A capital R relationship is one with love,intimacy and sex.

You know the conundrum of whether the color blue you see is the same as what I recognize as blue? That's one of those questions that all but philosophers have to take on faith. Yep, the color of the sky is blue we agree, but whether it is gray blue or baby blue or even the particular shade known as sky blue will be a matter of personal interpretation and open to debate.

It is often my practice in doing couples counseling to see each member of the couple separately before or after I have seen the two together in my office. When I see the individuals first I am often amazed that I am hearing reports about the same relationship, so different are their descriptions. Woody Allen absolutely nailed it in that famous split screen scene from Annie Hall.

On one side we see him talking to his therapist and on the other side of the screen she is talking with hers. "How often do the two of you have sex?" his therapist asks the male. "Hardly ever," the patient whines. "Maybe two or three times a week." "How often do you two have sex?" her therapist asks the woman. "Oh," she sighs, "constantly. Probably two or three times a week!" There is agreement on the numbers but what a difference in interpretation.

I often hear people complain that they want a Relationship (I hear the capital R) or even that the relationship they are in is not a real relationship, and then we get down to a what color blue the sky is definition of terms. Everyone who is not a complete hermit in the woods has relationships, many of them—with co-workers, cousins, restaurant servers, hair cutters. Anyone with whom a person interacts on a more or less regular basis is someone with whom there is a relationship.

What one usually means when they talk about a capital R relationship is one with love and intimacy and sex. Yet, 98 percent of the coupled people I see in my counseling office have a spouse or significant other with whom there is a relationship that lacks one or two or all three of those necessities for a capital R Relationship. That's why they have come to consult me.

When someone discounts the relationships in his or her life as not real ones I ask them to tell me what a real one would look like. As often as not even though the couple has been together for years the definition each gives for what would make the relationship real, let alone satisfactory, is going to vary.

So the discussion needs to be not whether you and I see the same thing that we are calling blue, not whether what we have is a relationship carrying the weight of reality, but what do each of us want in a Relationship... specifically. Universal nouns like "respect" and "warmth" and that perpetual bugaboo "commitment" are way too fuzzy. What are the components for you as an individual that will make a satisfying, loving, sexy Relationship? Please don't assume it's obvious. Having sex two or three times a week could be too much for one person, or too little for another. If this is your relationship it has to meet your personal requirements.

I recently worked with a couple whose long marriage was having problems. They planned a get away vacation each hoping it would repair some of their estrangement. "What do you expect this time away from the children will be mostly about?" I asked. "Sex" one answered at the same time the other said "Sleep, and lots of it." The rest of our session was spent averting a disappointing disaster in the making. Each of these two had been so sure they were on the same page it didn't bear discussion.

So if you are looking for a Relationship or have one which is less than satisfying defining it down to the nubbin makes it far more likely you will get it and it will be satisfyingly real.

Scientists believe they've discovered a simple formula for happy relationships.

Once upon a time, in the Pony Expresso cafe in Seattle, a man and a woman began to experience the long-mysterious but increasingly scientifically investigated thing we call love. The first stage is called "limerence." This is the spine-tingling, heart-twisting, can't-stop-staring feeling, when it seems as though the world stops whirling and time itself bows down and pauses before the force of your longing. The man, a then-44-year-old University of Washington research psychologist named John Gottman, was drawn to the woman's wild mane of black curly hair and her creativity: She was an amateur musician and painter as well as a psychologist like himself. The woman, a then-35-year-old named Julie Schwartz, who'd placed a personal ad in the Seattle Weekly that John had answered, was turned on by John's humble little car—voted the ugliest vehicle in the University of Washington faculty parking lot—and his expansive curiosity. He read physics and math and history and kept a little spiral-bound notebook in his pocket that he used to jot down things his companions said that captivated him.

They talked avidly; it felt as if they'd known each other forever. Over the following months they drew closer and closer, proceeding through subsequent stages of building a fulfilling love relationship. John learned about the unhappy home life growing up in Michigan that had driven Julie to spend so much time in the forest by herself, and Julie learned about John's desire to understand deeply earth's biggest mysteries, like the nature of time. Although they were afraid—they'd both been divorced before—they confided their admiration for each other, John's for the courage Julie showed in her therapy practice by helping the “sickest of the sickest,” schizophrenics and Vietnam veterans on Skid Row, and Julie's for John's absurdist sense of humor. They kayaked together. They joined a synagogue. They married and had a daughter, fulfilling one of John's longtime dreams, and bought a house on a forested island three hours north of Seattle, fulfilling a dream of Julie's. They fought. They attended couples therapy. Through their conflict they came to love each other more.

Twenty-nine years after that first date, John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman stood on a black stage in a ballroom of the Seattle Sheraton in front of about 250 other couples, young and old, straight and gay. The intense intimacy of their relationship was on full display: They finished each other's sentences, bantered with each other and talked candidly about how their struggles had made them stronger. Julie wept. John held Julie, caressing her hair. The rest of us, seated in chairs that had been hooked together in sets of twos, watched them with yearning.

We'd come to see the Gottmans because the pair has spent the last 20 years refining a science-based method to build a beautiful love partnership yourself. They reveal it over a two-day, $750-per-pair workshop called "The Art and Science of Love." “It turns out Tolstoy was wrong," John told the crowd in an opening lecture. "All happy relationships are similar and all unhappy relationships are also similar. … Is there a secret? It turns out, empirically, yes, there is a secret."

Love is the best antidepressant—but many of our ideas about it are wrong. The less love you have, the more depressed you are likely to feel.

Love is as critical for your mind and body as oxygen. It's not negotiable. The more connected you are, the healthier you will be both physically and emotionally. The less connected you are, the more you are at risk.

It is also true that the less love you have, the more depression you are likely to experience in your life. Love is probably the best antidepressant there is because one of the most common sources of depression is feeling unloved. Most depressed people don't love themselves and they do not feel loved by others. They also are very self-focused, making them less attractive to others and depriving them of opportunities to learn the skills of love.

There is a mythology in our culture that love just happens. As a result, the depressed often sit around passively waiting for someone to love them. But love doesn't work that way. To get love and keep love you have to go out and be active and learn a variety of specific skills.

Most of us get our ideas of love from popular culture. We come to believe that love is something that sweeps us off our feet. But the pop-culture ideal of love consists of unrealistic images created for entertainment, which is one reason so many of us are set up to be depressed. It's part of our national vulnerability, like eating junk food, constantly stimulated by images of instant gratification. We think it is love when it's simply distraction and infatuation.

One consequence is that when we hit real love we become upset and disappointed because there are many things that do not fit the cultural ideal. Some of us get demanding and controlling, wanting someone else to do what we think our ideal of romance should be, without realizing our ideal is misplaced.

It is not only possible but necessary to change one's approach to love to ward off depression. Follow these action strategies to get more of what you want out of life—to love and be loved.
  • Recognize the difference between limerance and love. Limerance is the psychological state of deep infatuation. It feels good but rarely lasts. Limerance is that first stage of mad attraction whereby all the hormones are flowing and things feel so right. Limerance lasts, on average, six months. It can progress to love. Love mostly starts out as limerance, but limerance doesn't always evolve into love.

  • Know that love is a learned skill, not something that comes from hormones or emotion particularly. Erich Fromm called it "an act of will." If you don't learn the skills of love you virtually guarantee that you will be depressed, not only because you will not be connected enough but because you will have many failure experiences.

  • Learn good communication skills. They are a means by which you develop trust and intensify connection. The more you can communicate the less depressed you will be because you will feel known and understood.

There are always core differences between two people, no matter how good or close you are, and if the relationship is going right those differences surface. The issue then is to identify the differences and negotiate them so that they don't distance you or kill the relationship.

You do that by understanding where the other person is coming from, who that person is, and by being able to represent yourself. When the differences are known you must be able to negotiate and compromise on them until you find a common ground that works for both.
  • Focus on the other person. Rather than focus on what you are getting and how you are being treated, read your partner's need. What does this person really need for his/her own well-being? This is a very tough skill for people to learn in our narcissistic culture. Of course, you don't lose yourself in the process; you make sure you're also doing enough self-care.

  • Help someone else. Depression keeps people so focused on themselves they don't get outside themselves enough to be able to learn to love. The more you can focus on others and learn to respond and meet their needs, the better you are going to do in love.

  • Develop the ability to accommodate simultaneous reality. The loved one's reality is as important as your own, and you need to be as aware of it as of your own. What are they really saying, what are they really needing? Depressed people think the only reality is their own depressed reality.

  • Actively dispute your internal messages of inadequacy. Sensitivity to rejection is a cardinal feature of depression. As a consequence of low self-esteem, every relationship blip is interpreted far too personally as evidence of inadequacy. Quick to feel rejected by a partner, you then believe it is the treatment you fundamentally deserve. But the rejection really originates in you, and the feelings of inadequacy are the depression speaking.
Recognize that the internal voice is strong but it's not real. Talk back to it. "I'm not really being rejected, this isn't really evidence of inadequacy. I made a mistake." Or "this isn't about me, this is something I just didn't know how to do and now I'll learn." When you reframe the situation to something more adequate, you can act again in an effective way and you can find and keep the love that you need.