Every relationship has it’s own unique blend of qualities that reflect who you are as a couple. You might describe what is best in your relationship as “fun”, or “passionate”, or “intimate”, or perhaps you “work well together” as parents and partners. Your relationship is like a fingerprint–what brings you joy and aliveness is special and unique to the two of you.
At the same time, there are certain ingredients that I believe are necessary for any relationship to thrive. If you are struggling in your marriage, it is especially important to work on these foundations. But even the best of relationships can use some “fine tuning” on occasion. If I were to choose 3 fundamentals, it would be these: Acceptance, Connection, and Commitment
One of the greatest gifts we can give to our partner is the experience of being fully accepted and appreciated for who they are. We often joke about people who try to change their partner, and we sometimes fail to take seriously the impact that this has on them. Think about the friends you have, and people you are closest to: Chances are, you feel relaxed and safe with them, knowing that you can be yourself and will (still!) be loved and liked for who you are. If you have children, think of the pleasure they get when you smile at them, and let them know that you are thrilled to be in their presence! Imagine what it would be like if you treated your partner in this same way.
What usually gets in the way is our negative judgements and unfulfilled expectations. We want our partner to be more like us–to think the way we think, feel what we feel, and so on. We fail to accept the simple fact that they are different from us! And we try to change them into our image of how we think they should be. This is a sure recipe for frustration and failure in a marriage.
So think about something that you judge or criticize about your partner. Ask yourself: Where did I get this judgement? Did I learn it in my family? Is it something I judge myself for? And then see if it is something you can accept and even appreciate about your partner. If not, it may be that you need to make a request about some behavior that you would like your partner to change. But see if there is a way you can do this without blame, shame, or criticism (including “constructive criticism”!).
We might also include as part of Acceptance:
In our fast-paced world, one of the biggest challenges couples face is making time together. If you have busy work lives or children, this will add to the challenge. If you are to avoid one of the greatest threats to relationships–that of drifting apart–you must make it a priority to spend time together. But even more, you want to feel emotionally connected with your partner. This occurs when we share deeply and openly with each other.
So ask yourselves: Do you express interest and curiosity about your partner? Do you share deep feelings, including your dreams and desires, as well as your frustrations and disappointments? Do you make time to really listen to each other, and let your partner know they are your top priority? Chances are, you did these things when you first fell in love, but if you’ve been together for a while it may take some intention to do so now.
Loving each other means being present, and connecting with openness and vulnerability. Without this, love fades.
We might also include as part of Presence:
I often say to couples, “You need to radically accept each other for who you are, and be willing to change!”. So commitment is really the flip side of “Acceptance”. While we want to be able to “be ourselves”, we also need to commit to doing what it takes to meet each other’s needs, and to nurture our relationship. True commitment is not simply an event (i.e., marriage), but something you do day in and day out. We commit to something, and we take positive action.
Think about how you want to be in your relationship:
And what would it look like for you to commit to these ways of being, and putting them into action? Getting clear about how you WANT to be, and how you TEND to be, and making a commitment to the former is a very important step. Then, commit to taking even small actions that will make this a reality. (By the way–I’ve never had anyone say they want to be “angry, critical, defensive, hurtful”, and yet this is often the way we act.)
Accept what can’t be changed, and commit to changing what can.
We might also include as part of Commitment:
- Right effort
All of this may seem like common sense, and it is! But it is very human to stray from what we know we should do, and we all need reminders. I hope that you find this helpful, and will take the time to give your relationship the attention it deserves.
Wishing You Love and Joy!