“Nothing lasting can be built on a shaky foundation”, as stated in Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff. If you think about it, this statement can be applied to anything, from building a home, starting a career, beginning a hobby, creating a new habit, or having a successful, healthy relationship with your partner. When I provide couples therapy, one of the first things I ask each partner to do is make a list of what makes up their idea of the foundation of a relationship. Typically, these include, TRUST, RESPECT, APPRECIATION, and COMMUNICATION. Beginning with these concepts will make up the basis of a relationship. When all of these are intact, INTIMACY is at its healthiest form, but compromise on one of these areas, and you will watch intimacy disappear in an instant.
TRUST– The obvious aspect in trust is being faithful to your partner, but I’d like to extend beyond the obvious. Creating a trusting atmosphere is critical. What if you didn’t feel safe to bring up stressful aspects because you felt your partner would get angry and yell or call you names? What if you had an amazing idea, but didn’t want to share it with your partner because you were afraid they would criticize and demean your creativity or willingness to think outside the box? Creating a trusting atmosphere is crucial in supporting the foundation of a relationship.
RESPECT– Respect is earned, not forced. You can rule with an iron fist, but that doesn’t promote respect, in fact it does quite the opposite. Creating respect allows the confidence in a relationship to flourish by allowing each other to have a freedom to be who they are and to be loved without judgement. Respect is about not always agreeing with each other, but having a willingness to find a middle ground, a give and take.
APPRECIATION: Have you heard of classical conditioning, positive reinforcement, Pavlov and his dog? Showing appreciation encourages a person to want to continue to do good, to make the effort, to be creative in ways to continue a healthy relationship. When the opposite takes place, you find partners shutting down, refusing to give energy to a relationship and asking themselves, “Why would I want to plan a date night, it won’t be appreciated anyway.”. Showing appreciation may come in many forms, verbally saying thank you, behaviorally touching the person’s shoulder as you pass behind them, actions such as leaving a sticky note or sending a quick text in the day to say hello. These concepts take a nano second to positively reinforce, but without taking that opportunity, it will just as likely crumble the relationship just as quickly.
COMMUNICATION: Probably the most important of the foundation! Communication isn’t just about talking, it’s about body language, tone, presentation, clarification, and validation. As complex of an art that connecting with each other is, it’s just that important that we take every step to assure it is successful. Identifying our communication styles and ability to resolve conflict is crucial. Providing couples counseling for the last 18 years, I believe that if a couple is able to resolve conflict in a healthy way, their relationship has a greater chance of success than couples who can not resolve conflict. Conflict is unavoidable in life, actually, if resolved properly, it can make a relationship thrive.
SO WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE FOUNDATION?
The foundation is the most basic, yet complex area of focus when referring to relating with others. Basic because these aspects are common, complex because each person has a different perspective of how each aspect is expressed. For example, one person may feel they are working very hard showing their partner appreciation because they work hard all day putting in 10 hours days, bringing home money to support the family and allow the family a variety of entertainment. However, the other partner may feel appreciation is deficient because there is a lack of quality time together. Neither is right or wrong, but what happens if each person feels blown off and they shut down?
AVOID THE EXPECTATIONS!
This leads to the next step, which is sharing with one another the expectations of how these foundational aspects can be met; what does it look like if I feel appreciated, respected, trusted and effectively communicated with? Expectations can be risky because if they are not discussed, they tend to be a set up for failure and disappointment, so verbalizing these is crucial. If I had an expectation of my partner to make me purple pancakes, but I didn’t specifically ask him to do so, he probably will not make me purple pancakes. If I then get very angry with him because he didn’t fulfill my expectation, I’ve set him and myself up for disappointment and failure. Although this sounds like a silly example, you’d be surprised at how often this takes place and the arguments that follow! Some of the foundational aspects may seem more of common sense, but as you’ve heard, common sense isn’t always so common. It is worth it to check it out with those around you to assure you are on the same playing field.
LET YOUR TOES TOUCH BENEATH THE SHEETS!
INTIMACY– It’s not just about sex, although that is another basic need in a relationship. Intimacy is snuggling on the couch, holding hands, a kiss good morning and good night. Intimacy is what sets you and your significant other apart from your and the clerk at the grocery store. However, Intimacy requires a vulnerability and when one or more of the foundation aspects previously talked about are compromised, guess what is the first thing to go and the last to come back- yep, intimacy! Think about it, if you aren’t feeling appreciated, respected, trusted or communicated with, do you really think you want to be vulnerable and available on an intimate level, usually not. However, when you feel all these areas are strong and stable, you don’t cringe when the toes touch beneath the sheets! So many times, couples come to me because one partner complains of a lack of action in the bedroom. I try to explain that although this is a goal of a healthy relationship, it’s not the starting place.
~APPLY IT ACROSS THE BOARD~
These foundational aspects are not only necessary to evaluate in an intimate relationship, but think about a family member, a friendship, a co-worker, a boss. You’d obviously eliminate the Intimacy aspect, but appreciation, respect, trust and communication are all crucial aspects to developing a healthy relationship. Because we are only responsible and have control over ourselves, examine your relationships with others and identify where you could add improvements. You’d be amazed at the response!
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