Who Are Your Relationship Role Models?

"Will you still need me? Will you still feed me? When I'm 64?"

When you think of your ideal relationship, pretty often, it’s about finding a relationship role model. Some of us were lucky enough to have parents or relatives who embody what we want from our partners and friends. Other times, we’re left with a strong sense of what we don’t want, and very little idea of what we do.

Either way, this is where having relationship role models comes in. Choose your relationship role models carefully. Make sure they actually have the relationship you want, not just a lifestyle.

Personally, I like to look for role models who treat each other with respect, seem to actually like each other, and who can work with what life throws at them. Learning how to do that, from people who have to do it with each other day in and day out, can help lay the foundation for happy, long-lasting, fulfilling relationships.

This week and next, I’m going to take a look at different kinds of relationship role models, and what we can learn from them. Starting with…

The Power Couple:

Barack and Michelle, Bill and Hilary, Posh and Becks, Beyonce and Jay-Z, Ellen and Portia: The list of power couples is endless.

Often found in politics and entertainment (because that’s where the power is) both members of these supercouples are often wealthy and/or famous. Some of these relationships last for years, if not decades. Others seem to materialize as quickly as they disappear. (Kim Kardashian and whatshisname, anyone?)

The challenge about emulating power couples is that the demands of power and celebrity in themselves create stresses in relationships that can be challenging to navigate. Despite the attention these couples get in the news and the tabloids, we often don’t know very much about how the insides of their relationships work. The trappings of a fancy wedding or the hotness of the people involved often has little bearing on whether the actual relationship itself is something you might want to emulate.

Given this, it’s maybe not surprising that, the folks who live in celebrity-money land who tend to have long-lasting relationships often also keep those relationships low-profile.

Every time they're on TV, they seem to be flirting with each other.

Some examples: Danny DeVito and Rhea Pearlman are still cracking each other up for almost 30 years. Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell have been happily unmarried together since 1983. David Bowie and Iman have been together since 1990 (even though she didn’t want to date a rock star). Barack and Michelle seem to still like each other despite the pressures of his presidency. And feminist and gay-rights activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon got legally married in 2008 after being together for 56 years (Del Martin died two and a half months after their wedding.)

That these people are in a relationship with one another is no secret, but rarely do they publicize what’s going on within the dynamic. And splashing how in love you are all over the tabloids or Twitter doesn’t generally bode well for a relationship. As a result, the best celebrity role models might be the ones you don’t think of first.

The Fictional Couples:

There are the on-again, off-again couples like Rachel and Ross from “Friends” and there’s the doomed tragic lovers of Buffy and Angel or Romeo and Juliet. Then there’s the doofus husband/hot wife pairing of countless sitcoms, or the never-ending drama-rama of Rhett and Scarlett. And I’m not sure what to make of Harold and Maude.

If you insist on dating a vampire anyway, my vote is for Spike.

Most storytelling relies on conflict, so stories that are centered on the romantic relationship between two people are likely to be, well, dramatic. How many times have you watched a movie and thought, “If they’d just tell the truth, this would all be so much simpler?” Yet lies, mistrust, sneaking around and inauthenticity rule the day with fictional couples, because it makes for a better story. This does not, however, make for a better relationship, necessarily. (Although if we’ve learned anything from pop culture, it should be that getting involved with a vampire is not a recipe for a happy domestic life.)

When looking for role models in fiction, consider paying particular attention to those that are on the sidelines. The stable friends who give the advice in the RomComs, the parents who get along and present a united front to the kids, the quirky couple who seem like they shouldn’t work, but somehow do. Often these characters demonstrate the skills that make relationships work in real life, while the main characters flail around, creating enough drama for there to be a story.

Who are your relationship role models? And who is your favorite vampire? 

Part Two: The folks you know and the “not-a-couple”


What’s Your Love Language?

One of the most common blocks to feeling truly loved in our relationships isn’t that our partners don’t care about us. It’s that sometimes we just don’t communicate love in the same way. Knowing how you most like to be loved, and how the people closest to you like to be loved, can make or break a relationship.

For example, when you are trying to tell your partner that you love them by, say, taking care of stuff around the house, she might appreciate it, but won’t necessarily feel loved by it unless that’s one of the ways she “hears” love. Similarly, if you reach out to hold his hand, he might like that, but if what he really needs to to be told you love him, he might not understand what offering your hand means to you.

In the book, The Five Love Languages, author Gary Chapman outlines the five most common ways that we hear and receive love. Which one rings truest to you?

  • Words of Affirmation – Feeling especially loved when people express gratitude for me and for the things I do; acknowledgment, appreciation, saying (or writing) “I love you.”
  • Quality Time – Feeling especially loved when a person gives me undivided attention and spends time alone with me; listening, sharing experiences, being together.
  • Receiving Gifts –Feeling especially loved by someone who brings me gifts and other tangible expressions of love; not necessarily expensive, tokens of love.
  • Acts of Service – Feeling especially loved when someone pitches in to help me; could be by running errands, doing chores, attending to details.
  • Physical Touch – Feeling especially loved when a person expresses feelings for me through physical contact; not necessarily sex, cuddling, holding hands, touching your leg or shoulder.

Most of us like and appreciate four or five of these ways of communicating love, but usually there is one that stands out above all the others to make you feel especially loved and taken care of.

What’s your primary way of showing love? What’s your primary way of receiving love? What language(s) does your significant other “speak”? It may be helpful to think of what it would be like if your partner only did one of these. What would have you feel the most loved and cared for?

When you know how people best feel loved, it’s easy to show them in ways that feel great. If you’re stuck and can’t tell what language you “speak,” you can take the quiz to find out your love language.


How To Be Romantic (Even If You’re Really Busy)

image by nicole.pierce.photography ♥On Valentine’s Day, it’s easy to remember that you’re supposed to do something romantic for your sweetie. After all, every drug store you walk into has red and pink candy hearts, and every radio ad is trying to sell you an engagement ring. This year, do something a little different: Take an hour or two, and make your entire year romantic.

This might sound challenging, but really, it’s quite easy. It’s all about having a plan.

To start off, make a list of 10 to 20 things your partner feels romanced by. These don’t have to be expensive or elaborate — in fact, the easier they are to do, the better. And don’t worry, you’re not going to DO them now. You’re just brainstorming.

I’ll even give you some ideas: bringing home flowers, making breakfast in bed, filling up her gas tank and leaving a post-it heart on the dashboard, buying a silly “just because” card, hiring a babysitter so you can make out in the car, ordering a few things online you heard her mention that she wanted, picking up his favorite chocolates, watching pre-season games together, packing a picnic and going for a hike, leaving love notes in his lunch, giving her a bath, eating take-out by candlelight, upgrading his computer, going to the zoo, trying that restaurant you’ve been meaning to try.

Don’t know what seems like romance to your sweetie? Ask. (Really. They’ll be happy you did.)

Now, look at your list. Do you know how to do these things? Are there any supplies or information you’ll need to make them happen? Maybe you don’t know what his favorite chocolates are. Maybe you need some silly “just because” cards. Maybe you don’t have a clue when the pre-season games start. Write down whatever you need to have on hand to make the activity happen. If something seems to complicated or confusing, just cross it off the list. The idea here is to make them feel good, not for you to feel crappy. Make romance easy!

Once you’ve gotten your list of activities and your “what I need to do” figured out, take out your calendar. Choose one to three days per month that you’ll do your romancing’. Random is good, because then they won’t see it coming!

Decide now what activity you will do when — this takes the thinking out of it later. Again, the idea is to make being romantic easy. The more you figure out now, the less you’ll have to think about it later.

Put each romance activity on the calendar. It’s okay to repeat some of them — after all, someone who likes getting cards will certainly love getting four or five of them this year.

As you put in the activities, add in any relevant information you might need when the time comes to pull it off. The babysitter’s number, the name of the restaurant, where to get tickets, the model of sunglasses he said he wanted. This way, you’ll have everything you need when it comes time to do the activity. “Buy lilies or roses from the flower stand by the subway” will be more helpful when the time comes than “Buy flowers.”

Ta-dah! You now have a year-long plan to romance your lover all year long.

Bonus points: Some people like to stock up on supplies to make the romance even easier. If you find a cute card store, instead of buying only one or two cards, why not buy a whole year’s worth? If the chocolatier has a “chocolate of the month” club, why not subscribe? How about buying season tickets to the game? Don’t overdo it if that’s not your style, but think of ways you can front-load the technical bits so that you can enjoy the bliss of your partner feeling spectacularly loved without any of the overhead.

Extra Bonus points: Make a similar plan to be “romantic” toward yourself. Imagine your delight when you turn to your calendar in September to find that you already booked a massage.

Scrabble image by nicole.pierce.photograph