After 30 years working with couples and working on my own relationship, I’ve seen the best and the worst. I’ve been asked many times for advice and I myself have sought advice and counseling to strengthen my relationship as well.
One of the most common success factors in relationships is a willingness to grow, change and transform. As we explore in my upcoming book, The Heart of the Fight, relationships aren’t always easy, but conflict isn’t always a negative sign. Conflict and active engagement with your partner can be a powerful catalyst for transformation.
Participants in our programs at Wright Living often experience lower rates of divorce and more harmonious relationships. (A survey of our relationship coaching program revealed divorce rates were somewhere around 4%, much much lower than the national average.) I believe this stems not only from the success of our programs, but also due to the attitude and type of person that participates—these are real people seeking real change and real growth.
The very fact that you’re looking for relationship advice and seeking to better your relationship reflects a very important first step to success: you’re looking for change. You understand you must grow, adapt and work on your relationship. You must actively engage with your partner, and as an individual, to achieve what you want and see those things you find most important in an intimate relationship.
This, my friend, puts you ahead of the curve already.
Here’s some of our most important relationship advice. It’s the best relationship advice you never got.
Engage in the Mess
Relationships are all about engagement: actively engaging with your partner, being open, honest and genuine with them, and not being afraid to get a little messy. Relationships, after all, are rarely neat and tidy. They’re fraught with intimacy, emotion, feelings and connections. They’re built on hopes, desires and the innermost yearnings of our hearts. These are big things and the very fiber of our matrix.
People often shy away from conflict and expression in relationships. Small resentments fester like a tiny pebble in a shoe that eventually causes a blister. If you catch it early, if you discuss it—remove the pebble and sooth the irritation—you can move forward; but if it goes unchecked and ignored, eventually you’ll find each step more and more painful.
One of the keys to engagement is to learn how to fight fair. Fighting by definition is about the clash of two perspectives: one desire moves above another, or one view or action is contrary to another. We don’t often think of fighting as fair—there’s a winner and a loser—so inserting words like “compromise” can sound like a fancy way to say “surrender.”
When you get down to the deeper underlying meaning of the fight, you have to ask yourself what are you really fighting for? Is it for personal validation? To soothe an irritation? Or are you fighting to come to a stronger outcome for the relationship itself? If you reframe your ultimate goal, you may find that although you and your partner are experiencing conflict, you’re still yearning for the same result—to love and be loved in a mutually fulfilling relationship.
You are 100% Responsible for You
“He never helps around the house,” or “She’s just like her mother…” are common relationship complaints. Pointing fingers, placing blame and hurling generalizations and accusations can feel productive—we’re getting OUR point across; we’re expressing OUR feelings. However, we’re not taking responsibility for ourselves.
You are responsible for your happiness and satisfaction. If you’re looking to a relationship to give you something you haven’t found within yourself, then, as harsh as it may sound, you will never find it.
As human beings, we need to connect. We crave intimacy, closeness with others, physical touch, affection and partnership with others. Wanting a relationship is at the core of our desires. From a transformative approach, our relationship should support us. It should be a womb in which we can grow.
Often we look at what a partner is doing or not doing as a solution to “fixing” our relationship, but blaming, nagging or accusing a partner is not transformative or productive. Instead, we need to look at our yearnings within the relationship and ask ourselves if we’re expressing those yearnings clearly. It’s not “wrong” to wish your husband did the dishes more often or to wish your girlfriend was more physically affectionate, but you are responsible for the way you express those desires to your partner.
Ask yourself if you’re making your feelings and yearnings clear. Own your feelings and take personal responsibility for your role in the conflict or the frustration. Although many of us may wish our partners could read our minds, I can assure you I have yet to meet any two partners that were psychically connected. You must take responsibility for your desires.
No One Gets More than 50% of the Blame
A relationship is a two-way street. It’s a reciprocal relationship and that means one side cannot be solely responsible for issues that arise. Too often we get caught in the pseudo-engagement of the “Blame Game,” which feels constructive, but really it just continues to build resentment, keeping you locked in the drama triangle. It creates a lot of energy, making you feel like you’re relating, but really you’re just spinning your wheels.
Remember that you and your partner are part of a system and you each take part in it. This also works in reverse—you can only take 50% of the blame. If you’re a rescuer or a fixer who thinks you can resolve all the issues yourself, then you need to reassess how much blame you’re taking on as well.
Engaging together with your partner, actively taking responsibility for your roles and focusing on transformative and positive resolution will add depth and intimacy to your relationship. Understanding where underlying feelings are coming from and working together to address these feelings can keep things from escalating beyond the point of no return.
Don’t give up on a relationship just because there’s conflict or because it’s not always “fair.” There are no perfect relationships and fairytales are just that…real relationships are much more satisfying, genuine and supportive.