5 Undervalued Essentials for a Thriving Relationship

Couple on MistybeachIn today’s fast media culture, it’s easy to find negative perspectives about relationships. In the time it takes you to read this introductory paragraph, I’m guessing you could easily scan your Facebook or Twitter feed and run into a post about betrayal or a link to an article about the improbability of monogamy in modern culture—something like 10 Ways Men Cheat That Will Scare You to Death. It’s dramatic, it evokes curiosity and morbid validation that your life is actually pretty sane, and it’s infiltrating the belief systems of the modern dater.

I’m hoping to speak up for those of us who are ready to find excitement and drama without causing pain and destruction to ourselves and others. I’m so enthralled with the unfolding, unscripted adventure that is an adult relationship that I’ve come up with five tenets for you to consider. While these aren’t as foundational as freedom, intimacy, and security, they might be more immediately accessible and in service of those three cornerstones.

  1. Spontaneity: Since I’ve mentioned adventure and the need to write your own script, so to speak, let’s start here. Spontaneity, among other contexts, relates to a person’s ability to translate inspiration into action. In the early stages of romantic love, spontaneity dominates as excitement and novelty provide an abundance of energy with which to act. For most people, as time passes, the energy that once drove passion and connection dissipates back into other areas of life, leaving some level of mundane routine in the crucible. Many thriving relationships I’ve witnessed or supported have been able to value and practice some form of spontaneity throughout. This is a chance to evoke play, creativity, and presence, all of which are vital to a thriving relationship.
  2. Tension: I wish I had a nickel for every broken relationship in which one partner said something to the effect of, “I don’t get it, we were together for all that time and we never fought!” It speaks to a mistaken cultural belief that lack of conflict equals smooth sailing in a relationship. While of course thriving relationships ultimately include peace, harmony, and joy in abundance, they usually survive based on the capacity for the relationship to hold and work with tension. As in great novels and movies, our emotional investment is in characters who resolve great tension. Much is the same in an intimate partnership. Embrace the tension you feel, and work together to create the relational infrastructure to transform the tension into connection and intimacy. If this sounds daunting, do not be alarmed—I imagine most of us need support at some point in this arena, as our culture’s norm is not super evolved. This is where relationship coaching can be a huge plus.
  3. Gratitude: As relationships progress over time, the ratio of expressions of gratitude to criticism can tip unfavorably. We’re human, and we often assume that what was once said is assumed and understood by our loved ones. But we secretly love hearing genuine gratitude from the same people! Here’s an easy practice: At the end of the day, make sure you don’t go to sleep without sharing at least one genuine appreciation for your partner. If it feels true for you, share points of gratitude as they come up—even if you think your partner “knows” it. This is a way to practice both spontaneity and gratitude!
  4. Community: Love doesn’t tend to sustain in a vacuum. It’s very much a cultural norm to “keep things behind closed doors” when it comes to marriage/family/personal stuff. How’s that really working for people? The truth is, when we keep important stuff to ourselves, we are limiting our resources—namely our other important relationships with friends and loved ones. I encourage you to bring your personal juicy stuff to your friendships as a couple. Try surrounding yourself with a community that can hold your relationship in the light of day, so to speak, and both your relationship and community will have a chance to be stronger.
  5. Personal growth: Last and never least is an innate interest in personal development. While this path can look a million different ways, thriving relationships tend to involve individuals who are, in some way, engaged in their own growth. Do your best to support each other’s growth while also becoming a team in supporting the growth of a third entity—the relationship you have together.

Every relationship needs a little love from time to time. If you need support (and most of us do!), go to your community or find a helping professional you click with.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jesse Johnson, MA, LPC, therapist in Portland, Oregon

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • sylvia

    sylvia

    November 18th, 2014 at 10:46 AM

    The one thing that I neglected far too long in my own marriage was the need for me to be able to do things on my own. I never wanted to do anything without my husband, I thought we are married now so we should have to do everything together. What that typically meant was to do things that he enjoyed doing but then the things that I loved kind of fell to the side.
    I recently realized that to feel whole and complete I needed those things again too, even if it meant us doing things separately for a day or two, just to have some time doing the things that I enjoy the most.
    This has truly worked wonders for us.

  • Shawn

    Shawn

    November 18th, 2014 at 3:30 PM

    You have to make an effort to not let things go stale.The temptation is there to slack off, but in a good marriage, you can’t ever be complacent.

  • Tracy

    Tracy

    November 18th, 2014 at 8:52 PM

    I firmly believe in the personal growth dimension.If you do that it naturally means you are proactive and can convert thoughts into action.It then translates into you putting effort into your relationship which then strengthens it.And we all know the results of a strong and active relationship where the partners involves are ready to put in effort and work towards strengthening it ever more and at all times!

  • Grace

    Grace

    November 19th, 2014 at 3:42 AM

    Sometimes it feels like neither of us are grateful for anything in the relationship and we take for granted the things about which we used to get so excited and happy to have someone do for us. And we used to tell each other just how much we appreciated it a little bit more than what we do now. I know that it seems like such a small thing, but every now and then it is nice to hear thank you for all that you do, and it is nice to reciprocate those words in turn.

  • cole

    cole

    November 19th, 2014 at 11:29 AM

    Having a group of friends who you can hang out with and be a part of can be a wonderful way for couples to share time together as well as be around one another in a loving and caring way.

    You don’t want to isolate yourself from your friends just because you are now in a relationship. Those friends can provide a great deal of comfort and support when you need it and can also be a great sounding board for when things are going on and you want to get some opinions on.

    Keep those friends close.

  • Kathy

    Kathy

    November 20th, 2014 at 10:58 AM

    Sure my husband and I fuss and fight sometimes but I would think that there was something wrong with us if we didn’t sometimes disagree with certain things that the other said or did!
    What fun is peace and quiet all the time? I mean, it can be great and all, but there still has to be that little bit of adversity that can keep the dialogue flowing and the conversation rolling.
    All in all we have a great relationship and there are of course times when I wish that he could just simply agree with me, but then I think about that and think that that is not why I fell in love with him in the first place, so if he automatically started agreeing with everything that I said I would know that something was up.

  • angie

    angie

    November 21st, 2014 at 10:35 AM

    It may sound cliche but we try to never go to bed angry. Even when I am still a little miffed I always tell him that I love him before going to sleep and he does the same. Sometimes have a way of working out just with those three little simple words.

  • Toby

    Toby

    November 22nd, 2014 at 2:21 PM

    You do have to take care not to take spontaneity too much overboard though. I think that there are a lot of couples who get so bored that finally they throw down the gauntlet and dare each other to try something new and different. This is great if both partners are on board, but it can be bad news when one partner is feeling it and the other is just fine the way things are. Ideally, yes, you would both get to this point at the same time and you would both be willing to get a little crazy and try something new and different. But the reality is that this kind of thing rarely happens at the same time so you do need to take your partner’s feelings into consideration as well.

  • Susannah

    Susannah

    November 22nd, 2014 at 9:23 PM

    I really like this list, and will use it with clients except I will modify or clarify #4.
    There is an element to the “We” of relationship that must be private and exclusive for true intimacy to grow. Sharing with others for community and support is vital, but without an understanding of boundaries and the unique, precious identity of the “We,” couple intimacy is lost to the community and the outcome (in my 30+ years of experience) is negative. Couples need to define for themselves what will be kept entirely and completely private as part of their “We,” and then not violate that agreement E.V.E.R. They are able then to have the best of both worlds – community support and wisdom with an intimacy that is truly only their own. Win-win. Great article.

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