We are created – hardwired in our brains – to live in relationships, but the “how to” is not innate or instinctive. Here are five essential elements that help us with the “how to” part as we build lasting relationships:
1. Intentionality. Being intentional with our relationships means being committed to pay attention to them. Think of relationships like they are ICU patients. They need tender loving care, attention, constant monitoring, adjustments, and the right form of help at the right time. Successful couples learn to pay attention to and nourish their relationships. They look for ways to attend to, encourage and care for their relationships. They understand that couples therapy, courses and retreats are not just about fixing broken relationships, but about improving and strengthening good relationships. They realize and give attention to the importance of time, praise, forgiveness, and commitment.
2. Time. Relationships require regular and consistent investments of time. Time is the most valuable thing we have and it’s limited. Therefore, it’s precious. Clients often tell me that when they think back to their childhood the one thing they would have like to have more of is not wealth or things, but time. Time spent with their mom or dad. Not quality time, but quantity time. The concept of quality time is a myth. It’s a lie told to us or a lie we tell to feel better about cheating our relationships out of time. However, in the midst of the busiest time of life when time is rarest, consistently investing small amounts of time over time is cumulative, summative. Intentionality is essential. If it’s not on the calendar, written in ink, it’s not happening. If you depend on random investments of time, they likely won’t happen and will definitely not amount to anything. Think about our ICU patient, where does “random” fit into the treatment plan?
3. Praise. Praise much, criticize little. Intentionally choose praise over criticism. Praise every thoughtful and intentional act your partner does. Thoughtful doesn’t always mean it works out 100%. For example, if your spouse brings you a coffee and muffin, but it was the wrong muffin, this is an opportunity to praise their effort NOT an opening to criticize their mistake. Praise increases the desire to continue and improve on actions, criticism wounds the relationship. If you do need to have a talk with your significant other, then have a sincere talk that supports and helps the relationship. However, short/long bouts of criticism are toxic and they injure our ICU patient.
4. Forgiveness. The place of honour belongs to the one who is first to reach out to the other in forgiveness. If I have learned anything from three university degrees, years of counselling couples and 25 years of marriage, it’s that if one person in the relationship is willing to apologize or reach out to make amends then the relationship has a strong advocate. Think about it - if you are unwilling to reach out to your partner to repair the damage in your relationship you are acting against your own best interest.
5. Commitment. Selfless devotion. Selflessly committing to and investing in our relationships is a self-rewarding act – the more we put in the more we get out. Think in these terms: everything you do or say will either nourish or injure your relationship. The health of your relationship is a measure of your happiness. The healthier the relationship the happier you and, of course, your partner will be. Don’t wait for your partner. Start selflessly investing in your relationship today and start reaping the benefits!
Take a 30 day relationship challenge – do something positive/nourishing for your relationship every day for the next 30 days and take note of how much better you feel about your relationship and about your partner.