Do you ever wonder how some couples are so happy together? They seem to have some key that is hidden from the rest of the world who are just getting by and getting divorced. Healthy relationships can be elusive to those who haven’t experienced them because of course they are trying so hard to have a happy relationship but somehow it isn’t working.
When I was in my early 20’s I remember seeing this one ridiculously cute couple whom I secretly hated. They were all kiss in public and pet names and yet they could easily allow the other to have a boys weekend or night out with her girlfriends, outside of the relationship. I on the other hand, was a hot mess. I couldn’t seem to find any sort of contentment inside of a relationship longer than a couple months. I thought I was doing something wrong or it just wasn’t possible for me. Then though my own trial and error and a lot of personal work I realized this: even when someone is a great match for you, it’s still a lot of work to keep things fun and fresh. No matter how easy and relaxed someone’s relationship seems, and whether they are aware of it or not, they are doing something behind the scenes to maintain it. Many of us learned this lesson along the way, but what specific things can you do? I’ve listed 4 main topics that I see out of balance in people who come to me with challenges in their relationship or relationships that don’t last. With this awareness one can start making steps toward a more fulfilling and exciting relationship immediately.
First take a pen and make a square. In each corner write one of the following: Communication, Vulnerablity, Fun/Activities, Sex. Then write a dot on each corner of the square. This would be what your relationship would look like if it was fulfilled in each of these areas: A balanced square. Write a dot where your actual satisfaction in the area is, the center of the square being zero and the corner where the dot is currently being 100% satisfied. Don’t over think it, go with your initial gut instinct. This exercise is a visual representation of what needs the most work in your relationship or what is out of balance.
Let’s start with communication. This was the first thing I realized I was not doing in my own short lived relationships. I wasn’t asking for what I wanted or even being honest with myself about what I desired in relationship. If this area has problems, issues in other areas are bound to arise because people undoubtedly have different wants, needs, and opinions about everyday things and if not shared or dealt with, they become repressed and turn to anger and resentment. Because it’s not always appropriate to share every little gripe and complaint with your partner, it’s helpful to have someone who is objective to support you in your relationship as well so you only go to your partner with things that you need to work out with them. It’s difficult to change the other areas I’m going to cover if communication isn’t established so this long winded explanation is why it’s the first building block to a healthy relationship.
First and foremost: most people’s communication in relationships is terrible. Just look at the nasty divorce pattern that we are seeing in more than 50% of couples who swear to spend the rest of their lives together. Whether or not they were right for each other is a whole different story but if the divorce is not amicable and no one is literally insane, it’s because there is a history of needs not communicated and the couple is harboring resentments toward one another. Believe it or not, there are some people who have very respectful divorces even in cases on infidelity when they learn to communicate with one another. In a time when the former is more common than the latter some people would call what I’m about to say radical communication.
One of the issues I see people bring up about communication is being afraid of asking for what they want for fear it will be judged or rejected or misunderstood. So here is an easy place to start. One thing that is tremendously helpful in communicating issues is the ol’ ‘I feel’ statement you may have learned in 2nd grade. Still extremely relevant and effective in adult relationships as on the playground basketball court. Starting your communication with “I feel _______.” instead of “You’re ________.” makes a difficult communication much easier to be heard.
Taking the ‘I feel’ statement to the adult level involves employing solution based communication instead of placing blame, simply complaining, or making your partner responsible for meeting your needs without even knowing what they are in the first place.
“I’ve been feeling distant from you lately. I miss our one on one time together. I was thinking we could go hiking and bring a picnic lunch this Saturday.”
-is a compelling invitation compared to-
“You never want to see me anymore. Do you even care?”
When communicating something challenging for your partner to hear be sure to take responsibility for your view of the situation and your part in it. If someone is accused of something they immediately get defensive even if they know what you’re saying is true. It’s important to LISTEN to their point of view as well because you may find you are doing something that is bothering them too. If you want to be heard you must be willing to hear others.
Note to be aware of:
Careful with never and always statements, those are rarely true and are accusatory in nature. “It feels like… or it seems like we haven’t spent as much time together lately.” are easier to hear than making your perspective the the truth by saying “You have been ignoring me.”
A tool to implement: SHARETIME
One thing I find very helpful to employ is something I call “Sharetime”. Sharetime is a structure for communicating tough stuff. One caution to starting something like this: if you have had little to no communication of the tough stuff to talk about yet in your relationship, seeking professional help to get the communication ball rolling can be very helpful. When issues are repressed there tends to be extra anger, resentment and sadness behind them and the issue itself may not be such a big deal but all the repressed emotion can be overwhelming to deal with on your own. Once “Sharetime” is created you can use it as a safe way to communicate things that might normally be challenging or hard to hear. “I want to have share time.” is a wonderful way to keep the communication present in a relationship and let your partner know you need to be heard.
Rules of Sharetime:
-Listen intently to every word your partner has to say about a subject before responding. Your intention is to understand what’s it’s like in their shoes.
-Use I feel statements. Don’t blame. Take responsibility for your perspective and your part in the issue and understand your way is not the only way to see it.
-Share with the intention of letting it go. It’s not about making the other person feel bad, it’s about saying what you need to say. ‘Getting something off your chest.’
Once someone truly feels like they have been heard and acknowledged for how they feel, it disappears. There may be layers of the same thing happening over and over again and not being communicated or past traumas but each time someone is truly heard another layer of trauma disappears and something new is possible.
Remember this is a life long process, you are never “done” until you’re dead. Communication is the gateway for getting your needs met and moving past old relationship patterns, and of course, creating happy healthy relationships both romantically and personally.
Next post I will cover the next key to happy relationships.
Relationship tips/relationship advice/relationship coaching/Los Angeles