Good relationships don’t just happen. I’ve heard many of my clients state that “If I 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, in the 35 years that I’ve been counseling couples, 7 choices you can make that will not only improve your relationship but can turn a failing relationship into a successful one.
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. This means that 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 and actions. This means learning to treat yourself with kindness, caring, compassion, and acceptance instead of self-judgment. Self-judgment will always make you feel unhappy and insecure, no matter how wonderfully 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, and not listening to you, not turned on sexually, 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. Since blaming one’s partner for one’s own unhappiness is the number one cause of relationship problems, learning how to take loving care of yourself is vital to a good relationship.
KINDNESS, COMPASSION, ACCEPTANCE
Treat others the way you want to be treated. This is the essence of truly spiritual life. We all yearn to be treated lovingly – with kindness, compassion, understanding, and acceptance. We need to treat ourselves this way, and we need to treat our partner and others this way. Relationships flourish when both people treat each other with kindness. While there are no guarantees, often treating another 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. Kindness 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.
LEARNING INSTEAD OF CONTROLLING
When conflict occurs, you always have two choices regarding how to handle the conflict: you can open to learning about yourself and your partner and discover the deeper issues of the conflict, or you can try to win, or at least not lose, through some form of controlling behavior. We’ve all learning many overt and subtle ways of trying to control others into behaving the way we want: anger, blame, judgment, niceness, compliance, caretaking, resistance, withdrawal of love, explaining, teaching, defending, lying, denying, and so on. All the ways we try to control create even more conflict. Remembering to learn 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 oneself. When these fears get activated, most people immediately protect themselves against these fears with their controlling behavior. But if you chose to learn about your fears instead of attempt to control your partner, your fear would eventually heal. This is how we grow emotionally and spiritually – by learning instead of controlling.
CREATE A DATE SCHEDULE
When people first fall in love, they make time for each other. Then, especially after getting married, they get busy. Relationships need time to thrive. It is vitally important to set aside specific times to be together – to talk, play, make love. Intimacy cannot be maintained without time together.
GRATITUDE INSTEAD OF COMPLAINTS
Positive energy flows between two people when there is an “attitude of gratitude.” Constant complaints create 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, so gratitude creates not only emotional and relationship health, but physical health as well.
FUN AND PLAY
We all know that “work without play makes Jack a dull boy.” Work without play makes for dull relationships as well. 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. Intimacy flourishes when there is the lightness of being, not when everything is heavy.
A wonderful 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 these 7 choices, you will be amazed at the improvement in your relationship!