So often the books and articles available to us address the things that go wrong in marriages/partnerships. By focusing on the strengths and possibilities in promoting relationships, the emphasis here is on positives rather than the litany of omissions.
- A solid friendship is essential.
A solid friendship based on respect, clear communication and teamwork is the foundation stone of a quality relationship.
- Have I told you lately that I love you?
In a happy marriage/partnership it’s important to let your partner know that they are special, valued and not being taken for granted. This affirmation should be shown through words and actions. It’s those little things like the unexpected hug, saying “I love you” every day, hanging out the washing, or even putting on the kettle for a cup of tea or coffee. The key is giving consistent affirmation rather than reserving it for a special occasion. It’s not the big extravagant shows of affection but the little, daily acknowledgements that matter.
- Keep your expectations real.
When a partner’s expectations go unmet frustration sets in. The one important factor is to ensure that the expectations we have of one another are realistic. How can we ensure our expectations are achievable? By talking to each other. Expectations may cover treatment of the other, conflict resolution, finances, division of home duties, child rearing. My husband had this humorous notice stuck to the door of his office….D.A.D.E.D.B.D. ie. Don’t Ask, Don’t Expect, Don’t Be Disappointed. Although he was clearly creating boundaries in relation to work demands, this seriously could be fine tweaked to apply equally to positive relationships. Don’t Ask? Don’t Expect, Don’t Be Disappointed. After all, none of us are mind readers.
- Are we bored yet?
Even in the best marriages/partnerships there is the chance of boredom happening. To reduce this likelihood keep things fresh, introduce change. By this I mean exploring new places, restaurants, new ideas and activities together. Through doing new things together the arousal/adrenaline it produces is transferred into your relationship.
- Communication – It’s complicated.
For healthy and fulfilling relationships good communication is essential. Double checking to see what your partner is saying can be useful. Keep your communication open and clear by seeking clarification to avoid misunderstandings. To communicate effectively set aside time without interruptions and talk about what is happening and how this affects each of you.
- Check in with emotions.
As part of effective communications/relationships it is important to check in with your emotions. If there is an emotional topic of concern use of statements commencing with “I feel” help to tap into how this is affecting you. A strategy would be to commence with a positive comment, followed by the ‘I feel’ statement and ending with a positive conclusion. In other words use the sandwich technique in discussions of the heart – a positive followed by an honest critique of your emotional feelings and ending with a positive. Character assassinations, accusations, name calling should be avoided.
- Challenges rather than problems.
In a relationship you don’t necessarily solve problems. However, you can work together and manage the challenges that arise. Honesty is needed to ensure that the best outcomes can be negotiated.
- Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.
As relationships progress, change in inevitable. Some of the changes may be planned, for example, children, employment, housing etc. However, there are also the unforseen such as illness, disability, unemployment, work demands, financial pressures and retirement. Positive relationships recognise that life’s demands will happen and relationships change. By being open and communicating, preparing for the unexpected, you have a better than average chance of weathering the storms. You need to have a plan if only to be clear on what will occur under these circumstances. The rose coloured glasses need to be set aside for a ‘reality check.’ Being flexible and resilient will ensure some stumbling blocks are minimised.
- Time together and time alone.
There needs to be a balance between togetherness and separateness. A positive couple will share some hobbies and interests together, and then make time to pursue their own private sporting, cultural and artistic endeavours.
- There’s a conflict coming on.
In strong marriages/relationships both partners understand each other’s positions, feel comfortable sharing their feelings and ideas. Disagreements are taken seriously, and both partners work together cooperatively to address issues of conflict. Conflict resolution skills are vital. Make the time to investigate, learn and practice conflict resolution strategies.
“Building a healthy marriage means that you have learned to turn your stumbling blocks into stepping stones. Build on your strengths, while creatively addressing your differences.” – D.H. Olson
- Let’s get sexual, sensual…
With life’s demands so many people and couples for that matter find that there just isn’t any energy at the end of the day to enjoy a sexual relationship. While we can all empathise, there’s a wonderful alternative. By simply being sensual, both partners feel loved and validated. Enjoy those special moments of intimacy, touching, hugging, kissing, sharing thoughts with the other, lost in the wonder of each other. Creativity must be used to ensure that the experience is pleasurable for the other. Respecting each other and recognising that stress and exhaustion are so often a part of life and need to be dealt with sensitively. Create opportunities for intimacy and practice patience.
- Falling in love again. What am I to do?
There needs to be the understanding that falling in love is not the same as being in love. There is a transition period from the initial throes of first love to the more mature, evolving love in marriage and partnerships. The stages can be seen as …1. Coming together (initiating stage), 2. Experimentation (finding common ground), 3. Intensifying stage (self disclosure, testing the waters), 4. Integration (couple exclusivity), and 5. Bonding (the relationship commitment which includes power equality, constructive communication, and connection with each other). …Knapp’s Relational Development Model.
- I’m listening
It goes without saying that happy couples and partners are good listeners. This means that your focus is entirely on your partner with comfortable eye contact being maintained (where culturally appropriate). There is no ‘butting in’ while the other is talking; posture is relaxed with a non-defensive body position, no distracting gestures, and phones/communication devices are muted. Above all you need to be genuinely interested rather than distracted.
- Trust me
An essential quality in building an intimate relationship is…trust. If there is no trust we cannot open our hearts to anyone. If we honour the agreements and boundaries, share our thoughts, feelings and vulnerabilities, then trust will be an essential part of a positive, nurturing relationship.
- Being vulnerable
To open ourselves up to being vulnerable means that we expose the inner most thoughts and feelings about ourselves to another person. There is nothing to fear in being vulnerable. By showing our true worth and opening our hearts we acknowledge our humanity. It is also a way of allowing us to heal by releasing our hurt and anguish. By being honest we also give permission to our partner to do the same.
“We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone – but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy.” – F. Crane
- Speak your own truth.
The differences that are brought into a relationship need to be recognised, celebrated and honoured. In a fulfilling, intimate and positive marriage (or partnership) couples are absolutely truthful in matters of the heart. By withholding your truth you create a distance between yourself and your partner. Make it a ritual to share your truth with your partner, express your feelings to clear out any unresolved pain, but also share your dreams, fantasies, hopes and expectations. By doing this you take responsibility for your actions and the direction of your life as a person of integrity and a caring partner.
- Power through responsibility.
By claiming responsibility for our experiences and actions we claim the power to create our own unique direction in relationships. If we acknowledge our part in positive or struggling relationships we are able to move on to the challenges of righting the wrongs and making our relationships stronger. This is not about blame because blame is the antithesis of responsibility. By blaming we project our feelings onto an innocent party (our partner) rather than addressing our feelings which are often based on experiences in our past. In doing this we may temporarily deflect our attention off our pain but do not allow healing to occur or end the cycle of pain .
- I’m an individual.
There is the contradiction in desires – unity (a sense of oneness) and individuality (the sense of difference). In fact both need to be embraced for a healthy, positive relationship. Self care is necessary because if you can’t care for yourself you won’t be able to care about/for anyone else. Giving freely of your love, compassion and happiness will be reflected in your relationships. Without these elements a relationship will slowly wither and die. As with any endeavour there needs to be planning. Make a list of personal goals that you wish to attain. The areas that should be covered include… career, hobbies, recreation, physical/psychological fitness, diet, ongoing personal growth education, artistic interests, and spirituality to name but a few. Your partner should also complete a list of personal goals. By comparing your lists you may be surprised by what you discover about each other.
- Having fun.
Being in a marriage or partnership should include having fun. Without fun it would be a pretty boring relationship. Make the time to enjoy your time together. Try to laugh every day and foster humour. Talk about some fun things you would like to do together. See funny movies, read funny books and hunt out positive quotes. Finally, enjoy social gatherings with positive, fun loving like-minded friends.
- Spirituality is a component of positive relationships.
As suggested in ancient Buddhist teachings, by transforming our relationships into spiritual relationships, a light is shone on the deeper meanings of marriage and partnerships. In spiritual relationships there is a place for kindness, wisdom and compassionate partnering. In other words there is a commitment to something higher; to become your best self in a better relationship which promotes co-creative interactions. The intentions, meaning and purpose of life take you exactly where you both want to go. This commitment to each other is the foundation of spiritual growth. A conscious, loving and enduring relationship fosters flexibility, loving detachment, mutual respect and compassion. The goal is to live in an unshakable awareness of and willingness to embrace the light and darkness present in all relationships.
“Whatever relationships you have attracted in your life at this moment, are precisely the ones you need in your life at the moment. There is a hidden meaning behind all events, and this hidden meaning is serving your own evolution.” – Deepak Chopra