Don’t we all want a great relationship? The partnership so “meant to be” that you can almost hear the “click.” The “she gets me, I get her” kind of relationship. The one with trust and comfort and loyalty, warm fuzzy feelings, mutual cheer-leading, sickness-and-health, devotion, presence—all of it.
Maybe you have that now, or had it at one time. Only sometimes something happens. You’re sailing along in your “great” relationship, not really giving it a lot of energy, time, or thought (it’s comfortable by now, right?) when one day something happens. Your partner confesses to being unhappy, and when you look at him, you realize his eyes have had that sad, distant look for a long time now. Or you just don’t feel emotionally connected, like you’re floating in a fish tank and your partner is just on the other side of the glass, looking the other way. Maybe she admits to an affair, or to having feelings for someone else. Or maybe she just doesn’t really notice you anymore.
What’s going on? It was so GREAT….
It turns out that great relationships don’t just fall into our laps. Sometimes that fateful magic can bring us together with the wonderful person we fall in love with, but no fateful magic you can think up could ever turn a love affair into a truly superb relationship—one that fulfills you, makes you happy, gives you what you need and want, and… lasts. It actually takes a little work. And thought.
But not to worry. The rewards are enormous. In fact, the very things you do to create a great relationship and the benefits of doing so are one and the same. The effort, in other words, is the reward! Or at least half of it. The other half is that you get a great relationship! Here’s what I mean:
Make the relationship your number one priority. This is really diving in to the deep end of the ocean with a shared tank. Total commitment to the goal. If you are a high-powered professional, you still can be. If you love to travel, spend time alone, climb mountains, that’s fine. Re-prioritizing your relationship does not mean you stop being you. If you are a mom or dad with kids from a different relationship? No problem. Your kids always come first, but you can still make your relationship a top priority. Making your relationship number one may involve a shift in perspective, but a relationship with energy flowing is going to enhance all areas of your life.
Commit to personal growth. For a relationship to grow into something lasting and truly fulfilling, both partners need to be willing to do work on themselves. What you learn about yourself in the process helps you figure out how to be in partnership with another. As you both grow and evolve, your relationship can only solidify. (If one of you is unwilling to do this, it can be a problem.)
Tap inner resources. Nowadays we tend to look outside ourselves for guidance, how-to solutions, and media-generated information. We forget that our own wise, inner knowing can guide us to the answers we seek. This is not crazy woo-woo stuff—it’s real. Trust me on this. Whether you regularly meditate or not, you can access the stillness inside you and find the answers you seek about how to make your relationship better, or what you can bring to the relationship that you haven’t yet. Side benefit: getting in the habit of seeking answers within yourself is a fantastic life strategy that will be invaluable to you in other areas of your life as well.
Stretch out of your comfort zone. This is always a good idea. In your relationship, now and then, make yourself uncomfortable. This might be some version of meeting your partner halfway in a scenario you used to avoid like the plague. Whether it’s a vacation in Dubai, gazing into each other’s eyes for a really long time, or climbing a mountain on the summer solstice even though it’s 98 degrees in the shade—if it’s uncomfortable for you, you will probably learn something about yourself. Plus, your partner will feel your commitment to making your relationship number one.
Appreciate more. Retraining ourselves to be grateful is another lifetime lesson. A common complaint among the unhappily partnered is being taken for granted. Remind yourself what you love about this person. Then remind yourself what makes you crazy about him or her. Appreciate all that stuff, and show it, in ways both big and small.
Share. I don’t mean your toothbrush (ew) or your LinkedIn contacts (though that would be nice). I mean share your hopes, dreams, and even fears about the relationship. This avoids the obvious awkwardness of finding out 6 years later that one of you wants everything the other doesn’t, but it also opens you both up to honest communication and allows each of you to generate excitement for what’s in store. You can also reassure one another about those fears, or at least address them and acknowledge them, promising to work to eliminate their sources.
Let your actions speak. Actions, as we all know, say more than words ever can. “I love you” is nice to hear, but behavior that reveals that love in small and big ways is much more satisfying, believable, and trustworthy. Don’t fall back on the “easy” convention of words at the expense of actions.
Pay attention. Actively listening to what your partner has to say is both a rewarding thing to do and a genuinely productive builder of a great relationship. What does your partner need and want? Do you know? Have been hearing it all along but you were not really listening? Or are you missing the cues apparent in her or his actions? We don’t always speak our needs and desires with our voices. A fully present partner at least tries to read all the signs. Don’t make this a trade-off, only doing it if your partner does too. That misses the point of what it means to love, and be committed to a great relationship. (Hint: it’s not a competition.)
Be honest, eye contact included. There is nothing more intimate than a direct gaze. Take time whenever you can to look into your partner’s eyes and share your heart. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Be tender. Ask him or her to do the same. If it is scary for our partner at first—or for you—take baby steps. But try. This simple exercise can transform a complacent or stagnant connection into an energized, passionate commitment.
I’ve met far too many people in my line of work who think they are happy in their relationships, but they are really just complacent. The highs and the lows have been worn away, and a comfortable middle-road is what’s left. Whether you want to reclaim what has been lost, or discover if there can be more, you need to put in the time, and the commitment—both emotional and physical. Good relationships happen; great relationships take work. Nothing magical about it. Which means—a great relationship is within reach for all of us!