Intimate personal relationships are no doubt among the most precious as well as one of the most puzzling of life's experiences. Perhaps the reason for this state of affairs is that many people approach relationships from a perspective that will never take them where they'd like to go.
Why? Because they start from the notion that everything would be so much better if only you would change. Not only that, but you should change in ways that I, your partner, prescribe.
Come on -- admit it! Isn't this something you do at least every now and then?
No doubt this is the greatest relationship myth in recorded history.
Well, if "only you would change, etc.," is a myth, how does anyone ever arrive at a truly happy ending, namely a deeply loving and fulfilling relationship?
Are you willing to consider the possibility that trying to fix or change your partner never works? After all, while you may have some degree of influence over your partner's choices, you have absolutely no control over the thoughts, beliefs, feelings and attitudes, which underlie their behavior.
Well then, how about working with the one person you can greatly influence? Right! That would be you!
Over the years, we've developed several keys that we have found work well in building a heart-to-heart relationship. We've tested these keys in our own relationship and we've seen them work for our students as well as couples in our private practice. There are 11 of them we're more than happy to share with you.
They are in no particular order and, they are not meant for you to share with your partner in the hope that they will change. They are meant to empower you to make a positive difference in your relationship. And, you just may find that as you experiment with the following keys, you may experience some lovely shifts.
1. Seek to become a really good heart-centered listener.
You may or may not have ever thought about this, but one of the deepest yearnings of people everywhere, is the longing to be truly heard. Surely, nowhere is this need more keenly experienced than in close personal relationships. One reason friendships often last longer than love affairs and marriages is that friends truly love being together and listening to each other.
It's not difficult to excel at listening once you understand, and are willing to practice, a few essentials. First, and most important, your attitude is what we refer to as seeing the loving essence. It's the essence of the Buddhist greeting Namaste, which essentially means the soul within me recognizes, acknowledges, respects and appreciates the soul within you. Set your intention to see the divine spark in your partner.
Next, listen with the ears of your heart. Listening such as this has as its intention truly hearing and understanding another. Heart-centered listening is not about giving advice. Let go of thinking that you need to solve or fix something for them. Deep listening in and of itself may, in fact, solve more than any advice you can ever give.
Bottom line: Intimacy is a natural by-product of heart-to-heart communication, for when a person feels heard, they feel loved.
2. Share gratitude and heartfelt appreciation.
There is nothing more affirming than regularly sharing with loved ones how much they matter to you and how precious they are. Express your appreciation for who they are and all they do.
The way we practice this skill is by sharing heartfelt appreciations each and every night before we go to sleep. Here's how we do it. Let's say Mary begins by saying, "What I appreciate about myself today is... and what I appreciate about you today is... " Then, it's my turn and I say, "What I appreciate about myself today is... and what I appreciate about you today is... " That's one round. We do three rounds nightly. No distractions allowed unless, of course, our kitty jumps up on the bed to participate.
3. Small kindnesses reap large dividends.
Have you ever considered the return on investment in small every day acts of kindness? Perhaps it's the flowers sent, the special coffee brought home, the thank you phone call. Why? They keep your heart open and are a tangible demonstration of your caring.
These days, more and more people are becoming aware of the importance of looking to see whether someone's words and actions match. Saying you care is one thing. Demonstrating your caring is another. Action is where to look for integrity and real value. By paying attention to the little things, you are building a relationship fortune that will pay dividends for years to come.
4. Keep your agreements.
Perhaps the single most important ingredient for a heart-to-heart relationship is the quality of trust. Over the years, we've seen more relationships come apart due to a breach of trust than any other single thing. How does this happen? Think about it. If someone says they will do something and then doesn't honor their word, what happens inside of you? Will you more or less likely to trust them to keep their word if and when there is a next time? Less -- of course!
Now, let's raise the stakes. It's one thing to trust someone to keep their agreement with you about something they have said they will do. It's a whole other thing to "entrust" your heart into someone's safe harbor only to discover that it's not so safe after all. When that happens, deep bonds of trust are broken and it can take years to reweave the fabric of the relationship -- if in fact you ever truly can.
Good grief! We just realized that we've come to the end of our allotted space and only covered four keys. That means there are seven remaining. Sorry about that.
Here's an idea. If you comment, we'll take that to mean you are finding value in this information and we'll continue with the remaining seven keys next week.
Ron and Mary
For the past 31 years, Drs. Ron and Mary Hulnick have been facilitating a two-year masters degree program in spiritual Psychology at the University of Santa Monica. They are both licensed therapists and authors of "Loyalty To Your Soul: The Heart of Spiritual Psychology." In January, they will be celebrating their 33rd wedding anniversary.