our therapists (that sounds more like California than Maine, but it was Maine).

And then, inevitably, we got on the subject of relationships. We all agreed that forming and maintaining a really beautiful primary relationship was the greatest challenge of our lives! We were amazed to realize this, to discover it together. We all felt very competent in our careers, community involvement, advanced education and parenting. We obviously had great friends.

That powerful pull

But primary relationships, well, that was a different thing. Affairs of the heart can pull you in powerful ways. You enter a world where reason and common sense do not prevail. You enter an emotional minefield. You enter an alternate universe, one with few rules or guideposts.

So we decided to make some rules!

We devised “Rules for Forming Relationships.” We were clear that we meant really excellent primary relationships, not just mediocre ones that would get us from singlehood into couplehood, because being single has advantages, too.

We each took a piece of paper, had some quiet time and came up with the most important rule we could think of to guide us in making future relationships, a rule that, ignored in the past, had gotten us in trouble.

We came back together and took turns sharing our rule, and the group discussed it. Two of us had the same rule. Here they are.

1) I want a relationship that gives off energy, not one that drains energy away.

2) I want a relationship with someone who is very much like me. Opposites may attract, but then you are left with two people who constantly have to negotiate to some middle ground that both uncomfortable are with.

3) I must keep myself as the focus of my life. I must not let someone else become the focus of my life.

4) I must pay attention to how a relationship “feels.” If it somehow “feels wrong” for a sustained period of time, that must be because my subconscious is trying to give me signals of trouble and I would be foolish to ignore those signals.

I honestly don’t remember which one was mine because they all fit so well. I had been guilty of breaking all those rules in my last disastrous relationship! That scared me. It took three therapists and five years before I felt confident to enter that arena again. My best girlfriend maintains I was rewiring my brain so that different traits would attract me.

I don’t give myself that much credit, but I must have done something right because I’ve been with my husband almost 18 years. I think he is wonderful and that we as a couple are very good for each other. I believe our guardian angels conspired to get us together.

Today I see many beautiful marriages, the majority created in midlife. I’m extremely humble and grateful to be part of a marriage that brings me so much joy, and I love seeing others achieve this too.

Dianne Russell Kidder is a writer, consultant and social worker, who is based in Lisbon. She is a regular contributor to this column. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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