Schedule A Free Consultation
My wife and I just got married.
It was an important and beautiful moment of commitment, joy, and celebration. But it got me thinking… How did we get here?
We have a solid and fulfilling relationship, but it certainly didn’t happen overnight. It’s taken patience, massive communication, and certainly a lot of give and take. Relationships can seem so nebulous, and since there’s no “healthy relationships” class in school, nor is there an instruction manual for love, we fumble along through trial and error. Usually a lot of errors. Then, one day if we’re “lucky,” we may end up meeting the “right” person. But in my experience, it’s not a question of luck. There are practices and principles that one can put in place to enjoy deeper, more satisfying relationships.
As Rainer Maria Rilke eloquently puts it: “To love is good, too: love being difficult. For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”
These are some of the keys that my wife and I have found instrumental in our fulfilling relationship that I hope you find helpful, whatever stage you’re in.
In order to be fulfilled in a relationship with another person, we must start by developing a caring and positive relationship with ourselves. One way to approach this is to examine your negative thoughts and habits, and find ways to replace your destructive and disempowering beliefs and habits with new ones. Do the work. Spend time on yourself.
The first step is to assess with honesty where you are today, accept it, and not be in denial about it. Then get to work on becoming the person you want your future partner to fall in love with, or to become the best version of yourself for the one you’ve already chosen to be with.
Know thyself. As Nathaniel Branden puts it, “Self-acceptance is my refusal to be in an adversarial relationship to myself.”
(A good place to start is with your health, as health is a prerequisite to attaining so many goals in life. Click here to learn how I can help you here.)
Spending time alone is a vital need. Whether it’s sitting alone with our thoughts and emotions, going for a walk, contemplating nature, journaling, or reading, we need some time to disconnect and be with ourselves. This becomes even more essential when we are in a committed relationship and/or have a family.
As Erich Fromm puts it, “Paradoxically, the ability to be alone is the condition for the ability to love.”
So many relationships these days are centered around this idea of being completely immersed in someone, and/or characterized by a domination/subservience dynamic – diluting our sense of self and uniqueness in the process. So many people give up on their dreams and passions, and then later become resentful.
What if instead of searching for someone to “complete us” or to “find our missing half,” we accepted that we were whole individuals to start with, and that our goal was to meet someone to walk side by side with as equals? How would that realization change the way we behave in our relationships?
In our marriage and our relationship beforehand, Ann and I always made it a point, and continue to, respect each other’s alone time and freedom. It allows us to recharge and be our best selves for each other.
Rainer Maria Rilke summaries this idea is this brilliant passage from Letters to a Young Poet:
“The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”
CANI: Constant And Never-ending Improvement. The success of a relationship is no accident, nor is it a job you do once and then forget. It takes constant work and dedication. I’m reminded of the time I met a woman once who explained to me, “Oh, I don’t have to worry too much about working out and being fit, I’m already married.”
For your own sake and that of your relationship, make it a priority to be better than you were yesterday. Ask yourself, how can you share, give, contribute, and create at a higher level? Strive to build an atmosphere of support and encouragement, where you set goals together, believe in each other’s dreams, and work to stay on the same page.
Simply put The Law of Familiarity postulates that if you are around someone or something long enough, you tend to take it, or the person, for granted.
If you notice that the “spark” has gone in your relationship, then chances are you’ve fallen victim to the Law. What’s the antidote? One word: Gratitude. Cultivating gratitude or a deep sense of appreciation for what you have can override the Law. Tony Robbins said it best, “Act as if you were at the beginning of your relationship and there won’t be an end.”
Notice the small things, allow room for surprises, have date nights, and deep conversations with no distractions. Be unpredictable, be adventurous, but on the flip side, remember the power of couple/family rituals and annual celebrations.
In The Art of Loving Erich Fromm points out that “Love is not primarily a relationship to a specific person; it is an attitude, an ordination of character which determines the relatedness of the person to the whole world as a whole, not toward one object of love.”
After mentally chewing on this for a while, it dawned on me that one of the major obstacles to love is perhaps the fact that most of us operate from the faulty axiom that minimizes the importance of learning about love and what it entails. Love with a capital L must be a skill to develop, a practice to perfect, as opposed to this idea of just seeking the perfect person.
In short, I would explain the concept of capital L love, practically, as a state of expressing our love through our daily thoughts, emotions, and actions.
And why not extend this Love to other sentient beings?
Just to conclude here, relationships can be complex. I’m not saying that these five keys can (or should) salvage a relationship that isn’t right. (For example, sometimes you need to muster up the courage to put an end to a toxic relationship.)
Ann and I have infused our marriage with these ideas, and strive to honor them as much as possible, but we make mistakes…and there will surely be mistakes made in the future. The key is committing to taking a mindful, active approach to love. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it.
To fulfilling relationships!