The Keys to Successful Living Article by: Vic Conant

Success is a concept that carries with it all kinds of associations. Money, career achievement, fame, these and a dozen other factors contribute in one way or another to our working definition of success. But at the end of the day, there’s one aspect of success that carries more weight than all of them combined. When your Creator asks you how you did on earth, He or She is going to be asking about your relationships, not your bank account. If you’ve had wonderful family relationships, you will be able to call yourself a true success in life no matter what else you’ve achieved.

My wife Marilee and I have been married for 34 years. Notice I didn’t say “happily” married for 34 years. The truth is, there were many years when at least one of us wasn’t very happy with the other one. But rather miraculously, we made it through, and now I can honestly say I’ve never been happier with our relationship. I see my 55-year-old wife as the most wonderful, prettiest, sexiest woman I know. She’s also my best friend.

At the same time, over those 34 years, we’ve watched about half the couples we know get divorced, while another significant percentage live in what Thoreau might call “quiet unhappiness.”

What are the secrets to making your most important life relationship healthy and successful? Certainly, the specifics vary from one situation to the next. But I think you’ll find that the solution to almost every relationship challenge can be discovered by examining your actions in two areas: commitment and communication.


How committed are you? There is a remarkable difference between a commitment of 99% and 100%.

First and foremost, you must be disciplined about making your significant other a top priority in your life. Relationships that “make it” have remained a top priority of both of the parties involved.

In its early days, our primary relationship always has top priority. We’re usually obsessed with the other person, ignoring their faults and seeing their idiosyncrasies as cute. As time passes, however, we become accustomed to our significant other, and we start seeing that they’re not nearly as flawless as they once were. At the same time, a hundred different priorities — our jobs, our kids, our sports teams — start vying for top priority positions. Over time, it’s easy and natural for the relationship to slip way down on our list of priorities without even noticing it.

During our 13th year of marriage, my relationship with Marilee was at a low point, and I was contemplating my marriage alternatives. Perhaps because of the generation I grew up in, I never gave divorce a serious thought. But I was beginning to think about how miserable I would be for the rest of my life if something didn’t change. That just wasn’t an acceptable future, so I decided to experiment with committing 100% to our marriage.

As I’m sure you have noticed in your own life, there is a huge difference even between a commitment of 99% and one of 100%. Once I made that total, 100% commitment, something magical seemed to happen. Tiny changes began occurring. Among them, Marilee started looking prettier, and I naturally started complimenting her more. Before I knew it, I was enjoying her more and she naturally responded by being nicer to me, too. Looking back now, it was as simple as bringing our relationship back to the top priority position it always deserved.

What is your current level of commitment to your most significant relationship? If you can’t honestly say it is 100%, try my 100% commitment experiment for yourself. Where does your primary relationship fall on your priority list? If it’s not at the very top at the moment, experiment with making it your top priority for a while and see what happens.

100% commitment means seeing problems all the way through to their solutions. And that can sometimes require you to look at challenges in a way you never considered. For example, my daughter Chappell went through a couple years of being constantly sick and missing a lot of school. I was very judgmental toward her because I couldn’t understand why she could not control her illness. You see, at one point in my youth I decided that I could control my health; since then I have virtually never been sick. So as far as I was concerned, Chappell should have been able to control her health as I had. She just wasn’t applying herself.

One day, a wise friend and confidant said, “Listen, Vic. At this moment, Chappell seems to be working on illness as her life issue. Your life issue is different, but hers is just as valid as yours. Allow her to have her life issue.” I immediately knew he was right. My life issue, then as now, was managing Nightingale-Conant. Just as I could not understand Chappell’s health issue, I realized there were areas of management I found challenging that many of my business friends saw as ludicrously simple. With just a little effort, I was able to stop judging Chappell for being ill. And she quickly got better.

My wife, Marilee, has had a chronic illness for the last 15 years. Thanks to my experience with Chappell, my friend’s advice, and my commitment to our relationship, I’ve been able to be nonjudgmental and supportive of her condition, when I might have let it drive me crazy, and driven her crazy in the process.

What is the life issue you’re working on now? It could be one of a million. It could be business like me or health like Marilee, weight, shyness, money, anxiety, fear of one thing or another. Whatever it is, it’s just as valid as anyone else’s in the world.

Could you be judging other important people in your life who are just working on their own life issues? Remember, the solution to their life issue might seem simple to you, just as the solution to yours would be simple to someone else. As my friend said to me, let them have their life issue. Play with this concept, and you’ll find, as I did, that it has a profound effect on your judgments.

The great Earl Nightingale once said that there are two types of problems. The first type is solved forever once a solution is found. The second type has no final solution. A relationship problem is an example one that has no solution.

Today, you may feel like everything is great in your relationship. But if you don’t continue to work on it, if you don’t renew your commitment every day, it will quickly disintegrate. A relationship takes constant effort to keep it fresh and alive. You can never feel as if you’ve got it knocked. I know that someday soon, Marilee will come up to me as she has many times in the past, saying, “Vic, we need to talk.” I now know those code words mean, “Vic, you are doing something that is threatening our relationship, and I need you to listen to me.” And if I do listen to her and try to hear her needs, and adapt to them if I can, we’ll continue to go on our merry way together.


What language are you speaking? You may be surprised to know that people speak different “love languages,” as different as English and Japanese. Knowing how to communicate is essential to happy relationships.

The second element to living a balanced life of success and happiness in your relationships is continuing to improve your communication with your loved ones and significant others.

One of the greatest books on the topic of relationship communications that I’ve ever run across is called The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Gary is a marriage counselor, and he has discovered that different people have different ways they prefer to receive the communication of love from their mate. He calls these communication preferences “love languages.”

Through his career, Gary has found five different love languages that seem to encapsulate everyone’s love communication preferences. If you’re speaking one love language and your spouse is speaking another one, you can be in serious trouble and not even know it. In his book, Gary goes through example after example of couples on the verge of divorce whose relationships are saved when they discovered and accepted each other’s love language. One couple who virtually had not spoken to each other for over 30 years ended up falling in love again and on their way to a second honeymoon thanks to this information.

Gary says that each of us has what he calls an “emotional love tank.” This tank can be filled with loving feelings, or it can be virtually empty. It all depends on whether or not we are receiving the proper type of loving communications.

The first love language is Words of Affirmation. With words of affirmation, you use positive statements to show your love to another, and you need to hear affirmative statements from others to feel loved.

Verbal compliments or words of appreciation are powerful communicators of love: things like, “You really look beautiful tonight,” or “You must be the best cook in the world,” or “I really appreciate you always taking out the garbage.” If you personally feel good when people compliment you, and if you find it easy to give other people verbal affirmations, this may be your primary love language.

The second love language is Quality Time. This is feeling emotionally fulfilled when your significant other gives you his or her full, undivided attention, and needing to show your love to someone else in the same way by giving that person your focused attention.

One way to give someone quality time is through quality conversations in which you share with each other your thoughts, feelings, and desires. This doesn’t include giving advice. It’s strictly listening sympathetically, not interrupting, and then sharing yourself from the heart. Just being in close proximity doesn’t count either. Quality time means looking into each other’s eyes and really communicating.

Another way to express quality time is through quality activities: doing things with your mate that he or she enjoys in order to show your love. Day trips, gardening, going out to dinner, playing games, vacationing, and taking walks together are all potentially quality activities.

The third love language is Acts of Service — happily doing things for your mate that make him or her happy. Cooking, setting the table, doing the dishes, vacuuming the house, and washing the car are examples of acts of service. An act of service requires thought, planning, time, effort, and energy. If done with a positive attitude, it’s an expression of love. Gary says that the act of service should be requested, not demanded. Demanding would end up being counterproductive and make your mate resent doing things for you.

The fourth love language is Receiving Gifts. Throughout the ages, in every culture throughout the world, people have expressed love through the giving of gifts. Gifts are a physical and visual symbol of love. A wedding ring is an example. Gifts don’t have to be expensive; they can be purchased, found, or made. A single flower or card counts. It’s the thought and creativity behind the gift that matter. A gift shows that your mate remembered you and took the time and effort to give you something to show he or she loves you.

The fifth love language is Physical Touch. Studies have shown that a child will die if it is denied physical touch. For some of us, touching is the strongest indicator that we’re loved. Holding hands, hugging, kissing, sexual intercourse, even simply putting a hand on the other person or sitting close together when you’re watching TV are all examples of physical touch.

Do you have a feeling for which is your primary love language? How about your spouse’s? If you’re not sure what your primary love language is yet, here are a few questions that will help you figure it out:

First, what does your spouse do or fail to do that hurts you most deeply? When you get that in mind, the opposite is probably your love language. For example, maybe your husband doesn’t pick up his clothes and it drives you crazy. That would be an indicator that your language might be Acts of Service.

Next, what have you most often requested from your spouse? This probably indicates the thing you most need to feel loved. Finally, how do you usually express your love to your spouse? This may be an indication that would also make you feel loved.

When you have some time, make a list of the five love languages and rank order them, and ask your mate to do the same. Marilee and I have had a lot of fun at small dinner parties getting people to go through this process. It makes for a stimulating conversation. But beyond a party game, why is it important to know what the primary and even secondary love language is for you and your spouse? As I said earlier, like a foreign language, you might be trying to communicate your love in a way that makes perfect sense to you but doesn’t even register on the Richter scale with your spouse. And like a new language, it may require some effort on your part to really become fluent in your spouse’s love language.

True, long-lasting emotional love is a choice. If communicating your spouse’s love language doesn’t come naturally, that’s okay. Making the effort to learn that language shows an even greater expression of your love. Remember, love is something you do for someone else, not something you do for yourself. If you really love someone, you’re willing to make the effort to learn how to show your love to your mate in a way that will be recognized and be meaningful to him or her. You may not find it easy or natural to do. But if you make the effort, your partner’s love tank will be filled, and he or she will be more willing to work on filling yours. You’ll be on your way to a healthy, thriving, successful relationship—and ultimately, a truly successful life.

The Five Love Languages

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Quality Time
  3. Acts of Service
  4. Receiving Gifts
  5. Physical Touch

From The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.