Most of the work I put into Effort & Ease steers clear from anything that's too personal. I don't talk about my relationships often and I don't really give any personal details even about the tougher topics I've included. This post is a bit different, because this past weekend, I said YES to the love of my life. We've been together for what feels like forever (forever meaning just over 4.5 years): we've lived in two states, five houses, and we've each held several (good and not-so-good) jobs - and now we're engaged, gearing up to move onto the next chapter of our lives. All of the moving, gains and losses have tested us mentally, emotionally, financially, and ultimately physically. It hasn't been decades or even "several" years, but the place we're at in our relationship has required some serious effort balanced out by plenty of fun, joy, and ease. Like everything else in life, you've got to find a balance that can ebb & flow with what works for you & your significant other at that very moment. Some of this is information I've picked up during my graduate education (with reference to helping couples cope during difficult times), but mostly I speak from personal experience. While living this life in love, here are six things I've learned (so far):
Communication is Everything
Human beings are social creatures by nature: from birth, we long to connect with the other living beings around us through verbal and nonverbal communication skills. Without communication, you've got nothing. Deep communication requires a level of vulnerability that is scary but so necessary in a successful relationship. An entire post could be devoted to communicating, but here are some quick tips to help enhance communication in your relationship:
- Use "I" Statements.
Example: I feel overwhelmed when all of the housework is on me. I would really benefit from some extra help around the house.
Why it works: Using "I" statements decreases blame and keeps the focus on what you want without finger pointing. Otherwise, it sounds like this: "You don't do anything to help me out around here." Same message, different delivery, big diference.
- Communicate one issue at a time, when it happens. This is important for a few reasons, but mostly to avoid kitchen-sinking, a habit many couples develop and one that is destructive. To avoid this, address each issue when it happens at an appropriate time (if something bugs you while you're out socializing with friends, save it for later). Communiate why it's a problem and problem solve/find a solution together.
- Avoid words like "always, never, every single time..." This goes back to the last bullet point. If you feel like you're having to use language like this, you're not communicating enough.
Knowing Your Passion Increases Passion
What do you love? For me, it's yoga, cooking and spending countless hours on the internet or with my nose in a book learning about topics that interest me. For him, it's graphic design, comics (he'll hate me for saying that, and then correct me on specifically which type of comic he's into), outdoor "guy" stuff (hunting, fishing) and sports (softball). We both have passions and we know how to access them in order to meet our own needs. Without having your own interests, it's easy to lose yourself and become dependent on your significant other's interests to make you happy (which won't). Knowing your own passion is important so that you can re-charge with alone time when you need to, giving you the opportunity to bring your best self to your partner.
Empathy Takes You Deeper
Empathy is having the ability to understand and/or share in the experience of someone else. This doesn't mean you have to have gone through the same situation, but slowing down enough to hear what your partner is saying, perhaps even imagining what it might be like to experience it, is important. A key component to empathy is listening. Listening involves focusing on what someone else is saying, not trying to think of what you might say next, and not speaking until they've finished. Sometimes listening is more valuable than the words that follow. You won't always have the right answer, but simply stating "I hear you, and I support you" is more than enough. Empathetic listening builds connection, trust, and a foundation that you can fall back on when things get hard.
Having Similar Interests Brings Joy
This might seem obvious, but there have to be some similar interests that bring you together. Mike and I have multiple interests in common - and they range from hobby-based interests (snowboarding, bike rides, concerts) to the other stuff: getting sucked into Orange is the New Black, following the same sub-reddits & often communicating via memes (nerd alert), and choosing Hawaiian Pizza when all else fails. Life is long and you have to fill your time together with the stuff that you both enjoy, otherwise what's the point?
Surrendering Control is Necessary
At the end of the day, you are each your own person. Each of you are 100% in control of your own decisions, thoughts, and actions. We all work toward finding a balance of doing what works best for us but also doing what works for the other person; after all, in relationships there is a natural, innate desire to please the other person (and for good reason!) Recognizing that you can't control the other person brings a sense of relief and takes a lot of the weight off your own shoulders. If there's an issue or behavior that you're not super excited about, it all goes back to communicating why it isn't working for you. Empathetic listening follows. Recognizing what is in your control is necessary for personal balance and peace.
The Work Never Ends
Relationships are hard. Regardless of how awesome and perfect everything feels, there will always be setbacks and challenges. Contiunally checking in with one another, being honest, and recognizing that no one is perfect helps personal growth and growth as a couple. Life never stops and relationships require continuious work to be successful. It's not always easy but it's worth it.