Tools to make you a superhero when it comes to love.
If you’ve been in love, are in love, or want to be in love, you probably know how marvelous and unsettling that situation can feel. To ease and enrich your way, I offer suggestions and ideas about what and why that is, based on my rueful and joyous experience, as well as studying I’ve done on the subject of love.
I think understanding and accepting the complex, messy opportunities and challenges of even a good, loving relationship contributes to avoiding or minimizing dangers. This understanding also promises growth and delight, often resulting in win-wins for partners willing to collaborate (most of the time!). I hope you find assistance and inspiration here, adapt what calls to you, and add better ideas related to your own unique situations.
Here are 3 ways to build a healthy relationship and ensure love’s longevity.
- Progress starts with you (and your smarts!)
I believe “smarts” include emotional and interpersonal savvy, intuition, and intellect ─ all of which I bet you have. You can also integrate insights from experience and conversations with people you respect and trust. For example, identify repetitive patterns in your relationships that you want to adjust or let go of now — and for the future. Also, choose how you want to improve and nurture pleasures and joys that you’re lucky enough to have now.
True safety and stimulation rarely reside in repeating the same ole stuff. It may feel comfortable at first, but those short-term situations can postpone long-term growth and enjoyment.
Instead, be the yeast for making accurate assumptions, valuable standards, and effective processes rise upward for you and your partner. Let these possibilities emerge first from within yourself, where you have the most influence.
Since expectations affect verbal and nonverbal communication, goals, and action, clarifying them first for yourself can save time and avoid misunderstanding. Then you’ll be prepared for finding bridges between what you want and the needs and interests of the person you love.
Are you willing to specify your main ones to yourself first before being open about them?
- Clarify expectations together.
I sense you have discovered that expectations may be inspiring, useful, or oppressive (especially if you are a perfectionist). When they’re unrealistic or inauthentic, beware. They waste time, limit effectiveness and eventually weaken self-confidence.That’s because there is no assurance you’ll get what you truly need and want, in spite of your efforts or what others do for you. On the other hand, authentic, shared, and attainable expectations can be good catalysts for growth and pleasure for yourself and your partner.
Dangers lurk especially in covert expectations based on hoping someone will imagine what you want. Although the risk of rejection or indifference may be avoided, a window to satisfying intimacy could be shuttered.
Covert expectations are unlikely to become magically apparent through someone else’s clairvoyance, empathy, or imagination. Nor should they.
Better to express your own so that interests and goals are clear. Chances for productive exploring and reaching desired results are then more likely.
At the same time, be alert to any expectations weighted with entitlement, or assuming something is deserved. Listen for whines in your minds and voices. They often turn off the potential giver.
- Finally, imagine what your partner is able to do and wants to do.
When there’s a relatively good match between your expectations, capabilities, and motivations of both partners, naturally the possibilities for supporting one another improve. That may also be a way to confirm, or at least simulate, what you want. But what good is that if the focus is only on your needs?
The challenge (and opportunity!) is to find that sweet spot where you and your love are in sync.
Maybe replacing “expectations” with “hopes” will be gentler and more encouraging. As you clarify what each of you want, also ask how reasonable and viable expectations are. To test this, first consider what really needs to be done to promote preferred outcomes. Then, explore:
- Is it fair?
- How is it beneficial for everyone?
- Is it possible?
- Are the incentives appropriate?
- Is it worth the effort?
In the midst of the process, be alert to the power of negative expectations that may be harbored. Often based on stereotyping and other assumptions, anticipating the worst or thinking badly of someone can be projected in your own behavior and communications.
Such a pessimistic imprint can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy that’s a lose-lose situation for everyone.
GETTING TO “WE” IN A LOVING RELATIONSHIP
What could be lost in experimenting with the more concrete, open communication about what you seek? When you let your love know what you hope for and explore that together, the tools and possibilities for assistance can become more apparent. Just as important, ask what you can do for your love periodically. This not only shows your willingness and commitment to be helpful but also builds trust ─ a basic foundation for caring, giving, and doing well together.
If you find there’s little or no receptivity to your requests and questions, that may suggest additional exploration, openness, and some playful humor would help. With that experience and attention, you can reach new levels in honest conversation to improve mutual understanding.
But, typically, if you enter into these conversations with an open mind and gentle, kind intention, you’ll receive a helpful response. That shows that your love has your interests at heart.
While you’re appreciating what you may have taken for granted, take additional time to enjoy what you have with your partner now. Let them know specifically what you like, love, and value. In addition, keep in mind that styles of behavior and expression vary, as you ask yourself:
- How does your partner show empathy, sensuality, and kindness?
- What specifically do you cherish in your loved one?
- When and how can you express what you appreciate in their qualities and actions?
- How do you know you can trust your partner, based on similar interests and values?
- What do you enjoy doing together?
Though what you say is important, how you say it strengthens your authentic pitch. You can’t control people’s perceptions or actions, but you do have choices about your tone of voice and body language, such as facial expression and posture. They can combine to encourage a cooperative response, send a mixed message, or evoke a negative reaction that sends you both back into automatic pilot behaviors mirroring unresolved resentments.
SUSTAIN YOUR LOVING RELATIONSHIP USING COUPLE’S CONVERSATION
As you create greater clarity and commitment about how you want to lead your life and what you want to do, continuing conversation will help prepare you both to assist one another. That will also stimulate your partner to grow and explore as well, I believe. (Perhaps read together the book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Stone, Patton, and Heen if you’d like an in-depth guide.)
Furthermore, ongoing communication, especially about possibly uncomfortable matters can break unproductive patterns and outcomes.You’ll hear your own voice better and open opportunities to consider different perspectives and ideas. The continuing process could also limit sour surprises and misunderstandings.
Choose from among the topics below to ease discussion. These will help you clarify concerns and choices, as well as provide opportunities for mutual support and collaboration.
Check relevant options, adapt them, and add your own ideas. Maybe do a simple list of main, specific topics to provide each other before agreeing on a time and place for conversation.
- What main ideas or visions for the next several years shall we explore?
- What would possible changes in our current way of living these choices suggest? Topics may include work, family and childcare, pleasure, financial resources, housing, and community. Other considerations could include location, health, spiritual practice, learning, and friends.
- Since time and energy will not permit discussing everything at once, what are the one or two most important matters to discuss now? How shall you schedule discussion of the remaining ones?
- Since agreed-upon changes often bring new opportunities for development, what specifically can you address to improve the quality of life together now.
- What concerns and practical matters related to differing interests, goals, and needs may get in the way of accomplishing the main goals for the present?
- How can mutual benefit be found in these matters, as they relate to each of you together and independently?
For each person’s additional consideration and preparation think about:
- What is the most significant issue for my partner?
- What is the most significant issue for me?
- What specific needs and preferences of my partner can you anticipate?
- As you wish, think about the following additional themes in advance, adding your own ideas on the lines provided:
- timing, place, and regularity of conversations
- matters and habits to avoid or modify
- positive incentives and rewards for follow through for you and your partner
- patterns, concerns, and tendencies that could block progress now
- how to transcend blocking patterns and tendencies, now and later
- crucial matters that may benefit from third-party facilitation
- ___________________________________ (fill in your own here.)
So love can be great when you’re willing to work at it and accept its dynamism and complexity.
As I’m sure you know, life is more interesting and stimulating when you have an effective partnership full of meaning and joy!
Ruth Schimel, PhD writes and consults with career and life management and organizational clients in the Washington DC area as well as throughout the US and abroad by phone at 202.659.1772 and by reaching out via email. For the full Choose Courage series on Amazon, see: Choose Courage: Step Into the Life You Want and Related Handbooks
This article was originally published at Ruth Schimel. Reprinted with permission from the author.