Strategies to enhance your relationship and create a healthy, satisfying bond for years to come
By DEFINE’s Emotional Wellness Expert, Jessica Pass, LMFT
Relationships are the cornerstone of life and taking the time to cultivate a satisfying and strong connection takes work. Putting in the effort on a regular basis to nurture the one you love will inevitably improve all aspects of your life; emotionally, mentally and physically. This list may not pertain to everyone and you might think of a few things you would add to it as well so leave a comment at the end and share your insight, suggestions and tips. Here are a few ‘Lessons on Love’ that I have found to be paramount to my own marriage and in my work with couples.
Love Yourself First
Before we can fully love and commit to another person we must first love and commit to ourselves. When we look to love as a way to escape or fill a void we’re inevitably going to be let down and disappointed. The purpose of intimate love is to be the garnish beautifully displayed and accentuating the main course– YOU! Your partner is the added bonus, the reward, the icing on the cake; the complimentary addition in your life that adds zest, touch, heat…etc. Practice spending time with you, pursuing your unique interests and treating your body and with nutrients that energize and revitalize you. You’ll be surprised just how much more love you have to give.
Be available and in the moment. Put down the phone, shut down the computer and turn off the television when your partner has something to talk about. Having distractions in the background can make the other person feel as though you are not fully present and cause them to feel like they do not matter. Take moments during your day when you both unplug and are just present with one another. It doesn’t have to be a long period of time, but it does need to be intentional and a priority.
Let Your Partner Influence You
No matter how competitive you are or how much you think you know about life, your career, others or anything else, your partner is unique, beautiful and talented and has an immense amount of knowledge and experience to offer you. Steer clear of always getting in the last word or engaging in a “one up” mentality when sharing memories, experiences or facts. Ask more questions and practice being curious about him or her. Let go of the reins and open your mind so that your heart can reap the benefits.
Know Your Life Story
As detailed as you can create a coherent narrative of your life and reflect back on it when you have really intense feelings of anger, sadness, shame or guilt. Ask yourself, “Have I felt this feeling before,” and if so when? First understanding who you are and what your triggers are for previous life experiences will help you respond versus react in times of high stress. Most intense feelings in the moment are years in the making, using this tool will help you identify them sooner so that your current relationship doesn’t suffer because of them.
Focus on YOUR Relationship, Not Others
It is so easy to watch others in relationships and compare yours to theirs. As difficult as it can be remind yourself that just like no one else sees what goes on “behind the scenes” with you and your partner, you can’t see theirs either. Judging other relationships by what is visible to you is naive and well… not reality! It will steal your joy and create insecurities. The grass is always greener in your imagination.
Lighten the Mood
Dr. John Gottman, a well known relationship expert determined that couples who can make each other laugh during an argument were less likely to get a divorce because it helps to de-escalate conflict by softening the moment. The next time you and your partner have a disagreement or argue, try lightening the mood by making an inside joke or doing something silly. Of course this is not an appropriate approach for heavier topics and it is important to be sensitive to your partners response.
Projection occurs when we feel one way about ourself and assume that the other person feels that same way about us. If you find yourself thinking the other person is feeling (for example) disappointed in you but they haven’t said or expressed that, chances are that is what you are feeling towards yourself. Take a second and write about it in a safe place to gain clarity on where the feeling might be coming from. Let the other person know what you are feeling and allow them opportunity to comfort you in your distress.
Ask for Help
Recognize the same recurrent disagreements sooner rather than later. If you find yourself feeling like a broken record or feeling like you’re stuck on a never ending merry-go-round with the same issue, take a step back and see if you can identify a theme or pattern. Most couples wait 6 years to seek help and most divorces occur by the seven year mark. Reach out to someone you trust that will have your relationships best interest at heart and know that it is better to seek help sooner rather than later.
Disagreements are often looked at as being negative in relationships, when in reality it is how you handle them that determines whether they are positive or negative. Without conflict your relationship is one-sided because one or both of you is either giving in to the other and denying your individuality or afraid of conflict and withdrawing. A healthy amount of disagreeing establishes that both of you are bringing your unique self to the relationship and practicing asserting your thoughts, feelings and desires. What you want to be mindful of is recognizing when disagreeing becomes destructive and pushes you away from the other as opposed to pulling you closer. Disagree with respect, stay away from blaming the other person and use statements that begin with “I” (i.e. I feel, I’m sad, I want).
Repair As Soon As You Can
Mistakes happen. We get upset or misinterpret our partner and our reactions get the best of us causing damage to those we love most. Repairing is a necessary tool for all relationships and one that will only strengthen your connection if used correctly and as soon as possible. Say you’re sorry first. and be specific about what you are sorry for, acknowledging that you hurt the other person. Practice attuning to your partners feelings when you hurt them to strengthen your relationship and create a closer, more intimate connection. Let your partner share their feelings and without arguing what they feel accept it, hug and take action to not make the same mistake over and over. The key is validating your wrong doing, accepting full responsibility and taking action to work on your part.
Greet Each Other First
Let your partner know that they are the only one you see when you walk up. Make eye contact, walk towards them and don’t be afraid to show a little PDA (public display of affection). This communicates they are the most important person in the room. Establish a relationship that takes the front and center by letting the your partner know that you value your relationship and aren’t afraid to show it.
Have Fun Together
This may seem like a no-brainer, but with how busy and hectic life can get it is easy to lose sight of the lighter side of life. Take spontaneous trips, sing in the car, have a dance party when no one is looking, re-enact how you first met, reminisce often or take a class together. This will help you see your partner with fresh eyes, reminding you of what drew you together in the first place. Laughter and fun times are stored in the “relational bank” that you can easily draw on when tough times arise.
Focus on the Positives
Did you know it takes 5 positive statements to make up for 1 negative? Praise your partner daily, make complements and sing their praise in front of others so they can hear you. Giving your partner a self-esteem booster not only helps them but it helps you. Staying mindful of the positives helps to balance out the negatives that will inevitably come up. Be specific about what you like about the other person and what you admire. Write it down or leave a random note hidden where only they will find it. Let your partner know that you recognize their talent, character and expertise and that you appreciate them.
DEFINE’s Emotional Wellness Expert, Jessica Pass, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Instructor at DEFINE body & mind. She has a private practice in Houston, Texas, specializing with children, adolescents, individuals, couples and parents. Jessica’s approach incorporates mind-body integration, education and practical strategies to improve emotional wellness, emphasizing all aspects of who we are to live fully and thrive in our relationships.
Pictured: DEFINE clients at “Love The One You’re With” Stretching workshop taught by Gelena Scally.
Want to know about upcoming workshops? Visit our workshops and events page.
Photography by Christi Minter, DEFINE body & mind