Tools for Survival

A healthy relationship takes work. It takes figuring out how to enjoy time together-- and how to appreciate time spent doing your own thing. Believe it or not, you don't have to do everything --or agree about everything-- with your life partner. In fact, it's healthier to have some activities that you share with your friends, or do on your own. It's healthy to have your own opinion and your own personal goals.

However cliche the sentiment, we really do have to learn to appreciate, respect, and like ourselves before we can ask others to like and respect us. It's hard to learn these things after having been in your partnership (or marriage) for a while. Watching the relationship deteriorate over time is painful, and we often don't want to put any more effort into fixing it or making it work by the time we figure out what went wrong.

One of my favorite relationship survival concepts comes from a great book called "The Five Love Languages." Basically, we each feel loved in a unique way. And because of the way we were brought up to express love in our families-- or the way that we most feel loved ourselves-- we often express the love we feel for our partner in specific pre-programmed ways. Here's the catch: Most of the time, your partner doesn't feel loved in the same way you do.

You may spend a lot of time and energy doing nice things for your partner to show that you care-- things like cooking dinner and giving foot rubs and keeping the kids busy so he or she can have a few hours of quiet on the weekend. But what if your partner needs to hear the words? Maybe the way your partner feels loved is by hearing you tell him or her how much you love them, and how they are special and important in your life. All that effort you put in didn't get you anywhere. It's easy to feel resentful. It's easy to stop trying. But it's also easy to try something different, and save our efforts for the ones that really make a difference.

Sometimes, we understand that a specific act or statement is our partner's way of showing us they care. But if that effort they made isn't actually in our special love language, we still don't feel that fulfillment of being in a loving and rewarding relationship. Sometimes all the loving and appreciative words in the world aren't enough to fix the problem-- because the problem is that your partner feels loved when you give him or her gifts, or perform acts of service like doing the dishes without being asked.

One of the best things we can do to maintain our most important relationships is to figure out not only how WE feel loved, but the language of love that our partner most clearly benefits from. Then, we make an effort to give our partner a dose of love in a way they can really appreciate-- on a regular basis. Building up a store-house of received love means that when times are tough, and we don't have energy or emotional stamina to be loving, there's love-money in the bank for us to draw on for a while. Our partner can be loving and supportive of us without feeling like they are being drained or sucked dry in the process.

It's about maintenance, and compassion. And these two tools have to be utilized by both people in the relationship over the lifetime of the relationship. Unfortunately, as simple as these tools sound, we often aren't taught about them when we enter the big relationships of our lives. We don't know how to say what we need without making demands. We don't know how to be compassionate without enabling or becoming codependent.

Another book whose concepts I draw from on a regular basis is called "Truth in Dating." This book describes-- and gives examples of-- honest communication in a relationship. I've used some of the skills this book spelled out for me in business meetings, and in trying to communicate with the elders in my family tree. I've used them in ending a dating relationship with someone I really liked and respected-- but didn't want to date anymore. And I've gained a much clearer understanding of how to talk to the people I love without trying to manipulate the outcome of the conversation. With direct and open communication about my needs and expectations in the relationship, and how I'm willing to support my partner in his own personal growth process.

We each are capable of growing and gaining additional tools for making our relationships even better. And every time I get to work with a person or a couple who really care about improving the quality of their relationship-- of their communication with the people they love-- I'm excited by the reminder that there are so many people out there who feel their love is worth working for. Is worth the effort it takes to make that relationship even better.

It takes work to maintain your weight, it takes work to improve your physical fitness. It takes weeks of putting in effort at work to receive a reward or promotion. Relationships are no different. They take work, they take effort, and positive results don't happen overnight. But the outcome is worth it. Even if all you gain is additional skill and better tools to give your next relationship a solid foundation.

Be Well, and with the advent of our glorious winter season,
Happy Everything!