In 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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
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