No relationship survives without care and attention. It’s a living entity that needs nourishing, challenging and supporting on a regular basis. So how do you go about keeping that important relationship fresh and interesting?
First, some ground rules:
• This is not all ease and romance – it’s demanding work, so prepare yourself
• Nothing is set in stone, so get ready to be flexible
• It takes time and effort, so make space for each other
Put those thoughts alongside your delight and excitement, then take on board essential skills that will serve you well - listening, arguing, forgiving and exploring.
Many misunderstandings occur because people just don’t listen – they take in the first few words then jump to conclusions. This is particularly tempting in an established relationship where you know each other well. The problem is that issues don’t get resolved, so soon come round again – this time with added oomph!
With any concern that is contentious, it’s vital to put aside your assumptions and listen to what is really being said. Then ask a few questions so you understand what the conversation really needs to be about. Do this and you will reduce the frustrating blind alleys you have to navigate!
It’s not pleasant, but it is inevitable, so learn how to do it well. There will always be times when one of you flies off the handle, letting loose words you regret, so learn early on how to say ‘sorry’. Of course if you say it too often, there is another tough discussion to be had, but for now take a deep breath and apologise for your incontinent display.
Arguing is purposeful if you use it to air the thoughts that are polluting the relationship. Little things can have a big impact if you hug them to yourself – socks on the bedroom floor, dirty cups left lying around, overflowing rubbish bins - tiny events that take on gargantuan proportions as time goes by.
Blow your tops and then sit down for the more difficult conversation that listens, explains and seeks out the middle ground. Although not easy to do, this is the stuff of real contact between two people who want to move forward together.
If the argument content feels stuck or goes way beyond the socks and rubbish, then be willing to ask for help. Talking with another person who is skilled at refereeing arguments in a constructive way not only helps this time, but will teach skills you can use in the future.
This one is rough - it means giving up on righteous indignation which is just so satisfying! Until you’re prepared to get off that delicious hobby horse, there is no chance of moving on.
The key to forgiveness is recognising that the other person had their reasons. Few people consciously set out to do something wrong – they always have a rationale for their actions. You don’t have to agree, you just need to understand. Recognising why someone acted as they did takes you away from blame and accusation and opens the possibility of ‘I’m right and you’re right too’. Then you are in with a chance of real resolution and healing, with options for more productive behaviour.
Practice makes perfect – this is an art form, but the more you have a go, the easier it will become.
Constructive discussion that leads to resolution also requires you accept that every problem is a joint creation – it takes two to open the can of worms - me dropping socks is only a pain because you can’t stand mess! So, it takes two to find a solution and you each have to take responsibility.
Once you see that the other person had valid reasons for their actions – even if you don’t agree – then you’re ready to explore options for moving forward. At this point, it is vital that each person is prepared to take action, otherwise you shoot right back into blame. ‘Now I understand just how irritating my messiness is, I’m willing to try harder. And you can help by reminding me without getting impatient.’ As you practice, this will become second nature.
Yet in each relationship there are some things that will never change – however often you go round them, there is no resolution to be found. You will soon recognise when you hit familiar territory – ‘we’ve been round this one a number of times and we’re just not going to agree.’ Now is the time to be generous and accept each other foibles – after all, no one is perfect – not even you!
All relationships gather dust as time goes by. If the layers get too dense, then the shine is lost and life becomes a bit flat. If you like the quiet life then it won’t be a problem. If you prefer something more dynamic, then you have to bear with a bit of spit and polish. You do this through honest exchange – whether deep sharing or having a bust up over the behaviours that drive you both mad - either way, you’re spring cleaning and bringing in the light.
The latter is the key to a relationship that grows and changes in a positive way. You are working on keeping your contact alive and exciting – and those that struggle honestly together with good heart and good intent are much more likely to stay together.
Judith Leary Joyce - www.primetimelife.yv And follow my daily tweets at http://www.twitter.com/changeexpert.tv