Most think that the hardest part in a relationship is finding the right person. After that, we fall in love and live happily ever after, right? However, those in a relationship know all too well that fairy tales only happen in the movies. The real truth of the matter is that having and maintaining a loving relationship is not all that easy.
When we are single we are like butterflies, we investigate the flowers of the field in search of possibilities. Some are shy, others are outgoing, but whatever our personality we are all searching for that perfect match. We start by testing love through talk and touch. If we communicate and connect in a way that is pleasing, we move on to touch. If the touch feels good, we relax just enough to let down our guards so we can explore each other’s values. Through touch and talk learn how we are alike and how we are also different. But oftentimes, we fool ourselves into thinking that we are more alike than different and sometimes thinking we are more different than alike. And to keep from looking bad in the other’s eyes or our own, we continue with the relationship while secretly keep an eye out for something better.
My point is this: Good relationships don’t just happen. They are developed. I’ve heard many people state that, “if you have to work at it, then it’s not the right relationship.” This is not a true statement, any more than it’s true that you don’t have to work at good physical health through exercise, eating well, and stress reduction. I’ve discovered that there are choices you can make that will not only improve your relationship, but can turn a failing relationship into a successful one.
First and foremost, take responsibility for yourself.
This is the most important choice you can make to improve your relationship. This means that you learn how to take responsibility for your own feelings and needs instead of wanting your partner to take care of your feelings and needs. In other words, instead of trying to get your partner to make you feel happy and secure, you learn how to do this for yourself through your own thoughts, feelings and actions. This means learning to treat yourself with kindness, caring, compassion, and acceptance instead of self-criticism. Because self-judgment or criticism will always make you feel unhappy and insecure, no matter how great your partner is treating you. For example, instead of getting angry at your partner for your feelings of abandonment when he or she is late, preoccupied, not listening to you, and so on, you would explore your own feelings of abandonment and discover how you might be abandoning yourself.
When you learn how to take full, 100% responsibility for yourself, then you stop blaming your partner for your upsets. When you are blaming your partner for your issues it only creates conflict. But, remember that all conflict is self-conflict. Your partner may have unknowingly triggered a feeling in you, but you create the conflict internally by how you perceive the situation. You choose to make it a conflict.
Always look for the truth behind your feelings. Since blaming your partner for your unhappiness is the number one cause of relationship problems, learning how to take loving care of yourself is vital to a good relationship.
My philosophy is “you take care of you for you. I’ll take care of me for me. And we can then be happy together. For example, my wife likes to have dinner out, go on trips and hike with her girlfriends. I don’t complain or make her feel guilty because I know she loves it. When she is happy we have a happier relationship. If I complain about what makes her happy then I am unhappy and so is she.
If I get to go fishing or go have a glass of wine with my friends without feeling guilty or without complaint from my wife, I’ll be happier. And when I am happy, we have a more harmonious, happy relationship. Understanding, kindness, compassion, acceptance is critical in a harmonious relationship.
What you pay attention to grows in strength.
What you let go of will wither away from lack of attention. This works both ways. Pay attention to the good things and they grow in strength. Pay attention to conflict with your partner and it grows in strength. Taking responsibility is how we grow emotionally and personally by learning instead of controlling.
Treat your partner with kindness.
We all want to be treated lovingly…with kindness, compassion, understanding, and acceptance. Not only do we need to treat ourselves this way, but we need to treat our partner and others in our life this way as well. Relationships flourish when both people treat each other with kindness. Treating your partner with kindness brings kindness in return.
If your partner is consistently angry, judgmental, uncaring and unkind, then you need to focus on what would be loving to yourself rather than reverting to anger, blame, judgment, withdrawal, resistance, or compliance, otherwise you are the one that suffers. Resistance creates more of the same, as does kindness and compassion.
Kindness and compassion to others does not mean sacrificing yourself. Always remember that taking responsibility for yourself rather than blaming others is the most important thing you can do.
If you are consistently kind to yourself and your partner, and your partner is consistently angry, blaming, withdrawn and unavailable, then you either have to accept a distant relationship, or you need to leave the relationship. You cannot “make” your partner change. You can only change yourself.
Create date times.
When people first fall in love, they make time for each other. Then, especially after getting married, they get too busy to think about their partner. Relationships need time to thrive. It is vitally important to set aside specific times to be together, to talk, play, relax, make love… to do the things that brought you together in the first place. Intimacy cannot be maintained without time together.
Show gratitude instead of complaining
Positive energy flows between two people when there is an attitude of gratefulness.” Constant complaints create a heavy, negative energy, which is not fun to be around. Practice being grateful for what you have rather than focusing on what you don’t have. Complaints create stress, while gratitude creates inner peace. Gratitude creates not only emotional and relationship health, but physical health as well.
Have fun and play together
We all know that “work without play makes Jack and Jill a dull couple.” Work without play makes for a dull relationship. Relationships flourish when people laugh together, play together, and when humor is a part of everyday life. Stop taking everything so seriously and learn to see the funny side of life. Hey, you are not going to get out alive, so you might as well enjoy what time you have. Intimacy flourishes when there is lightness of being, not when everything is heavy.
Participate in service projects together
A great way of creating intimacy is to do service projects together. Giving to others fills the heart and creates deep satisfaction in the soul. Doing service moves you out of yourself and your own problems and supports a broader, more spiritual view of life.
If you and your partner agree to, and implement, some of these choices I just outlined, you will be amazed at the improvement in your relationship! A crippling state in relationships is when partners can’t seem to “get” each other and get on the same page.
I find when couples struggle it’s because the partners are having a difficult time honoring themselves and each other. The partners get so busy trying to be acknowledged, get their needs met and have their way that they lose sight of the other and shoot themselves in the foot with their approach. They then actually bring about the opposite of what they are actually seeking.
Each partner brings baggage, no doubt. They bring old wounds and blind spots to their relationship that can and will create conflict if not dealt with. We may bring histories of poor role modeling and emotional injuries, lack of relationship and self-management skills, poor relationship and life mindsets, irritating habits and routines, which can create a haphazard approach to their relationship. It behooves each partner to identify what emotional hang ups they are carrying around that keeps creating stressful situations, and to take responsibility for dealing with them. Why be tortured and get smacked upside the head by leaving this to chance?
Self-responsibility and self-management is the key. So why not assertively seek out what is your internal drivers, and then set up a plan to address and heal them. Make up your mind to eradicate this black hole that can suck the life out of your relationship. It behooves both partners to learn how to effectively participate in their relationship as a mentally healthy and happy human being.
Self-management needs to be a life-long investment… to always enhance, improve and sharpen your skills. Communication, conflict resolution, decision making, breaking old patterns, meeting needs, nurturing, connecting, intimacy, dreaming, goal setting and achieving, etc. are all part of having a successful relationship.
Both partners should be intentional about what they allow to rent space in their heads. It’s imperative to be mindful about your thought processes, thinking habits, beliefs and outdated mental scripts, and negative and distorted thinking patterns.
Relationships are not logical puzzles to be solved! They are both logical and emotional… and that requires a great deal of understanding about yourself and your partner. If you want your relationship to thrive, make your partner a priority, mindfully and intentionally giving to your partner without losing yourself.
Stretch to give in your relationship, because in the stretch we grow… and you both benefit. Each partner has strengths they bring to the relationship that complement the other. It is important to capitalize on these as they are part of the attraction of the other, and your contribution to the relationship. A lot of times we focus on what we lack, what we need to do better, holes to fill, the stretches we need to make that we end up over looking what we actually have to contribute. The reality is that both partners have strengths they bring to the relationship that complement each other and complete the relationship. So it’s vitally important to capitalize on these!
When couples struggle they usually go to extremes using their assets, making them a hindrance instead; Or they hide them in order to feel more compatible but end up cheating the relationship and their partner out of their strengths in the relationship.
Communications is critical.
I’ve heard it said that, “communication is easy.” I disagree. Talking is easy.
Communication on the other hand, which is an exchange or communion with another, requires greater skill. The root word “communion” is defined as “the interchange, or sharing of thoughts or emotions…intimate communications. Intimacy… into-me-see… I define intimacy as “Where ever you are, be there.” If you are communicating with your partner…be intimately there.
An effective conversation exchanged with your partner demands that we listen and speak skillfully, not just talk mindlessly. And interacting with fear, anger, or frustration, communicating can be even more difficult because we’re less skillful when caught up in these types of emotions. And keep in mind that when you have any interaction with another you are communicating… verbally on nonverbally.
- When you gain eye contact you communicate
- When you smile you communicate
- Your body language communicates
- When you speak you communicate
Now don’t get all worried or resign yourself to a lifetime of miscommunication thinking it’s too difficult to learn. It’s not. Good communication skills can be developed.
Effective communication in a relationship is all about conveying your messages to your partner clearly and effectively. It’s also about receiving information that your partner is sending to you with as little distortion as possible. Doing this involves effort from both the sender of the message and the receiver. Remember this: communication is only successful when both the sender and the receiver understand the same information as a result of the communication.
Think about that statement as you read it again. Communication is only successful when both the sender and the receiver understand the same information as a result of the communication. Otherwise it is a mis-communication.
How many times have you attempted to communicate with your partner and your message was miscommunicated? You feel certain that they heard nothing you said. Ever have that happen? Of course, we all have.
The question becomes, did you not communicate it correctly or was the one being communicated to just not listening. Either way a miscommunication took place. The key is to think through what you want to say before notifying your mouth to open and speak.
So often in relationships one partner just starts talking or rambling, hoping that if they talk long enough they will eventually think of what they want to get across and their partner will finally get it too. This is not communications. This is chatter. The key is to think through what you want to say and leave out the rest. Less is always more.
And arguing should never be an option. Of course couples disagree, but a disagreement should not end in an argument. The real question is “Who wins in an argument?” And the answer is “Nobody.” So never argue to be right. Instead converse to find the truth.
For some relationships communicating seems natural and easy. Some have a natural “Nack” for communicating. For some it can be a struggle. But for all it can be learned. A good place to start is developing your listening skills.
Show interest in what the other person is saying
Many people make the mistake of talking too much and expressing their opinion and never listening to their partner’s viewpoint. One of the best methods of effective communication in a relationship is to ask your partner their viewpoint and listen. Letting your partner express their feelings places them in a position of returning the favor and letting you express yours. Listening, is at the heart of effective communications in a relationship. Because, you can build a stronger relationship by knowing more about what’s important to your partner.
You can avoid misunderstandings using questions and listening to seek clarification and to make sure you avoid jumping to conclusions. No one likes to be lectured to. Asking questions will help your partner to embrace the reasons behind your point of view and be more open discussion or to a resolution.
Here’s the next communication tip. Listen twice and speak once. You have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Therefore, you should listen twice as much as you speak. In your relationship this means that while your partner is talking give him or her your undivided attention instead of getting caught in the trap of thinking of what you’re going to say next. Your partner wants to know that you have heard what they are saying. So stay focused, truly listen and absorb the information being given and then find a way to follow up with a question relevant to the subject so that they know you were listening.
How well you listen has a major impact on the quality of your relationship and communication with your partner.
- Listen to obtain information.
- Listen to understand.
- Listen for enjoyment.
- Listen to learn.
Do not prejudge what is being communicated. Always allow your partner to finish without interruption. Let them have their opinion, and fully express it, even if you disagree. It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old habits are hard to break, and if your listening habits are as bad as most people’s, then there’s a lot of habit-breaking to do! But it’ll be worth all the effort in the long run. Start to consciously watch and listen to yourself and your partner and you’ll see what I mean. Just be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself constantly that your goal is to truly hear what your partner is saying so you can communicate their needs more effectively. If you don’t, then you’ll find that what your partner says to you and what you hear can be amazingly different! Just like any other learned skill, the more you do it, the more you practice, the better you become.
Here’s a little communication exercise:
When in a conversation with your partner start to notice if you have any of these bad communications habits:
- You have the habit finishing other’s sentences.
- You daydream or become preoccupied with your own thoughts when your partner is talking.
- You tend dominate the conversation.
- You are planning your response before your partner has finished speaking.
Instead try some of these:
- Provide feedback yes, but do not interrupt while your partner is talking.
- Look at all the relevant facts and ask open-ended questions to gain further understanding.
- Keep the conversation on what is being communicated.
A good follow up to a conflicting conversation with your partner is to ask yourself “how did I handle the situation?” And how might I have handled it better?
- Did I listen clearly before I responded?
- Was I clear and was I able to make my point understood?
- Did the discussion have a positive outcome? If not, why not?
- What could I have done differently to become a better communicator?
Letting go of the need to be in control
When conflict occurs, you always have two choices regarding how to handle the conflict: You can be open to learning about yourself and your partner and discover the deeper issues of the conflict.
The other option is you can try to win through some form of controlling behavior. But the real question is, “who really wins in an argument?” We’ve all learned many overt and subtle ways of trying to control others into behaving the way we want: anger, blame, judgment, niceness, resistance, withdrawal of love, explaining, silent treatment, teaching, defending, lying, denying, and so on. Whatever controlling methods you may use, they will all create even more conflict.
Suppose you place your thumb on top of a nail and then hit it with a hammer. You wouldn’t need to force yourself from doing it again, would you? The reality is, it hurts! Correct view lets you know how to avoid the pain of doing it the incorrect way again.
Attempting to manipulate or control your partner is the number one source of conflict in a relationship. Until we see this, and experience it to be true, our number one priority will always be to attempt to control uncontrollable situations. What we don’t realize, is that in our attempt to be “in control,” all we are doing is creating more conflict. Whatever we attempt to control, controls us.
There is only one way to resolve a conflict is not through control. It’s by seeing our situation for what it is, looking for the truth, instead of what we wish it would be.
Remembering to learn and understand instead of control is a vital part of improving your relationship. For example, most people have two major fears that become activated in relationships: The fear of abandonment, of losing the other, and the fear of engulfment, of losing yourself through the control of another. When these fears get activated, most people immediately protect and defend themselves against these fears with their controlling behavior. But if you chose to learn about and understand your fears instead of attempt to control your partner, your fear would eventually go away.
When you let go of the need to control, you don’t actually give up control at all. What you really give up is using force to manipulate your partner by trying to make them the way you would like them to be.
You then create a sense of peace and joy and flow in your life.
Let go of the need for acceptance
The need to be loved is the greatest of all human needs. As a child we feel the need to be accepted, loved, and connected to our parents. That need is so strong that we carry it with us all our lives. As we grow into our childhood and teen years, we feel a need to be accepted by our peers. Our friendship circles are also made up of people who satisfy our need to be accepted. As we begin to form significant relationships, the need for acceptance plays a major role in the people who are attracted to us. We look for acceptance from those with whom we work. When we have a significant relationship we have a great need to be accepted by our partner. And when we become parents ourselves, we want to be accepted by our children—we want them to love us and remain connected.
In a relationship the greatest problem lies in the need. A “need” is defined as “a situation of great difficulty or misfortune.” When we are in a state of “need” for anything, we are automatically in a state of difficulty. Need has the same meaning as lack. When we focus on our need for acceptance, in a relationship we are focused on lack of acceptance, which can create conflict in the relationship. Just like when you “need” to be in control, you are out of control. When you “need” acceptance you get none.
In a relationship when you have a deep “need” for acceptance from your partner you are like vacuum cleaner sucking up attention. Of course it varies in degree, but when it’s there, you can become very wearing to be around. A needy person is almost impossible to accept when they are so needy of validation and aren’t accepting of themselves. A person seeking acceptance from their partner can’t receive it until their inside world feels it. It can be a vicious cycle.
Being in a relationship with someone who has a need to be accepted is a “no win” situation. They are likely to attract someone with an extreme need to control. The controller wants someone they can control verbally and sometimes even physically. And the needy person craves the attention so the put up with the abuse. Again a no-win situation. When these two needs are out of balance and come together in a relationship it is a relationship full of frustration, blame, abuse and judgment, all of which create very unfulfilling relationships. In order for the relationship to work each partner must first be pleasing to, and accept themselves and their partner.
It is really quite simple. When you let go of the ‘need for acceptance,’ and ‘need for control,’ you gain the acceptance of others and eliminate conflict. When you let go of conflict you gain true power. You inherit the freedom of the present moment, a freedom to choose and act from a place of compassion and love, rather than fear and conflict. When we free up the mental, emotional, and physical energy that has been bound up by our needs, our actions surrounding events and our perception of those events take on an effortless almost magical quality—a flow.
Everyone wants to love and be loved. When we truly love and accept ourselves as we let go of need to be accepted and our need to be controlling, only then are we free to love, be loved and accept others unconditionally. When we change those around us change. When we become more loving toward ourselves, those around us become more loving toward us. In order to resolve conflicts, make the right choice or be the right choice in a relationship, it is essential to understand these dynamics.
Last, if you go forth honoring yourself and your partner and properly investing in your relationship, then awesomeness is in-store for you!
It’s all about balance…happy balancing!