Around the festival season every year, we make a sincere attempt to spend time with our loved ones. Diwali, Christmas, Eid sometimes become the only time we spend with extended family and some friends. We also become different during this time. We are kinder, more compassionate, understanding, loving, tolerant and in the spirit of the season, more celebratory towards our partners, kids, parents and friends. But waiting a whole year to be that way, seems such a waste. But spending only this time does not take care of a lot of the relationship problems that people go through for the rest of the year. It’s almost like sweeping things under the carpet for a short span of time because you are supposed to be happy. Relationships of true soul mates, partnerships, marriages, families undergo severe stress levels when things are not sorted as they come up. A rocking foundation can lead to heartbreak and eventually loss of a key relationship.
In our pursuit of a happy or a healthy relationship, we sometimes let it remain a dream or a fantasy in our heads, while the reality may be very different. As we go year after year into a relationship, taking moments of a breather during the festive time, we are swept away by daily responsibilities, chores, duties, commitments, both at work and at home, that managing that same relationship can start to get burdensome after a while. While we are quite conscientious at the beginnings of a relationship, we grow less accountable over time and one day we wake up to a relationship jaded over time or at worst, one at its end. A healthy relationship isn’t hard work. It is really about making space for it in our lives to take care of, much the same way we have to take care of everyone and everything else.
We allow everything else to encroach on the time we had initially allotted to a relationship and we helplessly watch it fall from top priority to somewhere down the list.
Couples who have spent more than 7-10 years together agree that they have prioritized other things and people over their spouse after a certain point without realizing it. Especially when they have kids and or live in large families.
There are numerous shades to a relationship. As many relationships there are in the world, there are that many ways of building one. But there are some threads of truth that weave through them all. A common foundation on which they all stand which has elements like communication, intimacy, boundaries, respect, gratitude, trust and value. A foundation based on this can add years of fulfilment and depth to any relationship. Happiness, fun, togetherness, common interests, romance, and sex do not form the building blocks. These are the benefits that the two people receive when the foundation is strong.
A start of a new relationship, especially a romantic one, is focussed on communication. And a lot of it. Many sleepless nights of long conversations and discovery about one another, time spent together, indulging in activities of common interest, like a lifetime that needs to be shared. We want to bring the person up to speed on how we came about to this point in our lives where we have met each other. And on the basis of this, we move ahead.
A few years down the line, as things get busy, communication starts getting tougher and we start to adjust to that. Sometimes we are aware that communication in a certain area may bring conflict, so there is an avoidance of communication. At other times it can be not wanting to share due to fear of being judged, ashamed or guilty. Drifting apart is a large contributing factor to communication breakdown. We have also replaced the special one with other people and communication gets redirected.
We think that communication is only verbal. This is expressed communication. Unexpressed communication is done through energy or what is commonly referred to as “vibes”, body language, facial expressions, eyes, breathing, physical avoidance or touching, certain non-verbal sounds we make, eye contact or its avoidance, a hug or a brush aside, and so on. What is actually going on is that we are communicating 24/7 and we are being responded to by the other. Even if we don’t say a word, a lot gets said. A lot of effort, time, energy goes into the creation of this drama for the other person to subconsciously “get it”. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. But we are still communicating. Many people are not comfortable speaking up and often end up creating even more drama in relationships as a lot gets misinterpreted and misread by the other.
People think that intimacy is about physicality, physical affection or sex. It isn’t. Real intimacy is about fearlessly sharing ourselves fully and baring our heart and soul to the other. And it may never involve any physical act other than a hug. It can be an aspect of a relationship with a parent, best friend, lover, spouse, business partner or a child. Intimacy needs to be first established with yourself. It involves honestly acknowledging what you are thinking and feeling at this moment without judging yourself. It is also about embracing gracefully who you are at this point, knowing that you will change and evolve. This level of self-compassion then becomes easier to extend to others.
Boundaries literally mean drawing a line of tolerance. What you will and what you won’t allow to be treated by the other. Healthy boundaries mean, we never get taken for granted, we remain respected and there is no chance for abuse. Communicating where our personal boundaries lie is the first step. If communicated at the beginning stages of a relationship, it becomes the foundation for a healthy relationship.
The next step in having boundaries is maintaining them. Never allowing someone to keep crossing the line and being ok with it or keeping quiet on it. Boundaries allow us to be in our own space and have compassion for the other, knowing that they are responsible for what they feel and we are responsible for what we feel. When we step away from the inner conflict and drama of the other, we are able to distance ourselves from the unnecessary distraction and actually see what is going on. This is a way to treat yourself better, then inviting the other to treat you the way you treat yourself.
To have a deep understanding and compassion for another is to respect them. A few months or years into a relationship, we tend to start changing the person we are with, without taking into account that they have probably been this way for years for a reason. If you respect them, you would let them be as they are. If their way of being is creating conflict, simply bring it to their awareness and communicate with intimacy how you feel about it. They will change if they choose to. Respect them for their choices.
Conflicts and disagreements are an area where we tend to lose respect for one another. In a conflict, when you know that neither one of you are coming off your position, it is best to call it quits on the conflict and respect that the other is different from you in this aspect. It includes respecting their feelings, points of view, way of being and doing, however different it is from how you would be or do. To respect their choices and supportive as well. Allowing them a chance to be themselves and build their way up with your love and support.
Gratitude is the key to relationship survival and is seen as the antidote to relationship failure. Gratitude can help relationships thrive by promoting a cycle of generosity. That is, that one partner’s gratitude can prompt both partners to think and act in ways that help them signal gratitude to each other and promote a desire to hold onto their relationship. Moments of gratitude help people recognize the value in their partners and a valuable partner is a partner worth holding onto.
When people feel more appreciative of their partners than typical, there is increased feelings of commitment to their relationships. And the benefits of gratitude are not just in daily life – the more grateful people are at the beginning of the relationship, the more committed they are years later. Feelings of gratitude are associated with a psychological motivation to maintain the relationship. However, this does not apply to abusive relationships. This is more for relationships that seem to have lost their sheen over the years and the two people would like to revive it.
People usually think that trust is what you expect the other to do based on what you have asked from them. That’s not trust. That’s expectation. We use unmet expectations as a way to trust someone or not trust them. Trust issues come up when we have unrealistic definitions of what we expect from others. We find a person trustworthy only if they do and behave as we need them to, in order for us to be happy. That is a form of control. To trust is where you are very aware of how the other person tends to be and know that is how they will always be in those situations until they choose to change.
So if the person tends to not tell you everything, trust that that’s what they will tend to mostly do until they feel they need to change this aspect of themselves. Trust involves an awareness, understanding and total acceptance of the person for exactly who they are. It gives them permission to be themselves while most of the world judges them or expects from them or wants them to change. The truth is, if you trust them for who they are, they mostly do change on their own much quicker than you realize. Trust also makes the other feel safe to communicate, to share themselves with you and be intimate and have boundaries. It leads to a healthy relationship.
Value is knowing exactly what place this person holds in your life. Are they a priority for you? Are you directing that level of energy and time towards them? Are you aware of how they impact your life? Once you know the value of a person in your life, gratitude, and respect for them flows easily. Creating a relationship as valuable allows you to devote yourself to nurturing it and allowing it into your life as it then starts to expand other areas of your life as well. A relationship should be caring, nurturing and comfortable. These are critical values to have if you want to grow, evolve and be fulfilled. More than happiness today, being fulfilled in a relationship is the key to its longevity and health. Value ensures that a person and the relationship with them get enough of you to keep it going.
If done every week, this little time out has supported hundreds of couples, friends, business partners, families heal wounds and create a new foundation for a health relationship.
Step #1: Communicating with Intimacy.
Time: 5 minutes per partner
Sit opposite your loved one, hold hands gently. Look into each other’s eyes and take 15 minutes each to fully and completely express what you are disturbed about, taking full responsibility for what you feel. Then allow the other person to fully express themselves the same way uninterrupted.
Step #2: Expressing Gratitude, Value and Respect.
Time: 3 minutes per partner
Speak clearly on how you value them, what you respect them or admire them for, and how much you are in gratitude for them.
Step #3: Affirmations as
Time: 1 minute per partner
End the exercise with affirmations that are the correction course to what they may have earlier vented about. That is your promise to ensure they continue to remain respected and valued by you. They can choose to do the same for you.
Last but not least, a hug goes a long way in bonding at the end of this exercise.