An intimate relationship is a true home, as reflected in the famous expression, “Home is where the heart is.” While romantic relationships can span the spectrum — from the shallow trysts played out by Samantha in Sex and the City and James Bond in the 007 series, to the noble love emblemized by Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice — a true love bond is like the calm eye of the storm in life. No matter what difficulties we may have in the world, within ourselves or in our relationships with others, a sincere love-based relationship offers us a pocket of peace.

Finding, developing and securing a real partnership is one of the most fundamental endeavors in life. According to Paul C. Brunson, matchmaking guru and bestselling author of It’s Complicated (But Doesn’t Have to Be), creating a fulfilling bond is not so much about the quantity of the relationship as it is about the quality: “There is an over-emphasis on the length of a relationship being the most important metric of success,” he states, adding eloquently, “The quintessential measure of success of any true relationship is the amount of selflessness each party has contributed. ”

Lawrence Owens, a brutally honest standup comedian, spices up the topic of relationships with humor. Given the laughter involved in his onstage explorations, his discussion becomes palatable to those in the audience who may struggle with understanding true connection. “I’m a man; you’re a woman; we are both working hard to comprehend each other’s point of view and create a path that we are both willing to continue down together,” he says of heterosexual relationships. When a man and woman find a complementary balance and routine, he continues, their life dance is “poetry in motion.”

Caring for one another deeply includes putting aside personal needs so as to support each other. Like a mother who forfeits time she wants to spend with her son so that he can develop peer relationships, true love encourages each partner to manifest his or her greatest potential. Since we all grow and change over time, honest and selfless caring supports each of us in moving forward, in whatever directions draw us into the greater truth of who we are. Together or apart, our sincere love continues.

Selflessness is a challenge, but it is also a gift when each person in a relationship gives to the other. To the contrary, protecting ourselves with defenses — such as stereotypes, pride, and fear — removes us from the vulnerability required to strengthen a bond.

When Brunson gives his presentations, people often ask questions that begin with, “Since all men feel like X,” or “Because all women do Y. “Pigeon-holing sexes is one of the most frequent and worst things we do when dating,” Brunson says. When we stereotype, he explains, we do not see the person; instead, we see an image. By making a quick, presumptive judgment, we put a safe distance between us and the individual before us — thus preventing us from making a close and caring attachment.

“I think stereotypes affect us if we allow them to,” agrees Owens. Of his own relationships, he says, “I don’t succumb to how other people want to pigeon-hole me.” Conforming to preconceived notions of identity removes us from our true selves, and true love is not built on false personalities.

Fear of revealing who we truly are, Owens elaborates, can lead to pride — which in turn can kill a relationship: We think we can do something all on our own, we do not want to admit it when we are wrong, and we fail to compromise. “Pride can lead to grudge-holding and selfishness,” Owens says, “making the relationship about ‘me,’ instead of ‘us.'” To the contrary, the vulnerability and selflessness of being openly and honestly who we truly are, while caring for the needs and growth of each other, is the cornerstone of a sound and stable relationship.

According to Sue Johnson, EdD, author of Hold me Tight, the intimate partner connection is an emotional attachment with similarities to the parent-child bond, in that each partner depends on the other for nurturing and soothing. The partner relationship is a “home” in which we find shelter, rest, and fulfillment — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The Bible similarly describes the partnering tie as an original function of humanity: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” Genesis 2:24 (English Standard Version).

With honesty comes the security to trust each other. In turn, trust allows us to enter the state of vulnerability that creates intimate space in a romantic relationship. Somewhere deep inside of all of us, we cherish this connection. Some of us are longing for it, others are pursuing it, and still others are protecting it. In addition, some people are avoiding partnering with others — perhaps because they value a genuine connection, which seems unattainable.

As with the helpless infant resting in his mother’s arms, our existence depends on the care we get from people on whom we rely. To build secure bonds, we need to be open and honest with ourselves first, then with each other. Brunson particularly emphasizes the importance of a good relationship with ourselves, stating that “the more we love ourselves, the more emotionally healthy people we attract in our lives.”

Brunson’s readers and clients trust him because he is forthcoming about himself, and because he lives by his belief that personal development is most important. “No matter if in or out of a relationship, self-development — in particular, the increase of our emotional intelligence — is one of the most effective things we can do to increase our overall happiness.” A thriving, dependable relationship, in other words, is grounded in taking responsibility to expand and nurture ourselves. Revealing and interacting with the truth of each other is what then gives us the opportunity to build any meaningful relationship — as a friend, business partner or lover. “Strengthening communication and facilitating problem-solving are the tenants of a platonic, business, and romantic relationship,” Brunson notes.

Romantic relationships, according to Owens, are built on the triad of communication, sex and finance. Communication, he says, is the “soul of every relationship. Love can be the heartbeat. Trust can be the skin, but no one lives without a soul.” Communication brings clarity to the fog of assumptions — including stereotypes, which can create false images and cut us off from reality. Communication also can be thought of as the primary color of a successful romance. Together with the other two colors, sex and finance, we have all the pigments to paint a masterpiece on our relationship canvas. “Great sex can get any relationship through rough times, dry spells or lulls,” Owens says. He compares the act of having sex to that of putting new batteries into an old flashlight — bringing light back into a dark situation.

“Men love sex,” Owens continues, “but what a man craves more than sex from his woman is affection.” Women need to let men show them what a man is, Owens adds, without imposing their concepts on the men – i.e., stereotyping. As far as what women need, Owens advises men, “You have to be in a position that she doesn’t worry if she can turn her key for 30 more days — [meaning] rent, mortgage, and/or car payments.” In other words, women want to trust that a man has done his part to keep life functioning smoothly. The combination of open expression, active listening, physical stability, and sexual playfulness (without preconceived expectations), Owens concludes, creates a thriving romantic collaboration.

Brunson closes with timeless wisdom: “My grandmother used to say, ‘Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.’ I now say to couples, ‘Show me your friends, and I’ll tell you if you’re going to make it.'” At the core of life, the pocket of peace we create with a life partner affects everything else in our lives. Investing in honest, loving relationships — first with ourselves and then with others — is the key to unlocking the treasure of purpose, joy and fulfillment in life.