It’s all too human to get lazy in our relationships and take things for granted. When things are going well, we have a tendency to coast. Perhaps there are times when coasting is well-deserved as we’ve done the difficult work of building a safe and solid container for the relationship. But here are some things to be aware of that might help you avoid blindly coasting into a mountainside:
- Listen deeply. Listen especially deeply when your partner has something to share with you about the relationship. Making a sincere effort to listen goes a long way toward helping your partner feel that you value and care about them, even it you don’t fully understand everything they’re saying. Remember that your partner simply is expressing feelings that may have more do to with their history than with you.
- Be empathic. Take your partner’s feelings seriously, even if you don’t think there’s a good reason for them. If what they’re saying is difficult to hear, try to stay in your body. Take some deep breaths. Remind yourself that they are entitled to their feelings. Notice if you are going into a shame-freeze. Thinking you did something horribly wrong may make it difficult to listen. Ask your partner to pause if you need some time to absorb what they’re saying. Say something like: “I really want to hear you. What you’re saying is important. I need a moment to let in what you’re saying.”
- Monitor your defensiveness. Notice a tendency to get defensive and dismissive. We all do this. It’s not always easy to be attentive when our partner is unhappy about something we’re said or done or dissatisfied with the partnership in some way. Do your best to hear what they are saying without going into a shame-freeze. Be mindful if you’re feeling paralyzed and therefore unable to hear your partner because you’re thinking something is wrong with you or that you’re not doing it right. If you’re paralyzed by shame, you won’t be able to listen well. If you agree that you did something hurtful, you can take responsibility for that without beating yourself up. You can learn something from the feedback and make an effort to be more mindful going forward.
- Tune into the intimacy. Even difficult conversations can build intimacy. If you can both express your authentic feelings and really listen to each other, it can go a long way toward deepening the connection. It might even enliven your sex life to share feelings that might otherwise go into hiding.
- Enjoy your time together. Make sure the relationship has ample time to enjoy each other’s company. Research has shown that building the connection in positive ways helps create an important foundation for love and connection to grow.
- Seek help if necessary. Don’t wait until things get really bad before seeking help. Getting the support of a couples counselor can help you uncover and reveal the deeper layers of what you’re experiencing, as well as learning to listen to each other non-defensively. I have found Dr. Sue Johnson’s approach of Emotionally Focusing Therapy to be particularly helpful for couples.
Attending to your partnership in these mindful ways can help nurture the love and intimacy you long for.
Flickr image by Ira Terzi
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