Being divorced, I know a thing or two about unsuccessful relationships. Of course, my preference is to have a successful relationship. I infer this is true of most people (but not everyone, of course).
While almost everyone wants success and most people have vague ideas about what counts as success, I suspect that most people have not considered the matter in depth.
Naturally, we do have the illusions given to us in fiction as well as the social expectations handed to us by parents, friends, and others. However, these should not be accepted without some scrutiny. After all, why think that their definitions must apply to you?
Hollywood is, of course, not very helpful. To be fair, the job of the movie folks is not to define successful relationships for the rest of us. Rather, their job is to entertain us in return for our money. Oversimplifying things greatly, Hollywood tends to portray relations as worse than in real life or far better (“and they lived happily ever after”).
While approaching a relationship like an academic problem might not be the best idea, having an understanding of relationship success seems rather important. After all, without a notion of success, achieving it would seem to be a matter of luck. To use the obvious analogy, it is like archery-success is more likely if you have a mark to aim for.
While it would be nice if there was one standard of success for relationships, the obvious truth is that success varies from person to person. There is also the added complication that a person could be mistaken in his view of a successful relationship. While these two claims might seem to be contradictory, they are not. After all, think about exercise. What counts as good exercise can vary from person to person. But, a person can also me mistaken-perhaps exercising in a way that hurts her.
Not surprisingly, people typically fall back on the easy and obvious vague answers about success such as “being happy” or “being with the right person.” Obviously, if you are happy and with the right person, then your relationship would seem to be a success. But, what is happiness and who is the right person?
Falling into the easy and obvious answers can be a problem in many ways. One is that a person who falls into them will be less inclined to reflect on the matter, thus making success less likely. Another problem is that the standard of success can often be set too high by the easy, obvious and popular answers. For example, someone might think that success means being happy all the time or that Mr. or Ms. right has to be amazingly right. However, such unrealistic expectations are almost certain to lead to disappointment and failure.
That said, a person should not make the opposite mistake and set her standard of success too low. For example, a person who thinks that merely having a warm body beside them is success will probably find that disappointing as well.
So, all a person has to do is to find what counts as success for them (making sure that it is not too much nor too little) and then make it happen. Easy enough, right?