“Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy. It does not boast. It is not proud. It is not rude.
Love protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres…”
Love is all around us.
One google search yields 3,940,000,000 results on love. Love isubiquitous. Yet we don’t often talk about the fact that loving relationships require work and intentionality. It’s not a cake-walk like we are so often led to believe.
So whether you are single, dating, or married, here are some rules to be mindful of in your intimate relationships.
1.) Listen first.
We are so eager to speak our mind, share our side of the story, or defend ourselves that we miss what the other is saying. Active listening requires full presence. And when we are truly tuned in to the other’s story, we can, first and foremost, respond out of a place of care and compassion.
2.) Admit you are emotionally dependent on one another.
Don’t succumb to the bombardment of media messages claiming our self-sufficiency (i.e. “it’s all about you”). It’s time to renounce the illusion of self-sufficiency and admit that we need one another.
Bonus challenge: let someone in your life know that you need them.
3.) When the inevitable occurs – aka conflict – turn towards the other, practice getting undefended, use a soft-start up, and speak of your own need and fear. For many, when we feel hurt, we jump into self-protected mode, which often includes fighting back, shutting down, or walking away. We have to stay engaged and fight fairly if we want to cultivate intimacy.
4.) Practice gratitude in your relationships.
Be mindful of saying “thank you” to your partner on a daily basis. Research indicates that when we intentionally practice gratitude, we have healthier relationships, lower levels of depression and stress, and greater life satisfaction.
5.) Set aside time to be with one another without distractions. Interpretation – put all electronic devices away! [I was recently on a flight and learned that above 10,000 feet we can now get internet … Ah! Where can we unplug?] Fly below 10,000 feet in your relationships occasionally!
6.) Practice forgiveness. Those we love the most, we will hurt the most. And those who love us, will hurt us. It’s par for the course. And yet we can make the decision to forgive.
Forgiveness is a choice we make. And when we chose to forgive, we are more likely to have higher self-esteem, more friends, longer marriages, lower blood pressure, lower rates of heat disease, better immune system function, and fewer episodes of depression.
7.) Appreciate the real person in front of you and don’t turn to substitutes. We have more ways to avoid, numb, and escape then ever before. Add to that technology, which tends to reduce relationships to bytes, and we quickly have filled the emptiness in our lives with superficial solutions that offer immediate comfort but distort our ability to truly connect with one another. Don’t settle for anything less than loving, human connection.
8.) When you mess up, fess up! Practice saying, “I’m sorry” more often and know that messing up is a part of life. We’re human, after all.
9.) Maintain curiosity. After the honeymoon and somewhere between leaving the toilet seat up and forgetting to pick the kids up after school, we settle into a routine that at times seems mundane and disenchanting. And we begin to think we know it all about our partner. And we get bored. And then, we stop trying. Resentment builds and communication breaks down. And couples find their way to my clinical office. [Trust me, I’ve seen it hundreds of times.]
When we maintain curiosity and simultaneously have a posture of humility in relationships, we become more open, engaging, and playful. The capacity to maintain a sense of curiosity creates an openness in us and lays the groundwork for greater joy and delight in one another.
10.) Be in community.No one person can meet all of your needs. Let’s take our relational birthright seriously and cultivate it.