This week is all about gearing up for Valentine’s Day, a day to reflect – for a moment or longer – on the status of our relationships.
On Tuesday, I shared the of a healthy relationship: conflict resolution, respect, fun, and love and affection. Each one is a tool, each one is doable, and each one asks you to focus on yourself and what you are contributing to your relationship.
Once you’ve explored those four components, it’s time to take a look at what the two of you can do together to form a true partnership and keep the love alive over the years.
Here are four more tools to fill your relationship toolkit.
- Communication. I talked about the importance of touch and physical comfort, but let’s talk about the importance of words. If you’re still remembering a name you were called as a child or a declaration a teacher made about your abilities or that one negative piece of feedback you got from your boss, you know how permanently damaging or affirming words can be. You also know how fuzzy they can be and how easily messages can be muddled. When you live with someone every day, there are countless ways you can miscommunicate, even with the very best intentions. That’s why this component is so important and why you must always check yourself before you begin a possibly touchy conversation. My mama once told me that you should speak to your spouse at least as nicely as you speak to your friends. Think about that. Sure, you share much greater intimacy with your spouse than you do your friends, but that doesn’t give you license to say whatever’s on your mind. And that leads me to…
2. Honesty is not carte blanche. I’ve heard many people indignantly pronounce that they are all about honesty. They say whatever they want, then add, “I’m sorry, I’m just being honest.” No. You don’t get to write off hurting someone as honesty. Yes, sometimes you need to tell someone something they don’t want to hear, and it can be very difficult. But we are supposed to treat others as we would want to be treated. Brashness and direct statements that do not take into account sensitivities and repercussions do absolutely no good. In fact, they do harm. Every time you tell your partner something “for their own good,” ask yourself if it really is, or if it’s just you, venting. If it really is something they need to hear, take time ahead of time to figure out how to broach the subject with kindness and with love. Think like they think, not how you think. Approach according to what works best for them, not what feels best for you. That’s true love.
3. Teamwork. As a parenting coach, my mind immediately goes to parents being on the same page when I hear this word. In the olden days, we used to call this “presenting a united front.” I can’t tell you how far we have strayed from this concept in recent years, where children have become the nucleus of the family instead of parents. Now we see parents divorcing over how to best get Johnny into college. But strong couples understand that kids love to divide and conquer, and they refuse to let it happen. Outside of kids, there are constant attempts by in-laws, bosses, friends, even society to drive a wedge between even the strongest partnerships. Our own vices – love of money, love of attention, love of ourselves – can also destroy our sense of teamwork. Healthy couples recognize that their relationship is the most important one in their lives, and they don’t allow anything to break up the team.
4. Shared goals. Happy couples work together toward common goals and dreams. These will change frequently throughout a relationship and one person may not always agree that the other’s goal is a smart one. Here is where it is crucial to hear one another out. Your dreams won’t always align, or even make sense, for that matter, but if you value your partner, you will listen and try to understand. Goals can be as small as Let’s get this yard in order! or as big as I want to retire at 60! Goals can also be applicable to only one partner. I want to earn an MBA or I want to take pilot lessons fall into this category. The specific goal doesn’t matter so much as the approach you take as a couple to achieve it. This is what lies beneath the expression “building a life together.” Every time you share ideas, projects, hard work, milestones, and accomplishments, you add another brick to your foundation. The cement holding it together is your mutual desire to see the other one happy and successful and your willingness to do what it takes to help make that happen.
My hope is that you will take some time to assess your relationship as it is today.
Ask yourself what one thing you can do to strengthen it, and start there. Take this time every year to re-assess and re-adjust. You never get to quit working on your marriage, but the payoff? The payoff, as they say, is priceless.