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Relationship Fact: you either go through them or grow through them.
Relationships are a tricky business and there are no two ways about it.
They look rosy and fancy from the outside—just like most things appear to be beautiful and attractive when we are busy window shopping.
We long for them, fight for them, ensure that our entire life revolves around them in some way or the other. But when we actually get into one, this rose-colored world turns into a multi-colored circus.
What starts off with great fervor, excitement, and romance, slowly starts turning into a drama series with a new episode every day.
The initial romance and passion begin to turn stale.
The conversations turn into arguments.
Moments of connection turn into awkward silences and before we realize it, we’re just hanging there.
Two people who couldn’t take eyes and hands off each other, now turn into total strangers.
“In a relationship, when communication starts to fade, everything else follows.”
It’s easy to get into a relationship with someone. But building and maintaining it is a different world altogether.
Sadly, most of us carry this deluded idea that “love will set things straight” or that because two people are in love, their relationship will run on autopilot.
Let’s admit, that doesn’t happen.
“A strong relationship requires choosing to love each other, even in those moments when you struggle to like each other” ~ Anonymous
Building a relationship is like building a house.
You need to create a blueprint of what you would want your relationship to look and feel like. After all, you’ve got to stay in it. It needs to feel cozy and comfortable.
You need to lay the foundation which is trust. Stronger the foundation, the stronger the building.
It needs to have a solid support structure on which the other elements would be built. Here, there needs to be an alignment of values, beliefs, and interests.
And then it needs to have the kind of interior that we desire—those other things that make our home come alive.
Most of us simply enter a building (read relationship) thinking that simply by entering, a miracle will take place and it will turn into a lovely home, only to realize that sometimes our relationships are miles away from home.
To sustain a relationship, there are some basics that we need to understand and put in place and yes, they can be quite challenging at times.
Relationships require constant effort that ideally should feel light and effortless—the effort needs to flow organically and not make us feel like we’re toiling for it all the time. As Levine and Heller write in their book Attached, “True love in the evolutionary sense means peace of mind.”
“If someone truly loves you, they won’t make you feel like you need to constantly fight for their attention.”
Therefore, there are some basic elements (which are not so basic for so many of us) that we all must be aware of so we can direct our efforts accordingly in our relationships.
In this regard, I love the work by leading couples’ therapists, John and Julie Gottman, who have given us some crucial elements that every relationship has and we need to be mindful of:
1. Emotional Needs
Repeat after me: “I have emotional needs.” “I want to be seen, heard, and validated by my partner.” “I want my partner to understand and respect me and my choices.” Well, these are just some needs.
Not all individuals are privileged enough to become aware of and then ask for what they truly need from a relationship. A lot of us view relationships and marriage as milestones that need to be achieved. Common statements are “Oh, I’m turning 30, I must find a partner,” or “We women are constantly reminded of our ticking biological clock as a major reason for finding a partner and settling down.”
But once into a relationship (irrespective of the tag), what are we going to do to sustain it? When there is a lack of quality time, understanding, emotional holding, appreciation, support, inclusion, what ground is this relationship standing on?
2. Emotional Bank Account
Just like we have a bank that takes care of financial transactions, there is an emotional bank within us that keeps an account of how many withdrawals and deposits are being made within our relationships. Every time we get hurt, are blamed, criticized, ignored, disrespected, devalued (or the other way around), our emotional bank account is depleted of feelings of love, care, belongingness, and warmth.
However, when we spend time with our partner, appreciate them, do things for them, take accountability for our actions, we are creating deposits of healthy feelings. Thus, the more the number of deposits, the stronger the relationship.
3. Shared Meaning
A relationship is a unique partnership between two unique people. They can be similar or may have come from different worlds; what matters is the sense of shared meaning that they can create together, a commonly shared understanding of what different aspects of their relationship mean such as home, sex, money. This meaning is understood and shared through “Rituals of Connection.”
4. Rituals of Connection
A relationship thrives on intimate emotional, physical, and intellectual connection, that is, through ways and means through which couples lean into each other, tune in to each other’s needs and desires and deposit more into their emotional bank accounts.
Small daily habits of turning toward each other, help to increase the life of a relationship. Kissing your partner on the forehead before you leave home, eating at least one meal together, going on date nights, engaging in a hobby together are some of the numerous ways in which partners continue to connect with each other in a deeper way.
5. Accepting Influence
According to research by The Gottman Institute, 69 percent of conflicts between couples remain unresolved. Conflict is inevitable in a relationship and one essential element that aids the resolution or at least works to mitigate some damage caused by conflicts is the ability of each partner to be able to validate and accept the other’s viewpoint and feelings as valid.
It doesn’t mean blind agreement. It simply means that you acknowledge that your partner may also have a valid point that needs to be respected.
6. Bids for Connection
These are ways in which we ask our partner for attention and unless we understand how our partner is calling out to us, we won’t be able to connect or even resolve conflicts. Gottman calls these bids “fundamental for emotional connection.”
For instance, “Could you help me with this? “Oh, what lovely weather! Shall we go out?” or “I’m not feeling okay,” are all ways to reach out to our partners for support, care, help, and connection.
7. Repair Attempts
Not all wounds are meant to heal in the open and time doesn’t heal everything either. Just as conflicts are inevitable and somewhat essential in a relationship, so are the attempts to repair the damage and hurt caused by them. When we don’t take accountability, don’t respond to our partner’s bids, and make no attempts to resolve a conflict, the health of our relationship goes down.
8. Emotional Safety
We cannot connect if we can’t be vulnerable and open with our partner, and we can’t be vulnerable if we don’t feel safe. Every relationship goes through stress—external and internal. The safer we feel with our partners, the better our relationship can navigate the stress.
There would be some conflicts that would not be resolved. Maybe for some concerns, there isn’t going to be an instant solution in a relationship. It is important that couples find a way around it. If we are able to acknowledge and respect that no resolution is a resolution in itself and devise ways to adjust a little, then we take one step toward each other instead of away.
10. Four Horsemen
Well, if none of the above-mentioned elements are there in a relationship or exist to a lesser than the required degree, the four horsemen begin to take over and wreak havoc on the relationship. Then the partners are only communicating by being defensive, criticizing, showing contempt for each other, and stonewalling or blocking each other.
At the end of the day, the length of any relationship is directly proportionate to the amount of effort that the people in it are willing to put in.
As I always say, what happens outside is not something we can control. But happens within and within our relationships will always be right up our alley.
“Relationships last not because they were destined to last. Relationships last long because two people made a choice to keep it, fight for it and work for it.” ~ Anonymous