The arguably most complex art form in the world, is the art of being in a romantic relationship. If you feel that your relationship may be bettered or if you experience conflicts and lack of intimacy and love in your relationship read on:
Embracing the Complexity
An engine is complicated. A relationship is complex. There are no exact blueprints, and the “moving bits” if you will, are less predictable: Your focus on what is important and what is not important, may change according to your mood, time of the week, month or year, as to what just happened in your life more generally, where you are located, how much sleep you had and it may also shift dynamically as a result of your partner’s likewise shifting moods, memories and priorities. As far as we know, a well functioning relationship may be the most complex phenomenon in the universe. This may be the reason why many people fear going to couples therapy: It’s like opening the hood to an otherworldly spacecraft.
The following six points illustrate how great relationships embrace this complexity.
Consider it a tool box if you will.
1. They listen with an open mind
While their partner is talking, they don’t interrupt, they don’t defend their ego and they don’t prepare how to reply while listening. They let their partner articulate what’s on their mind.
Be aware: Considering yourself under attack while listening may prompt you to go on the defense and this will make you a bad listener. A conversation is not to be seen as a fight you can win or lose. Rather try to see it as participating in a complex system that first and foremost needs venting and exploring in order for it to function. The venting may be all the fixing that is needed?
Some advice: Curtail your need to put blame, shame and guilt on your partner. It triggers defense mechanisms. Also watch out for binaries like always/never and watch out for sentences beginning with “You…!”. Choose “I… “ communication” instead.
2. They acknowledge the “not knowing” in their communication
We tend to believe that the best relationship communication is based on a foundation of the respective individuals having clear values, good memories and knowing and being sure about what they see, feel, think and want from life. While this kind of communication may be clear and constructive, it may at the same time estrange your partner by reducing him or her to the receiver of your “truths”.
Basic fact: We will never be able to perceive the world in the exact same way. This is why your truth always will engender some resistance from others.
In great relationships the communication has a foundation of not knowing: They don’t just deliver prebaked messages to their partners based on their truths. They voice a genuine curiosity about what’s going on. This invites dialogue.
In a loving relationship the strongest truths are to be found in the dialogue (dia= two, logue = word and logic). You will meet in the complex “not knowing space” together and try to work it out together from there. That is key to a great loving communication.
3. They have Faith
A good life is faith based. Not necessarily religious but faith based nonetheless. Nothing human works without faith. We need faith in love and each other. We need faith in the relationship. When couples lose faith it’s tough going.
Oftentimes a lack of faith signals a hurt ego. Someone has been hurt deeply. Such wounds may need venting in a respectful conversation.
In great relationships both partners know that the perfect human has not yet been born. Therefore they are slow to judge and quick to forgive. They don’t harbor resentment. They state their boundaries, voice their dissatisfactions etc but they don’t let the sun set on their grievances. They have faith in their relationship.
4. They make their relationship top priority
Some prioritize their career, hobby, kids or friends above and beyond their intimate relationship. Others scale too much down on career, hobbies and friends to spend all their time in their relationship.
In great relationships you and your loved one are like the sun in your solar system with the planets, moons and comets representing your children, jobs, hobbies and friends. It is not about spending all your time together. It’s about showing each other that you are one: That you support each other through rough times, have fun together, do stuff together and try to agree about the important stuff. This direct and indirect contract about being each other’s top priority holds the entire universe of activities, children and friends together. It simultaneously breeds trust and sets the both of you free to pursue a meaningful life outside of the relationship also.
5. They are Great at Timing
We are not as smart as we all think. Most of the stuff people say when angered or saddened is not smart at all.
Rule of thumb: Whenever your stress level exceeds 6 on a scale from 0-10 don’t trust your own thoughts.
Great relationships may be recognised by one or both partners not jumping to conclusions and by not getting into arguments when stressed out. There is wisdom at play: They often choose to give in and lose an argument to win the relationship, because at the end of the day it’s all about timing: When things are calm a proper conversation may be had.
6. They have Common Projects
Words don’t cut it. Action is everything. Love and commitment in a great relationship follows the golden rule of great writing: Show don’t tell.
As such: Saying “I love you” in the absence of you taking initiatives and engaging in common projects such words may come across as empty, containing nothing.
In great relationships there are many projects. They dream, talk, plan and execute events like dinners and projects like painting, refurbishing and building things such as a summer house. Activities centered around the “we” of it all – which in itself is not complex at all. Just do it.