For those of us who endeavor to create long-lasting, successful, committed relationships; we know that they certainly can have their ups and downs. Success in a relationship, to me, is defined not only by the couple remaining together but by a continued deepening of intimacy and trust, and through the creation of a safe space of authentic expression for both partners. By that definition of success, having tools and practices that work is not only desirable but necessary. Here are a few things that I’ve learned to really support couples in winning.
1. Actively Sharing and Listening:
People, especially in an intimate partnership want to be heard and know that their feelings and opinions are valid and valuable to their partner. Although this is probably an obvious truth to anybody who considers it, the practical application of it, in relationship, is not always easy. Many couples often find it almost impossible to really communicate what is most important to them. When we honestly look, we often find that some of the closest people in our lives are people that we build up the strongest barriers against. It makes sense that the people who have the most access to our feelings and could potentially hurt us the most, are the ones that we would feel the need to protect ourselves against. While this behavior may contribute to our “safety” and “comfort” it does not do well about having intimacy and connection thriving in our relationships.
We must be willing to share our experience with our partner, be willing to listen to the experience that our partner is having, and do so in a mature, neutral and non-judgmental way. Couples often are willing to discuss absolutely anything except for their relationship, how they are feeling about it, and how they are experiencing themselves in it. Which, if the relationship is to work, this may be the most important thing to be talking about. I often ask myself when I feel that something needs to be discussed, “What is the most authentic thing I could say to my partner right now?” This must also be followed with the courage to say just that, even when it is uncomfortable. Allowing for ANYTHING to come up in conversation, and being open enough to be with it (regardless of how it may feel) is essential to intimacy. We may not always like our experience, or that of our partner, but if both do not have a space to be acknowledged and understood we are simply ingnoring the truth while selling ourselves a fantasy about a relationship that doesn’t actually exist.
2. Rigorously Keeping Your Word:
Generally speaking, having integrity is said to be a “good” thing. Most people, when asked, would say they are a person of integrity. Although, if you randomly asked 100 people what their definition of integrity is, you would probably get many different answers. For the purposes of this conversation, let’s say that your integrity is directly related how you keep your word in the relationship.
Most people have a relationship with their word as though there are “big” words and “little” words. For example: cheating on my partner would be breaking a “big” word and saying I will pick up milk on the way home and not doing it would be breaking a “little” word. Yes, it is true that forgetting the milk may not end the relationship as breaking your word in another way might. In most cases people would simply say “I forgot,” apologize and forget about it. If you’re willing to really look at what is created even in these small instances you’ll find that these are the moments, day in, and day out where trust and reliability are created in the relationship. Giving and keeping your word regularly, shapes the relationship, and this is happening all the time. We teach people in or lives what they can expect from us, and we show them their value by honoring them with our word. Forgetting to pick up the milk, on some level is saying that your request just wasn’t that important to me. Imagine if there would be $100,000 waiting for you to bring the milk home, would you forget? Being your word with your partner let’s them know that they matter. It also builds your self-esteem, and I’ll assert that someone who truly honors themselves would not put up with someone consistently breaking their word, even if they deeply love the person.
3. Pick Your Battles:
In relationships, people do not always see eye to eye. Successful relationships have everything to do with compromise and adapting to what is important to each other. That being said, if both partners are completely malleable they will have no solid ground to stand on. If one is dominating while the other stands for nothing, chances are there will be no mutual respect in the relationship and it will become a breeding ground for bitterness and resentment. On the other hand if both partners are constantly positioned and fighting to have there way peace and happiness could be a scarce thing to come by.
Clearly there must be a balance among these differing factors, the balance that I’ve found is this: each partner must have a sincere openness to what the other one offers. He/she must be willing to see it their way and be open to the possibility of adapting. There must be an understanding that what they are offering is important to them and must have value in some way, even if it’s not immediately apparent. In many cases, you will be willing to concede to what the other is offering once you look at it with an openness to seeing the value. And there may be times that you are absolutely unwilling to concede. These are the times when you “pick your battles.” If you are generally open and cooperative in the relationship and that has come to be something that your partner can rely on from you. There will also be an understanding that when you really stand for something it’s because it is really important to you. Not because you’re being right or difficult, but because it matters. When your partner understands this, they will likely be happy to cooperate because you have created an atmosphere of cooperation in the relationship. This leaves everyone feeling appreciated and valued which again, is what people want to experience, especially in romantic partnerships.
“Successful relationships are a contest of generosity.”- Unknown. This is one of my favorite quotes on relationships and one I would consider to be true in many ways.
We must always be willing to give in our relationships. When we are in relationship from a perspective of: “What can I contribute to this?”, “How can I add to this?”, or “How can I make this person’s life better BECAUSE I am here?”, we are guaranteed to generate distinct results from: “What can I get from this person?”. I often find, as a coach, that people are really trying to get something from people in relationships. Even when they don’t think they are. On the surface it may look as though we give and give and give but, under the surface, their is often a hidden motive of wanting to get something. Human beings use relationships to get validation, attention, a sense of worthiness and love. We often use the people in our lives in an attempt to compensate for our own feelings of unworthiness etc. This dynamic is common and present in most, if not all relationships. It is not wrong to do this, it simply limits the relationship and prevents it from being extraordinary.
Only when we are willing to choose generosity in all circumstances can we truly experience freedom in relationship, and allow those in relationship with us to experience that also. Generosity has many forms, but the context of it is always the same. It is defined as kindness, and a willingness to give more than is expected. I would add that it is to do so with the intention of another’s happiness.. We can be generous with our honesty and openness, our willingness to share. We can be generous with our affection, and not withholding it when we are upset. We can be generous with our thoughts about our partner, always thinking the best of them and giving the benefit of the doubt. And we can be generous with our time and resources, always making sure they know that they are important enough to receive in this way. Through a sincere generosity we experience that giving and receiving are in fact the same thing. This requires us to be extremely honest with ourselves about our own in-authenticity; so that our giving can come from the purest space possible.
5. Be 100% Responsible for the Relationship
This may be the most important of all. Many people will tell you that relationships are 50/50. Some may even tell you that they are 100/100. I don’t think that either is necessarily bad advice, but to produce the most extraordinary results, try this: operate as though you are 100% responsible for the relationship and the other person has ZERO responsibility. Now clearly this is not the truth, every person has responsibility in all their relationships, especially in a romantic partnership. This perspective though, gives you the most power and access to generating the kind of relationship you want. It will also call you into a kind of introspection that you will not get from any other perspective. Looking at it this way, you cannot blame anyone for anything, nor should you blame yourself. The opportunity though, is to see that if something undesirable is happening, question how you may have set it up. If something is not happening that you want to happen, question how you could be so that the experience is created. Now you have placed yourself in a position of power in absolutely every circumstance in the relationship.
This final key is why the first four will happen. It’s the cause to actively share and listen, the reason to rigorously be your word, the purpose behind wisely picking your battles, and the context that creates generosity. Whatever it is you want to create with your partner, you have the power to do so. This is the step that gives rise to the re-invention of self in order to create happiness with another. It is here that we find the true gift that relationships can be. Our partner then becomes our greatest teacher and our best friend.
Article written by: Shane Kohler
I would like to send a special thank you to Shane for contributing to our blog.
I have known Shane since he began his journey with the Gratitude Trainings.
He is now a Certified Transformational Trainer and Professional Relationship and Life Coach. Call, text or email him at: 561-287-1249 • email@example.com