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What Makes a Great Partner in Life?

When you think about great partners in life, does a certain couple come to mind? Perhaps, you immediately think about your parents or grandparents. Great partnerships may start with romance and roses, but long-term partnerships grow through respect, honesty and commitment. Nando Raynolds and Sharon Bolles, both local licensed professional counselors who specialize in relationship counseling, blend their twenty-four year status as loving partners with the practical advice they provide to clients. "It takes clarity on what you're trying to achieve [as partners]," says Raynolds. "It's helpful for me to have the idea that a partnership should be focused on treating a partner with kindness, respect and understanding, rather than 'I'll only like you if you like the same things I like.'"

"We all have expectations of what the ideal partner is supposed to be," says Bolles. However, she notes that couples should "check" their expectations on a regular basis and sometimes realize and affirm, "He's doing the best he can."

Acknowledging your partner's best efforts is a way of showing appreciation, according to licensed clinical social worker Susan Waterman of Medford. "When couples - actually in any relationship - acknowledge that someone has done something wonderful for them, maybe it's cleaning the house or washing the dishes, people feel good. And I notice in healthy relationships, people do that often with one another. They appreciate each other and they let the other person know."

Waterman advocates taking personal responsibility as a partner. "In relationships that have a lot of conflict, people tend to blame the other, rather than owning what they did that may have brought conflict into the relationship. When you can honestly say, 'I did that. I'm sorry' - it changes everything. Personal responsibility is a very positive aspect of having a healthy relationship with anybody."

Reverend Dr. Joyce Degraaff and her husband Reverend Henry Degraaff base their 36-year life partnership on a value system that includes personal responsibility, mutual faith, support of each other and a dedication to caring for their community. She is the senior pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Medford and he is the director of the Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity.

"Henry and I have always been supportive of each other's dreams and ambitions. During the first several years of my husband's ministry, I was the minister's wife. The children and I went wherever he found his call to ministry. And now for more than half of our lives together, Henry followed me for my calls. For 21 years he has followed me where I was chosen to work and found his own work after I had already been established...and that's not always easy."

Dr. Degraaff uses the lessons she's learned about partnerships to help counsel other couples. "A sense of humor is a big part of it for us, and we've learned to have a lot of fun together. We take vacations - it took a while - but we've learned to draw the line between work and play."

"I believe leisure and rest are very important components to any relationship. Among our couples here at the church I see a lot of young and middle-aged couples with such a busy schedule that they have very little time to enjoy life and get the rest they need." She counsels partners to take time out as a couple and set aside a special time for a night out, or a special day away.

If you're looking for a good partner, give yourself plenty of time to get to know the person before making a long-term commitment, advises Susan Waterman. "I think it's a matter of spending time together over the first six months, gradually getting to know one another through lunch, through walks, through talks, through going to the movies, through sharing...just slowly getting to know one another."

Whether you're in a relationship or seeking a great partner, exercising simple respect, courtesy, mutual support and commitment can help you stay partners, or come together as partners -- for life.

What Makes a Great Partner in Life?