Many relationships begin with a chemical cocktail of unconscious coupling, infatuation, or laser focused sexual energy. This honeymoon phase is a bubble of pure bliss. However, once that veil of intensity lifts, they shift into a space where connection, conflict and opportunity coexist.
Relationships can be the very best vehicles for human development and healing. They not only affirm our sense of self, but also challenge us to consider other perspectives. When connection is good, we feel comfortable and confident. But, as relationships ebb and flow with shifting priorities, sometimes connection breaks down, leaving us feeling confused, misunderstood, or even neglected. Learning how to ride the waves with effective navigational tools will help to prevent your boat from taking on too much water.
As a practicing health and lifestyle coach for the past 15 years, I’ve listened to countless stories of relationship ups and downs. The lessons imbedded in our important bonds surface noticeable patterns and healing strategies. And, while each relationship is unique, together they highlight some fundamental ingredients for couples’ long-term happiness.
Know your values and relationship requirements. Shared interests may draw us toward one another, but it is shared values that become the glue for long-term, committed relationships to thrive. Just as a chiropractor might assist in realigning your spine, being clear on your values and relationship requirements will help to realign your lifestyle and relationship intentions.
Be an active listener. Active listening is a slowly acquired skill that can be developed by anyone. Relationships that flourish in support of optimal well-being require this kind of respectful listening. However, with today’s barrage of distractions, it can be particularly challenging to really hear what someone is saying.
Concentrating your attention on understanding what is being said instead of passively hearing can be a game changer to compassionate communication. Active listening engages all the senses and conveys to the speaker that attention is being shown. Of all the tips to boost your partnership, this may provide the most significant benefit.
So, the next time your partner is speaking, notice: are you listening with intent to hear their perspective, or are you busy considering your rebuttal? Active listening is the opportunity in any relationship. Take a moment to lean in and invest your full attention.
Commit to self-care. All too often, we fall into relationships before we’ve carved out responsibility for our own well-being. By practicing consistent self-care, you will feel more empowered, feeding vital energy into all the nooks and crannies of your relationship. Making time for fitness, passions, meditation, volunteering, and kaizen(continuous improvement) will keep your relationship fresh and compelling.
Part of being a responsible partner is also respecting one another’s needs for solitude and individual social connections. Expecting your mate to be your ‘everything person’ is a sure way to drown in unreasonable expectations. Diversify your people portfolio.
Focus not on flaws. Reinforcing the positive attributes of your partner helps you both. This not only infuses them with a sense of acceptance that invites their best self forward, but also enriches your positive regard of them and yourself. This is not to suggest that you disregard your partner’s unhealthy habits. However, if you allow your vision to excessively dwell on your partner’s warts, this slippery slope can erode your positive relationship blueprint. Express gratitude, and make it your goal to mostly celebrate what you want more of and focus less on what you don’t.
Make consistent time and attention deposits. It’s easy to invest your full attention into relationships when they are new and thrilling. Over time, however, high heat becomes a simmer and corrosive complacency can show up in your relationship, perhaps cleverly disguised as contentedness. What can you do?
Be on the lookout for when comfortable becomes the dreaded autopilot. Nurture your relationship with relationship goals, unexpected delights, and adventure. Schedule a date night, make new friends, or sign up for a class together. Set aside time to just be together, device-free. Most importantly, don’t assume you and your partner can read each other’s mind. Periodically ask what your partner likes and dislikes, what’s working and what’s not.
Surprise your partner, laugh together, stay playful. In line with consistent deposits, spontaneity and playfulness are beneficial ingredients in a balanced relationship. The adult world is full of independent, agency-growing opportunity that can, over time, feel heavy and overwhelming. Don’t allow the seriousness of living a conscious life to interfere with joy and lightheartedness. Celebrate each other’s goofy quirks. Share inside jokes. Sled down a snowy hill together. Laughter helps to release endorphins, and may boost your immune system. Couples who laugh together last together.
Practice empathy, trust and emotional agility. Lay aside your burning agenda and ‘join up’ with your mate. Asking “How can I help?” shifts the spotlight from you onto your partner. Earn each other’s trust by following through on commitments. And, remember that learning to invite and support one another’s inner landscape of varied emotions, while challenging, is where the best stuff lives.
Emotions are often many shades of grey. Rather than labeling emotions as good or bad, South African psychologist Susan David suggests the term emotional agility, a concept that describes how we navigate our emotional landscape for enhanced resilience and life satisfaction. And, be on the lookout for shenpa, a Tibetan word for the urge or hook that triggers our habitual tendency to shut down or get stuck. To catch that habitual urge, relax by breathing slowly and deeply, eyes closed if it helps. Observe the shenpa, then gently release it. Practice alone and together.
Hold space for the people you love. Many of us are less comfortable with space or silence in relationships. We often feel compelled to fill empty space. However, one of the loveliest parts of intimate relationships is being able to hold space for one another. Holding space is being willing to join up and walk alongside another person without judging or resolving them. It’s not easy to do, since this flies in the face of our problem-solving culture. When we hold space for someone we love, we temporarily surrender control to offer wholehearted support and presence.
No partner can expect their ‘honeymoon period’ to last forever. What we can expect, however, is a mutual awareness of how easily perceived grievances can snowball into projection or blame, and an unwavering commitment to guarding against it. Whether your relationship is brand new, still smoldering hot, on autopilot, or full of struggle, tuneups help keep a relationship healthy. The secret sauce is simply remembering that relationships do not happen to us – they happen through us.