Dead ahead lies the most crucial part of the year for relationships. From late October through mid-February, lovers will navigate a minefield that starts out innocently enough with cozy autumn evenings and Halloween fun, but then swerves to the jagged hillocks of family holidays and seasonal parties, culminating with a potential tangle of razor wire that is New Year's Eve and the viper-infested ditch of Valentine's Day lurking just beyond it.
Will you make it to spring intact, together or separately? Who will pull the pin on unmet hopes and survive the grisly aftermath?
Think I'm being overly dramatic? So be it, if it gets the message across. If I can't save lives, I can at least save moments. Don't let yourself become caught in the horrible situation of realizing too late that you in fact do care very much whether or not he invites you to meet his parents at Thanksgiving, or that it WILL fester in your upper GI if your commitment status is uncertain when plans are being made for New Years' Eve.
If you are immune, and none of the above fazes you in the least, congrats and off you go.
Otherwise, and especially if you think that you are strong but have a personal history of misery when things don't unfold in a certain way, why not take this advice just in case? Now's the time to establish your personal training so that you will be hitting your stride at holiday time.
Follow these seven habits of happy lovers and notice yourself feeling the changes inside almost instantaneously and seeing the changes in your personal life within months, if not sooner:
One: Know if it's love and if it's mutual, and don't break training, regardless. Just enjoy it and be grateful. If it's not love but it's definitely "like," proceed as above. If it's neither, then what the hell are you doing? Get out of there and fill up your days doing the next six habits:
Two: Have a passion that is not passion. Enjoy some live music. Sketch. Learn to cook something new. Pick a cause and do something about it. Check out Half the Sky. Not so passionate by nature? Refresh your mind anyway. Find a focus other than your lover. Read a book. Start with a slam-dunk: Tina Fey's Bossypants. Or, if you have been missing Downton Abbey, try Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. Better yet, take more interest in the world beyond your personal life. Check out Bill Bradley's We Can All Do Better, my current favorite book.
Three: Work. If you are fortunate enough to have a good job, renew your interest and appreciation in it. Take inventory. What is succeeding? What isn't? Make a plan to improve and implement it. Does your job suck, or are you under-employed? Be there while you're there anyway. Devote one job-hunting session to yourself per week. At least an hour. What you do to pay the bills may or may not be your soul's mission on the planet, but whatever it is you do all day, do it with commitment and mindfulness. If you are a caregiver, all the same applies, except you get to do it with even less obvious reward than most other grunt work.
Four: Play. How often do you laugh? Do you have a pet? Pay attention to it and absorb the happy dividends. Got kids? Then you have no excuse. Get off the couch. Walk, throw a ball or frisbee, run, join a team, anything. Mix it up. Be good to your body and your body will be good to you. Do I have to mention how this can benefit your relationship? Even a board game is better than more screen time. (Though your body will miss out...)
Five: Rest. Sleep deprivation is another one of our ubiquitous contemporary afflictions. Do not underestimate the impact that this can have on your emotional health, job performance, relationships and waistline. Active rest counts too. At least once a day, take 10 minutes to meditate, pray, breath, relax and release tension from your body. Increase the frequency or duration over time.
Six: Invest. In friendships, in actual investments, yourself, your kids, community and family. How's your savings or investment account? Subscribe to the newsletter from Munknee.com and read it. Got Friends? How's your extended family and neighborhood? That cousin you used to hang out with growing up? Attend a meeting. Visit with someone you haven't seen in a long time. Nothing can replace having the right partner, but loneliness is optional. You will never regret maintaining personal security and connections.
Seven: Divest in the lover. If she is non-committal then you should be as well. Be kind, and be your own best friend. Nobody gets an exclusive to your heart without granting one in return; do not get taken off the dating market unless you want a life with that person and the feeling is mutual. If that's not on the table yet, then carve out social time for meeting other people. This is a great time of year to do it.
And here is the most paradoxical but ultimately beneficial habit: Divest even as you invest. Is it really happening? Have you found The One? Good! Make a life together, but do not lose yourself or take on more than your share. It's a partnership, not an adoption.
Already married or otherwise committed? The habits still apply. Do your training and notice the improvements to longstanding relationships.
Yes, all of these steps are about working on yourself more than working directly on the relationship. That's because I believe that many people want a first-rate relationship but do only third-rate personal training. Happiness seems to occur most often when you match your personal "emotional fitness level" to your relationship. Chances are that your relationship status is commensurate with your personal training, and if you are unhappy with the former, your first steps must be taken with the latter.
And if you are facing the holidays solo, enjoy the sweetness of simplicity and freedom!
As for me, I'm in there with you. Do you have a wishlist of relationship expectations? If so, please join me in shredding it. Let your romantic relationship be a gift, not an obligation.
Top on my wish list? Feedback. Please comment and let me know how you are doing. I want to hear all about it.