Last week, I shared some ideas on how to attract healthy love into your life. Making the love connection is one thing; nurturing and growing that love once you have it is another, and is the topic of this week's discussion.
Included in last week's post, I gave you 11 questions to ask yourself to get clarity about your downloaded LOVE blueprint. Hopefully that information helped you to connect the dots backwards to any unresolved issues from childhood and bring into focus any "flaws" in your current mindset that are not in line with the life YOU want to live. Frequently, simply understanding where a limiting belief came from is enough for you to decide to actively and consciously change your mind about it.
As humans, we are programmed to repeat the modeled behavior from childhood. Our parents and caregivers show us "the way it is supposed to be" by the way they conduct themselves. We watch and learn. This happens even if we say it won't, even if we hated the experience, and even if we really don't want to repeat that pattern. Unless, of course, we are aware we are repeating the pattern, have the desire to create a new one, and set about to learn and implement a different way.
Expecting to magically know how to create a healthy, loving, functional, committed relationship if your parents had an unhealthy, dysfunctional one is like expecting to suddenly become fluent in Chinese simply because you really want to be. Would you agree that mastering a complex language requires time, energy, effort, and a deep desire to achieve your goal? Creating and maintaining an amazing relationship is just like that.
My parents are divorced. They got married too young, had terrible communication skills, and drifted apart until they eventually divorced when I was 13. At age 19, I started therapy for many reasons, including my desire not to end up divorced. For a long time, the way I handled my confusion about how to have a healthy relationship was to claim I had no real interest in marriage. However, I was fascinated by couples who seemed to have the secret formula for keeping love healthy and fun. I would ask anyone who had been partnered longer than five years to share the secret.
The responses all contained some version of:
- "I really LIKE him."
- "He makes me laugh."
- "She is my best friend."
- "There is no one else I would rather be with."
- "I love his/her hands, eyes, butt, smile, legs [etc.]."
The big takeaway from my ongoing, nonscientific study is that a good partnership is based on solid friendship and mutual affection.
Throughout my career as a therapist, I have collected a few other helpful facts about how to make love last.
Communication Is Key
Effective communication is a key component of a healthy relationship, and it starts with you. What is your communication style? Do you speak your truth or act it out? Do you deny what you need or secretly wish your partner had a crystal ball? If you have the desire to communicate with integrity, the first step is to acknowledge what you need to change. There are only two ways to communicate: effectively and ineffectively.
Here is a comprehensive list of communication characteristics. Take a look and see what resonates.
- Indirect: not getting to the point; never clearly stating intention
- Passive: timid, reserved
- Antagonistic: angry, aggressive, or hostile tone
- Cryptic: underlying message obscured and requires interpretation
- Hidden: true agenda never directly stated
- Non-Verbal: communicated through body language and behaviors rather than words
- One-Way: more talking than listening
- Unresponsive: little interest in the perspective or needs of the other person
- Off-Base: responses and needs of the other person are misunderstood and misinterpreted
- Dishonest: false statements are substituted for true feelings, thoughts, and needs
- Direct: to the point; leaving no doubt as to meaning
- Assertive: not afraid to state what is wanted or why
- Congenial: affable and friendly
- Clear: underlying issues are articulately expressed
- Open: no intentionally hidden messages
- Verbal: clear language used to express ideas
- Two-Way: equal amounts of talking and listening
- Responsive: attention paid to the needs and perspective of the other person
- Honest: true feelings, thoughts, and needs are stated
Create a snapshot of your communication style. If it is not what you want it to be, what right action are you willing to take to make it better? Can you allow yourself to be vulnerable or try something different?
Attitude Of Gratitude
Throughout my years counseling couples, I have discovered that once positive regard and words of gratitude and consideration start to slip, so does the relationship. Inevitably each person feels the other no longer respects him/her, which, in turn, fuels the "victim" to become negative toward the "offender" and on and on the vicious cycle turns until the relationship has spiraled into resentment.
My husband Victor and I are both mindful to verbalize our gratitude for all that we do for each other. I mean every single day in all situations. Whoever did not make the bed thanks the one who did. Every time the dishwasher is unloaded, a meal is cooked, or laundry is folded, words of thanks are exchanged. This may sound extreme, but the truth is that we all need to feel appreciated, and institutionalizing positive behavior creates a reserve of good feelings, which, in turn, creates resiliency and flexibility in the relationship.
Do you keep a mental file of all of the past hurts in your relationship to whip out when needed? Do you think that if you forgive the other person you are condoning their bad act, and that reminding them of it will protect you from it happening again? There are a zillion misguided excuses to hold on to anger and not forgive, but none of them will make a relationship better. Having the flexibility to move on after an incident has been fully discussed and authentic apologies have been made is one key to a happy relationship. I am not talking about repeat offenses due to addiction issues or habitual infidelity. I am talking about being hurt, sharing your feelings, and moving on. I am talking about remembering why you love this person in the first place and releasing yourself from resentment prison. Without forgiveness, the potential for true happiness in your relationship is limited.
When we are not unconsciously repeating dysfunctional patterns from the past, everything is possible right here, right now. A relationship can be an endless source of joy or an endless source of pain.
I hope this post inspired you to fearlessly work towards joy. As always, I am interested to hear your thoughts so please drop a comment and share your own wisdom with our Becoming Fearless community.
Love Love Love,
For more by Terri Cole, click here.
For more on becoming fearless, click here.
HuffPost Lifestyle is a daily newsletter that will make you happier and healthier — one email at a time. Learn more