Believe it or not, we can deliberately choose to cultivate skills that will help us realize the full potential of our relationships. We can re-access the sense of wonder we felt at those early moments of love, when we felt something close to enchantment.
In the beginning stage of most relationships, we "receive" positive emotions from our partners like love, support, attention and so on "for free." All of this is mediated by hormones, chemicals and the trance of new love. The experience of finding our "other half" can be fleeting, and dissipates with the first showing of power struggles and other differences. It can also point the way to a relationship of two whole people, who love one another as wholeheartedly as they live in the fullness of their individual lives.
So here are three reminders to help you cultivate the skills necessary to give care, love and attention to yourself, your partner and your relationship, all at the same time.
1. Bravery is a prerequisite to showing up fully in your relationship.
Intimacy is risky; trusting another person, exposing our vulnerabilities and knowing that the deeper we love, the greater the risk of sorrow when we part.
We also need the courage to confront our partner and ourselves with awareness, honesty, and love. Courage means squarely facing our fears and limitations. It involves challenging our expectations and assumptions about who our partner is, and about who they should and shouldn't be. It means making changes when they are called for, even when they are uncomfortable.
It is feeling empathy for the whole of our human condition — mine, yours, that of our families, and even of people we feel have wronged us. Bravery is finding a way to laugh at ourselves, too. It means becoming bigger than the stories, which we have let define us and finding our way into our unique possibilities.
2. Each of us struggles with limitations and losses.
That's why we can't forget to extend compassion to ourselves and to our partner. Note: Compassion is not the same as indulgence. We can maintain clear boundaries and honor our needs for safety and accountability, even while understanding each other's struggles and vulnerabilities.
We can stretch to see conflicts from the other's perspective rather than remain mired in our own point of view. We can make the effort to cultivate interest in each other rather than pass judgment, and to respond with open-heartedness even when our instinct is to close up like a clam. We can forgive ourselves and forgive our partner, again and again. Our stumbles are as much a part of the journey as our successes.
3. "Sharing is caring" is not just a cliché.
One of the most powerful strengths a couple can develop is the shared creation of effective ways to manage conflict, communicate, share decisions, and support each other in difficult times.
Co-creation can also involve the pursuit of common interests that extend the relationship beyond its customary "you-me" borders. It's healthy for couples to broaden their lives together, be it through family or community connections, creative projects, intellectual pursuits, sports, cooking, music, travel, spiritual practice, or other endeavors that you both find rewarding.
We co-create when we discover satisfying activities to do together rather than just being together. These joint endeavors can create larger meaning in our relationship. They can also be a net which holds us in challenging times and brings us back together in resiliency and newness.
The people who come into our lives enrich and challenge us. Through these relationships, we're able to see ourselves more clearly. The health of our connections with one another depends a great deal on what goes on inside us — our inner resources, our lingering demons, and our motivation to grow and change.
One of the similar themes shared by the world's myths and legends is that the journey for each of us, as a hero or a heroine, is to search for the "magic elixir" inside — our true nature.
The hero's journey is a powerful metaphor for the couple's path. Two people walk the road together for a time, giving each other the strength and courage to discover that magic elixir within. They become a mirror, a support a catalyst to one another, and if they are lucky, a teacher in the learning of love. Not the feeling of loving, but the living meaning of the verb, "to love."
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