Creating Exemplary Relationships

  1. Pay Attention! More marriages die of neglect than of irreconcilable difference. Relationships require on-going maintenance in order to thrive. If your relationship isn’t thriving, it’s dying; there’s no middle ground. Many people take better care of their cars and trucks than they do their marriages. And although most of us wouldn’t think of driving 50,000 miles without changing the oil in our vehicle, we go months without saying “I love you,” going on a romantic getaway, or simply taking a few hours to be alone together without any competing distractions. Relationships thrive when given adequate attention but they wilt like a dying flower when neglected.
  2. Address problems when they come up; don’t wait until later. Waiting until you feel like dealing with problems isn’t a good idea. Problems generally don’t get easier to deal with over time; they get harder. While break-downs and disappointments are inevitable in all relationships, they don’t necessarily lead to trouble. Acknowledging and addressing difficulties early on rather than waiting for things to get bad can make a world of difference. Pain denied is pain prolonged.
  3. Take care of yourself. The best gift that you can give your partner is your own well being. The more healthy, happy and fulfilled you are, the more you have to offer others. Taking care of yourself involves more than what you eat and how much you exercise, it includes the responsibility to know what nourishes your soul and spirit and seeing to it that you bring those experiences into your life. Even long-standing patterns of self-sacrifice and resentment can dissolve when we honor a commitment to our own self-care.
  4. Learn to appreciate the differences. In relationships, differences are inevitable; conflict is optional. There’s a reason that opposites attract. It’s because they each have something to offer that the other is lacking. We seek out others, not despite our differences, but because of them. Yet the differences can devolve into conflict when we try to coerce others to agree with us rather than appreciating the value of the unique gifts and perspectives we each bring. This is often easier said than done, but it’s a powerful antidote to conflict. The French have a phrase for it. “Vive la difference!”
  5. Take time to make love. One of the first expectations of a distressed marriage can be a diminishment in the frequency of sexual activity. For some reason, couples that once thrived on passionate lovemaking are often willing to tolerate a desert of physical intimacy where a lush garden once bloomed. Great sex is more than just an experience of sensual pleasure. It’s a means through which we delight in each other’s bodies, give expression to our desires, show our love, and share the joy of losing ourselves in bliss. If the flame of sexuality is neglected too long, the spark may go out. Don’t wait until the embers are cold; talk about what you want and what’s missing and keep playing!
  6. Don’t take your relationship for granted. There’s no such thing as a divorce-proof marriage. If you think your marriage is so perfect that divorce isn’t even a possibility, think again. This belief can lead to a kind of complacency. While this may not always lead to divorce, it can lead to something equally dangerous: a flat, or stagnant marriage. Staying together isn’t the goal of a great marriage, thriving is. Thriving means never taking each other for granted and continually expanding our capacity for joy, love and growth. It’s a lifetime process, and the more you do it the easier it gets!
  7. Don’t let disappointments turn into resentments. In an effort to avoid conflict many of us try to ‘get over’ feelings of anger or disappointment. There is no problem with doing this when we can genuinely and completely let these feelings go. If we can’t, they are likely to turn into resentment, and become a toxic presence in our relationship. Telling the truth about difficult feelings in a respectful and non-blaming way can often bring about greater closeness and understanding, while stuffing those feelings often has the opposite effect.
  8. Don’t wait too long to get help. The average couple that enters marriage counseling has been troubled for six years. By this time, it’s likely that workable difficulties have disintegrated into entrenched patterns. By all means, do everything that you can to handle challenges on your own, but be willing to recognize when your best efforts aren’t doing the trick. When you hit roadblocks that you’re not able to overcome on your own, bring in professional help before issues become entrenched and intractable.
  9. Remember to Play. When work and play get out of balance in a marriage a correction needs to be made. Those times that we think that we don’t have the time to relax and play with each other are when we most need to. It doesn’t require a long tropical vacation to reinvigorate a relationship. Sometimes a short break from a life of ongoing responsibilities can be enough to remind us of why we wanted to be together in the first place. Even if it’s just a matter of grabbing a few minutes of down time together between the time that the kids go to sleep and you do, enjoying each other’s company is one of the best forms of marriage insurance that there is!
  10. Learn to forgive. Nothing erodes the foundation of a marriage faster than grudge-holding. It’s poison that over time is highly destructive. Although feelings of disappointment, hurt, or irritation are inevitable in all close relationships, they can dissolve when there is a willingness to forgive and let go of resentment. Forgiveness isn’t a one-time event; it’s a process that occurs gradually and incrementally over time. It isn’t always easy and sometimes it doesn’t even seem possible, but with an intention to heal, steps in the right direction can be taken even in the most strained of circumstances. Don’t wait too long to learn to forgive. Do it now!

 


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