No Regrets. Choose Your Priorities Now.
Whatever your stage in life, if you’re married or in a committed relationship, you met your great love and felt strongly that you wanted to make a life with him or her. You enjoy many wonderful, blissful, romantic, and joyful times together. Surely a bond so strong can’t be broken by time, aging, changes in health, difficult life transitions, day-to-day stress, or long-term challenges, right? And you feel certain that you’ll weather any hard times together and continue growing closer, regardless of what life hands you. Because that’s what commitment is. You stick together as a couple and work things out; you deal with issues as a team because you committed to that.
But despite being confident in the love that brought you together, and your reliance on the fact that commitment means “we hang in there to the end of the road and work things out,” are you so confident in your relationship that you’re content with even temporarily choosing career or other priorities over your spouse in the day-to-day hectic pace of life? Do you assume that your relationship can withstand putting emotional intimacy on hold until you magically one day have time to make your partner a priority again? Life is indeed too short to take our relationships for granted. Staying engaged with one another is a great joy in life, and we control how our actions affect our romantic relationships.
Every relationship, even the strongest and most fulfilling, has natural ebbs and flows and often even prolonged periods of difficulty. But taking an approach of turning toward instead of away from your partner, of not believing everything you think, and maintaining a compassionate attitude toward the other, are all essential behaviors and choices of attitude that each half of a couple must bring to the table during difficult times. And in a society in which we often give up too easily because the challenges seem overwhelming or we feel they can’t be remedied or we go through a period of emotional turmoil or flatness, it’s critical to maintain an open mind and be willing to go to end of the road. It’s usually worth it.
Don’t set yourself up for future regrets, wishing you’d tried everything to salvage what was indeed a strong relationship that had hit a resolvable rough patch. If as a couple you’ve given reconciliation your best effort and can walk away knowing that you both tried everything, then you’ve likely reached the end of the road. If you haven’t made genuine efforts to resolve your issues, to reconnect, then you haven’t reached the end of the road or tied up loose ends and you do both you and your partner a disservice. Talk openly but compassionately about what needs to change, get everything on the table but be kind, seek counseling if appropriate, and maintain perspective during especially challenging times.
Keeping Your Relationship A Priority. Stay Connected.
With attention to your relationship and a dedication to making your partner a priority in your life (it’s clearly a two-way, synergistic street, but it always starts with you), you have the best chance of avoiding, and certainly in tackling, the most challenging “lows” that aren’t uncommon among committed couples. Staying connected with your partner has become increasingly difficult in a culture in which we struggle with work-life balance, busy schedules for every family member, always being plugged in, maintaining relationships with friends and extended family, just to name a few of the barriers to quality time with our loved one.
Yet there are simple tricks for staying connected, and also some strategies for staying on one another’s side when trying to work through a difficult period. Below are a few of each.
1. Show Gratitude Every Day. Even in the smallest ways, when we show our partner that we appreciate him or her, the things they do, the person they are, the ways they love us, we are contributing to the positive vibes of the relationship while reaffirming our appreciation for our partner. Thank your partner. Give a compliment when you’re thinking about it. Every day, think about what you’re grateful for in your partner, and now and then make sure you share those thoughts. Good energy breeds more good energy.
2. Spend Time Together Every Day. This may sound obvious, but it can be easy to neglect setting aside time (even 10 minutes is better than nothing) to talk one on one about your respective days and to check in with one another. Don’t let it slide. Talk every day. Are you letting work or other activities keep you from an appropriate amount of time with your partner? If you aren’t getting enough time together at least every few days, check your priorities.
3. But Also Allow For Breathing Space. It’s good for everyone to have at least some time alone every day or each week. For some, their daily commute is sufficient. For others, alone time to recharge may be a hot bath, meditation, reading, taking a run, going out with friends, a round of golf, or sitting on the deck enjoying a nice day. And some individuals may not crave daily quiet time, but instead prefer to recharge more significantly only when they feel the need. However you and your partner each need to have your own down time, make sure you tend to it before it becomes an issue.
4. Share Your Big Ideas. Don’t get stuck talking almost entirely about day-to-day issues without forgetting to talk about the important stuff now and then. You have goals, dreams, values, passions, ideas, and fears. Share them with one another and keep sharing. Never stop talking about life’s big ideas. It helps keep you connected and creates synergy to move your passions forward.
5. Take Time Out Together. Whether it’s an actual vacation, a long weekend away, or even a weekend at home with an agreement to no housework or phones, it is imperative that you get distraction-free time alone together now and then. Having new experiences as a couple helps strengthen your bond, yet this quality time is often taken for granted.
6. Laugh Together Often. This doesn’t mean you have to be witty around the clock. Watching something funny together has a similar effect in promoting good feelings between a couple. Keep a sense of humor in your relationship in general – it goes a long way.
7. Be Spontaneous. It’s easy to get into a routine, and there will always be times during which we feel we’re in a general life rut or even a relationship rut. But even small spontaneous acts go a long way toward keeping you connected and keeping things fun. And the beauty of spontaneity is that it inherently requires no planning. Pick your partner up for lunch or after work and try a new place together. Go out for a drink on a weeknight. Bring home a small gift or a favorite treat that you know he or she will appreciate. When your partner is out, do some of his or her weekly household chores. Write a love letter and leave it in on the pillow or in the briefcase. Make your partner breakfast in bed, delivered with a note. Mix things up and make spontaneity part of your love life.
GETTING THROUGH TOUGH TIMES
1. Recognize That You’re Both Still Growing. People Make Mistakes. If we’re doing things right, we’re always changing, always growing as individuals. Most of the time we’re changing for the better and growing toward our purpose, even redefining what that is on a regular basis. But as humans we also make mistakes. We stumble. We go through hard times individually. Sometimes we’re not our best selves. Being in a committed relationship means that we support one another through these rough spots just as hard as we support the successes. Know that it’s okay to make mistakes and have the freedom to recover from them, and have compassion toward your partner in his or her hard times.
Never get judgmental when your partner is down. There is no room in a compassionate heart for contempt or feeling “better than.” Once upon a time you said you would be there through thick and thin, so when the time comes to prove it, accept the gift of being able to support your partner with love and patience, and know that your partner will do the same for you when you need it.
2. It’s Okay To Disagree – Just Keep Moving Forward Together. You won’t agree on everything. After all, you are two whole, individual beings and you don’t share a brain. But you do have very important things in common: You love one another, you want for your relationship to survive and thrive, and if you’re each in a healthy place, you want to keep talking openly and honestly toward issue resolution and move through your challenges. Don’t shy away from dealing with important things. Your challenges don’t define you as a couple unless you let them. You each have free will, and therefore choice, and you both have to consciously choose to work back toward your most loving relationship.
3. Stay present and in the moment. When you hit those challenging times, it’s almost second nature to focus on the past or project into the future. But neither the past nor the future are productive when you’re dealing with relationship issues. The past is only relevant in that it’s likely past behaviors that brought you to a difficult place. So you’ll discuss those of course, but you don’t have to dwell on them if you’re able to discuss and resolve those issues in the present. But often one or both partners are so stuck on the past, they have a hard time seeing that progress is being made right here, in the present discussion. So when you reach that point, choose to move on. Eliminate resentment, choose to let go of your anger (even though you may not always recognize it as anger), and focus on opening your heart, accepting that growth has happened, and lovingly move forward with a positive attitude.
In the same way that dwelling in the past has negative implications for relationships, so does projecting into the future. Making assumptions about how your partner will behave in the future, what some event means for the future, or about the nature of your future relationship itself, is all anxiety-producing but based only on your own thoughts, not in reality. The future hasn’t arrived, you can’t know what will happen. Talk together about the issue or issues at hand and about how you want to move forward. That involves focusing on the present. The conversations you’re having now.
Living life worried about the future creates an anxiety-ridden future, which is no way to live. So choose to stop projecting and to stay focused on what is happening between you and your partner now. In the present. Eliminating worries about past and future brings you face to face with the person you committed to, focused only on what’s happening now and what’s important. But bring past and future worries into it and you’re almost certain to feel that you can’t resolve anything. So choose to communicate openly and lovingly in the present.
4. Remember That Your Partner Has Good Intentions. This is key. You know you want the best for your partner. You know that you want for things to work out and to reach a loving connection again, whether you can feel it at the moment or not. It’s easier to communicate through challenging times when you keep in mind that your partner wants those same things. He or she still has good intentions and wants what’s best for each of you and for you as a couple. Trust that and open up with a generous spirit.
Your Relationship is Valuable
Whether your relationship is in a period of smooth sailing or is in troubled waters, be mindful of opportunities for connecting, for growth, for gratitude, for kindness, for humor, and for repairing hurt feelings. And allow your partner to do the same for you. Spend time together so that you don’t drift apart. Be grateful every day for what your partner brings to your life, and do the work to make sure he or she knows that your relationship is a priority. Show your partner that you value your time together and encourage opportunities for both of you to share feelings, experiences, and your dreams and life passions. And when do you hit the inevitable rough spot, be good to one another and keep working through it with a generous and compassionate spirit. If you both have the right attitude and choose to reconnect fully and to grow from the experience, you almost certainly will.