Most ideas we encounter about love and romance don’t prepare us for a life of love with a true partner. But these ideas will.
We love romantic comedies. Especially when our favorite actors are in them. Yet, they don’t really offer us the clues to work through the painful, yet fertile, challenges that come up in relationships.
Sure, “Love is all you need” makes us feel good, but what kind of love are we talking about? If what we think love is has been based on what we learned in these movies, we are all in trouble.
One thing I learned after a divorce and many painful break ups through the course of my life is this: romance is not love. It’s only a form of expression of love and it is mostly culturally-shaped. Love is a transcendent force that invites and begs for lower ego needs to be cast aside to accept and nurture the growth of the one we cherish. Sometimes the path to getting to that “love” is can be pretty painful.
A relationship full of passion and joy in the beginning can surprise us three months later when it causes suffering on a deep level and wreaks havoc in our lives. For romantic love to give way to true love, we must be willing to stand emotionally naked front of our partner and endure the terrifying discomfort of fear of rejection. That is the moment we are ready for true love. That is the path to true healing. Love is the ability to not lose sight of the highest image of our partner even when faced with their demons.
The question is, what are the strategies that can help us navigate the rough waters of a relationship? How can we even use this beautiful, intense, and perfectly challenging experience towards spiritual awakening and personal fulfillment?
Below are eight tips that can help you weather the storms and build resilience while parts of your ego personality come crumbling down. Some may seem simple, but trust me on this, when the stuff hits the fan, we forget the simplest things that can help us get to the other side. Here they are:
#1 — Be a friend.
True friendship is underrated in our individualistic society. Yet, it is one of the pillars that keep a relationship strong. This may seem counter-intuitive when we have a romantic and sexual attraction towards someone. We may fear that being their friend would take away from those aspects of the relationship. Yet, the opposite is true. Friendship gives way to deeper intimacy, which is the foundation of a relationship.
#2 — Don’t lose sight of love.
Remember that your partner is playing a role in your “drama” for you to face old patterns and to replace them with upgraded versions. So if your mother neglected you by playing poker on the weekends instead of spending time with you, your partner may have similar inclinations, habits or personality traits. For instance, they may be someone who likes to meet up with friends after work for a drink to wash the stresses of the day away. If you didn’t have that original wounding from your childhood, you would not take this personally and it would not bring up so much pain. But because it plays on a story you already have it does. Recognize that it’s supposed to and try not to chastise your partner for the “role” they are playing. Don’t lose sight of the love when the wounding resurfaces to be worked through. The ability to hold the pain and the love together comes with practice and emotional maturity. It can be learned.
#3 — Get intimate with your own needs.
Most of us have learned that our needs are a burden to others. We might have been brought up by parents who unknowingly made us feel that way. They were overworked and overburdened and they did the best they could, but some things fell through the cracks. In order to survive, we learned to ignore and stuff our needs down. When they are not met in the relationship, we react from our pain. We may criticize, blame, withdraw, or engage in other passive-aggressive strategies to show our distress. All of these backfire and push away the very person we desperately want to get closer to.
If you have been disconnected from your needs for a long time, how can you identify what they are, let alone communicate them? Here is a handy strategy: replay your interactions with your partner in your mind. Make a note of which defensive behaviors you turn to and search for the need underneath them. We do what we do in order to meet a need. Unless we can identify what our needs are and the ways we respond when those needs are unmet, we will keep engaging in the same behavioral patterns. They will eventually become roadblocks to achieving intimacy and deep love.
#4 — Appreciation goes a long way.
If he or she is making progress in learning new ways to relate to you, holds space for what you are working on, and takes your feedback and works with it, they deserve acknowledgment and appreciation from you. It will only encourage them to do better. It will elevate the intimacy and trust to a new level. Appreciation is catnip to our ears and hearts. Along the same lines, criticism and disdain are like kryptonite to a connection.
#5 — Own your part.
I know that this is easier said than done. Our egos have a hard time with admitting what isn’t ”perfect’ about us. If you get scared, fear abandonment, and call your partner six times in a row because you couldn’t get a hold of them after the first call, own it. It’s perfectly OK and admirable to say, “Hey, babe, sorry I called you six times today. I get clingy sometimes. There is a fear in me that you will leave me out of the blue.” More than likely, what you will hear is, “It’s OK. I can get like that, too” or “I understand. I am glad you reached out. I was caught up on the other line with a client.” Being open and honest about our own issues and vulnerabilities creates the opposite effect our ego fears: it brings the couple closer.
#6 — Never be afraid to say you are sorry.
Yes, there will be experiences where you will need to apologize for hurting them with your emotional reactions. Please know that this is natural. Your partner’s role is to bring out some of these raw aspects of your emotional world as you build the strength to develop emotional resiliency. You will have slip ups. You will say and do things that feel unfair or hurtful to your partner. What’s more important is how you make up. If saying “sorry” verbally is difficult, write them an email that explains your side, shows vulnerability, and asks for forgiveness. By the same token, when they apologize, accept it. Empathize with them and understand that they too are healing and learning new ways of interacting in a relationship.
#7 — Focus on their good qualities.
What we focus on expands. This is a universal law (like gravity). We all have positive qualities and parts of us that are still green. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be human. If you make it a practice to recognize what is good, uplifting, fun, joyful, respectable, nurturing, etc about your partner, you will see them as that person. If you do the opposite and always bring up their shortcomings, love will fall into the background. Ultimately, the relationship you have with your partner in physical form will be same as the one you have with them in your mind. Your thoughts will bleed into your words and behaviors. This is why keeping their qualities and what attracted you to them in the forefront of your memory will offer many long-term benefits.
#8 — Be their playmate.
This goes along with friendship. There is something very special about laughing together. It is a bonding agent and it makes everything better- including sex. Lovers who laugh together stay together. I have experienced this first hand. Whenever I had fun and shared laughter with my partner, the rough patches seemed to go easier and we were able to bounce back from them faster than the times when we forgot to be each other’s playmate. This is extremely important.
It’s impossible to have these working for us all of the time. But if you can pick one or two and actively and consciously work on making them present in your relationship, they will bring incredible joys and gifts to both you and your partner.
Great relationships don’t just happen. They are built brick by brick with the sacrifices, understanding and gentle care of both individuals. Share this list with your partner and hold their hand as you practice together. That will only enhance your happiness as a couple. It may not always be easy, but it is definitely worth it!
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