(Part Two) … and then keeping them?
Food for thought for any relationship, whether you are starting out or you are living it up a fair few years down the track. Without being cryptic or confusing, I believe what underpins all of these is acknowledging that you are married, or in a relationship with somebody else! Celebrate difference and if you have someone that extends you rather than reflects you then heck you are on an exciting path for sure.
This isn’t a 10 step programme, that if followed to the letter, will guarantee love, laughter and eternal companionship. Everybody, and the journey’s they travel, are so awesomely unique that some will connect and others not. I would expect nothing more or less. Each aims to pose a question and reflection for us individually but also as a couple. It’s based on my experience as a counsellor that backs up or challenges what text books or training has told me. When I have seen or heard these points in action the relationships have been on a stronger footing.
- Feel Safe (Honest Communication) – You have got to feel safe in a relationship to get anywhere close to feeling like you want to be intimate, physically and emotionally but also in terms of relational stability. This is through open and honest conversations. Folk are generally outstanding at the talking part, but god awful at listening. Listening means really taking it on board, not simply waiting for your next opportunity to speak. By listening properly, you will hear clearly and therefore have a fighting chance of discovering and understanding your partners wants, needs and expectations. Think dialogue not monologue!
- Drop the perfectionism. Everybody is perfectly imperfect, but certainly not perfect so give yourself and your partner a break. Tone down the ‘all or nothing’ philosophy of relationships. “You didn’t ask me about my presentation today, so you have fallen out of love with me”. Accept who they are as you would hope they do for you, within reason that is.
- Getting Physical: Physical touch is key to a significant relationship. Yep, this does include sex, but so much more. Giving a hug, holding hands, a genuine kiss. Oxytocin is released which has heaps of benefits such as feeling closer and even a stronger immune system. That doesn’t mean an early morning taser like attack with your ‘morning glory’ whilst sniggering both childishly and blindly optimistic. Check out the short post I put on for securing a good sex life.
- This ties into Love Languages, which I highly recommend you and your partner identify and use on a daily basis. Time, Words, Gifts, Touch, Acts. Look them up and explore yours and your partners, together. What does it look and sound like? I use this for all my significant relationships with my kids, family and wife. When I have taken a breath I turbo load this and do all 5 in a day.
- Your partner can’t be your everything and all the time. Respect your and their own interests. I asked a colleague at his retirement what was the secret to a long and happy marriage given he was passing his 50th year. He simply said, he salmon fishes and she loves her drama group. It made perfect sense and yes, I am sure they were understating how they nurtured so many years, of what I would describe as a beautiful relationship, but that was front and centre and he didn’t pause for a second with his answer.
- Do fun stuff. If a Kmart dash is the most exotic thing you tend to do on weekends, it’s time for a change. And you don’t need a ton of cash or vacation days. Choose to do something fun together. This could be watching a movie, going for a stroll, trying a new restaurant, date night, anything. Anything new and positive can help boost the happiness in your own relationship. For parents in particular, it’s oh so important to be more than mum and dad. Invest in you time, friend time, lover time and partner time. It’s tough but I see a large number of couples who have teenage kids and state ‘they have drifted apart’. Don’t make excuses, it’ll come back and bite you.
- Check and Connect – Reunited and it feels so good. When you and your partner reunite—at the end of a day, when one of you comes back from a trip, or even when you wake up—do something to show your love. When your partner comes home, for example, stop what you are doing (within reason) and devote just a few seconds to being completely present. Give them a hug or kiss, look in their eyes, and ask how they are. Not, all at the same time… it would be weird and awkward. Put down your phone, pause the TV…do whatever you need to focus even just a short amount of time on your partner. You both will feel much more connected.
- Be respectful. John Gottman is a pioneer on research about the longevity of marriages. In fact, in a longitudinal study, he was able to predict with 93 percent accuracy which couples would eventually get divorced. He has identified what he refers to as the four horsemen, which are predictors of relationship problems—criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. The quick antidote for these is to simply be respectful. Rather than criticize, openly communicate without criticism. Instead of contempt, express disappointment without eye rolls or passive-aggressive comments. Ditch the defensiveness; it is important to take feedback so you and your relationship can improve. And rather than stonewall, listen to your partner and have a constructive conversation when things are not going as smoothly as you would like. Learn to communicate even your disappointments with respect.
- Just ask and LET IT LAND!. This one takes an open mind. Ask your partner, “What is one thing I can do this week to be a better partner to you?” The response may be surprising. The goal is not to be defensive— “I already do that anyway!” or “Yay, I wish you would do that, too!” Instead, simply absorb what you hear and take steps to implement your partner’s desire (as long as it is within your moral boundaries). This is a great way to meet needs that you may not have even realized your partner had.
- Abide by the 5-to-1 rule. While you may think giving your partner a compliment will counter some negative “feedback” you provide, think again. The “magic ratio” is not 1:1, but rather 5:1. This means that in order to have an overall positive feel about your relationship, you need to have at least five positive encounters (actions, statements) for every negative one. The take home? Spend more time telling and showing your partner what you love and appreciate about them, laugh more, and spend more fun time together. When you do, the tough times are easier to get through.
Above all, be hopeful. Relationships, like life, have ups and downs. If you are in a downward slope right now, have faith: Things can get better. Put some time, energy, and love into your relationship. Focus on being the best partner you can be. Get help if you need it. And see the positive in your partner and your relationship.