Do MORE of this and LESS of that.It has always confused me that we are taught the least about a part of our life that matters the most.
The quality of the relationships we choose for ourselves can influence every other area of life. An unhealthy and tense marriage can impact performance at work, it can cause mental and physical health issues, can build depression, resentment, and discontent.
Conversely, a healthy and thriving relationship helps us to feel connected, fulfilled, driven, inspired, and happy.
Yet, something so important in our lives is often left up to chance.
“Just be yourself, the right person will come along.”
“When you know, you know.”
We’re given passive — and frankly useless advice that doesn’t give us any real knowledge or skills when it comes to building or maintaining relationships.
“James, skills?! Shouldn’t love just be natural?”
Herein lies the issue: Love, as an emotion — and as a verb — is baked into our emotional experience, sure.
But, it takes more than just love to build a thriving and happy relationship that lasts in the long run. Don’t take my word for it, though, ask anyone who’s been with their partner for years or decades if it just “happened,” or if it took real effort every day.
So, how, then, do we intentionally and deliberately create the life and love that we want alongside the partner we’ve chosen?
Do more of this and less of that:
When we enter into a relationship, we bring our past with us. Our past experiences, past traumas, past hurts, and past preconceived notions of what a relationship “should be” like.
If we rest too heavily on assumptions, though, we block ourselves from learning the true nature of the new person we’re letting into our lives.
Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges that love presents is: We must be fully open and unbiased each time we meet someone new.
Your “next” is not your “ex,” as they say.
The more that we listen, pay attention and learn about our partner, the less likely we’ll be to jump to conclusions and make our own assumptions about what we “think” they mean, or what we “think” they are doing.
For some, these tendencies last longer and take more work than others. It is entirely normal to take time to trust someone new — healthy, even.
Everyone who comes into your life has to earn your trust (more on this later) and also maintain it over time, but in order to so, you have to give them the space to step in.
If you can open yourself up to listening, learning, and feeling this person’s true and genuine presence…you just might be pleasantly surprised. If you think you already know them based on other people you’ve met in your past, though, you could be depriving yourself of something (and someone) beautiful.
The truth is that every couple to ever exist, no matter how happy or healthy, has faced and overcome their own challenges. In fact, that’s likely part of what made them so strong in the first place.
For so many, though, conflict is avoided like the plague. Feelings are hidden, agreements are feigned, and conversations are entirely skipped over for the sake of “keeping the peace.”
A challenge, though, cannot be solved and avoided at the same time. One must be chosen, and only one actually makes the challenge go away.
Avoiding conflict does nothing but roll the snowball down a hill, only causing it to gain more size and momentum the longer it’s ignored.
Couples who face their challenges together as a team have an opportunity to learn, grow, and evolve together. They can find a common ground that works for both of them and reinforce the foundation of their relationship.
This, of course, only applies to couples that understand it’s the two of them against the problem, NOT the two of them against each other.
If that sounds complex…well, it sort of is.
It’s a skill to take honesty and wrap it up in a nice little package while maintaining its integrity, but I believe that this is part of being a productive communicator.
However, many will try to avoid presenting the direct and honest truth and replace it instead with dropping hints or playing games.
Inevitably, the partner on the receiving end will miss some or all of the hints being dropped, which only serves to create more frustration on the part of the hinter.
“You don’t understand me!” is met with “You never tell me what you’re thinking!”
I believe that honest but kind communication can help us to minimize conflicts (point #2), or in some cases, avoid them altogether (more on this in point #6).
Skirting around an issue or being vague in the hopes that your partner catches your drift can be a risky and frustrating endeavor. You’re both adults and should be able to sit down and be truthful with each other. If your partner refuses to hear or recoils from your honesty, that is an entirely different issue within itself.
Trust is fragile and remains so throughout its lifetime. No matter how long it takes to be created, it can be destroyed in an instant. One lie, one betrayal, one act of deceit, and decades of work can simply evaporate in front of us.
I believe that we are acutely aware of this fragility and as a result, some of us respond by trying to control every little action or circumstance.
If we keep a close enough eye on someone’s actions, there’s no way they could ever betray us, right?
If we ask about every single little detail then there’s no room for error or dishonesty.If we keep tabs on their every move or social outing then we’ll always know who they’re with and what they’re doing.If this sounds like controlling or manipulative behavior…well, that’s because it is.
I’m going to say something here that sounds strange, but hear me out:
We must give our partner the opportunity to hurt us.
That’s right — relationships must have trust, and trust can only exist if someone can prove themselves to you.
They must have the chance to stay true to their word because that means that might not have stayed true.
They must have the chance to show you they’re loyal because that means they chose loyalty.
Obviously, I am not saying that your partner should put themselves in precarious situations just for the sake of proving themselves to you…but I am saying that you need to give them enough trust to show you that they are serious about you and this relationship.
You may think or feel that you’re avoiding heartbreak by holding them so close to you that they simply have no choice but to be faithful — but obedience through control is never sustainable, nor is it reflective of true feelings.
Loyalty out of love and respect is what is true.
“Love is giving someone the power to destroy you…but trusting them not to.” — Paulo Coelho
You must do what feels right (or doesn’t) for both of you, regardless of what anyone else says.
Move at your pace.
Take steps in your time.
Choose each other every day.
Not everyone is going to agree with your decisions or lifestyle — and that’s okay! They don’t have to! It’s YOUR life, not theirs.
If someone can’t respect you making the decisions that make you happy, then you have to ask yourself if your happiness is actually what they’re concerned with, or just trying to make you live a life that they approve of.
The people who really want to see you happy won’t care what that happiness looks like for you, as long as it is real and genuine.
They don’t let resentment build.
They don’t sit on their frustrations and pretend that they’ll just go away someday.
They don’t push their feelings away, or hide them from their partner.
They have the maturity required to raise concerns or frustrations to each other when they show up, so they don’t have time to fester, or grow, or turn into unfair assumptions.
Point #3 is important to remember in these instances because bringing up challenges when they arise does not mean just throwing a grenade into an otherwise peaceful conversation and expecting things to go smoothly.
Set an expectation for your partner, let them know that everything is okay but there’s something you’d like to sit and talk about, and then calmly and rationally explain your frustration or challenge.
More often than not, you’ll find that people respond in the same method they’re approached with. If you and your partner can agree to address your “problems” with this strategy, they’ll be a lot less volatile than you’d expect, making it easier and more comfortable to broach them in the future, as well.
It’s exhausting and impossible.
They never make mistakes (well, they do, but…), they never address the root of the problem, they never apologize — and therefore…they never change.
How or why could they change if they don’t think there’s anything that needs changing?
People like this are always looking for someone else to blame, and when you’re in a relationship with them, there’s only one other person to lay it all on — you.
Needless to say, this is never a foundation that a happy and healthy relationship can be built.
Healthy and thriving relationships require two partners who are both willing to admit and take responsibility for their mistakes.
Spoiler alert: You’re going to make some.
We ALL do. That’s part of being human.
Knowing this, making mistakes isn’t what’s important, but how we choose to respond to them is. If we are willing to acknowledge what went wrong, we can see it clearly and put a plan in place in order to approve.
Equally as important though, is showing our partner that we’re willing to see our actions clearly. If they’re disappointed in our actions and also don’t think we’re going to change over time, it’s going to bring tension to the relationship that could eventually pull us apart.
If, though, we can both be comfortable that each other is going to step up to the plate when the occasions arise, it helps to build a deeper connection, make us both feel more grounded and to increase the ease of forgiveness, because we know that our partner will be just as understanding with us when the time comes.
NOTE: Remember that this doesn’t go for abuse, betrayal, cheating, or other dealbreakers within the relationship. While, sure, many times a second chance might be warranted…it’s still important to maintain boundaries, and there are some mistakes that an apology simply cannot fix, no matter how sincere.
Maturity is important here because it helps to prevent jealousy.
If one partner is excelling while the other is struggling, it can create resentment. It’s important to remember that you’re both coming together to achieve a common goal (creating the life you both desire), and you both have your roles and responsibilities along the journey.
There’ll be ebbs and flows for you both. Support and encouragement. Victories and failures. It’s a dance. It’s a marathon. It’s a long, long road.
The better that you can work together and develop a system that works for you as a team, the less you’ll be likely to compete with or try to one-up each other, which can create a tense or toxic environment.
Remember that relationships are more about “we,” and less about “me.”
This statement may, then, sound conflicting — but it’s not…
You don’t need to like EVERYTHING about your partner in order to love them.
“Okay James, I’m confused…”
Let’s be honest, you don’t even like everything about yourself. Nobody does.
How, then, can you expect to like every single little thing about your partner?
You don’t have to, though — you just need to accept and embrace it.
The good, the bad, and the otherwise.
The past, the present, and the future.
Decisions they’ve made, mistakes they’ve made, triumphs they’ve enjoyed.
It’s all part of them, all that made them who they are today, all that brought them into your life.
There are decisions you probably wish you’d made differently, and ones that they wish they’d made differently — but, we cannot change the past, we can only learn from it and accept that it is part of us.
It doesn’t define us, though. We get the opportunity to define ourselves every single day.
By suspending judgment for what someone has done in the past, probably before you were even around, you can see them through a clearer light and develop a more natural and healthy form of love.
Many people think that in order to maintain a relationship, they need to sacrifice parts of themselves.
Sacrifice wants, needs, desires, ambitions, dreams, hobbies, passions…
In reality, just the opposite is true — or at least, it should be.
If you start sacrificing the things that make you, well…, you’re quite literally taking away some of the things that drew your partner to you in the first place.
They fell in love with how ambitious you were. How driven you were. How you lit up when you did the things you loved.
Why, then, would they want that part of you to go away?
Sacrificing parts of yourself can make you less happy, less vibrant, and less connected to yourself and the people around you.
How can you build a strong and healthy relationship off of that foundation?
You can’t, and a good partner wouldn’t ask you to.