My partner and I began dating 10 years ago this past summer. It was love at first sight — I realized I knew him from not just a past life, but past lives.
We feel incredibly lucky to be close, simpatico soul mates. But we've also had our share of challenges, which have helped us grow.
Of course, there are always going to be obstacles in any relationship, and yet most of us often lose sight of this when thinking about what we hope our love lives will look like in the abstract.
In 10 years, I've learned these 10 essential lessons about being in a conscious relationship, and how to make the connection stronger every moment, challenges and all:
1. Make sure you fall (and keep falling) head over heels in love with each other.
Staying present in your relationship will allow you to tune into the moments of magic that occur again and again. If you keep your vision focused and your mind present, there will always be moments to fall in love again and again, too. Things like chopping veggies side by side, or even disagreeing about couch colors can all be opportunities to recognize what it is you are drawn to, and attached to, in your partner.
A long-term relationship thrives when you continue to fall in love with each other. I've learned to look for and tell my partner what I love about him in all sorts of contexts. The element of surprise is always a thrill, but it also keeps us both feeling stable and safe.
2. Appreciation goes a much longer way than we assume.
Appreciation is the sap in the tree of your relationship. Appreciate each other for big and small things, whether it's support with a difficult work situation or sweeping the decks.
When you make the deliberate effort to show appreciation for your partner, it's a gesture of staying present and remembering the origins of your connection in the first place. Who doesn't want to feel reminded that they are special and valued? I've learned to nourish my relationship with lots of thank you's, smiles and deliberately long hugs.
3. Talk it out. No matter what.
Talking about good things is easy. We don't have to be reminded to have fun with each other when things are going smoothly. Obviously, it's much harder to talk about uncomfortable dynamics that may be unspoken. But just because it's difficult doesn't mean it shouldn't be done. Breathe through the discomfort, and know that talking will ultimately release the tension.
My partner and I process the mundane, the gritty and the profound. Sharing our emotional lives makes us feel close and connected.
4. Have lots of sex because ... why wouldn't you?!
Sex is the glue in a healthy, vibrant romantic relationship. Without sex, a romantic relationship is simply a very close friendship, which is a great thing. But it's important to sustain desire, passion and lust in order to keep your relationship thriving and dynamic.
Sex is a wonderful way to play with power and aggression while being honest and vulnerable. In long-term relationships where sex has its seasons, we've learned to keep things fresh by being fully present and talking about our needs and desires.
5. Fight with kindness and compassion.
When you're hurt, rejected or angry it can be so easy to let that whip-like barb fly off your tongue, withdraw or shut down.
I've learned to be fully present with my negative feelings when they arise. Then, as kindly and compassionately as I'm able, I share them in a way my partner can hear me. When I care about and respect his feelings and truth, however different, he's more receptive to what I say than if I allow my feelings to build into resentment.
6. Allow your partner to be their wildest self.
When a couple comes together, it's like two universes combining into one.
Each person has an individual history — passions, skills, interests, desires, wounds, an inner child. When the combination is harmonious, it's blissful. In the moments where tensions arise, it's like oil and water.
Have I wanted to change my partner? Yes, a thousand times. But I've learned spacious love is knowing and loving all of my partner. Especially when I disagree with and struggle to understand him — because I choose to love the wild truth of who he is.
7. Understand how your partner is your mirror.
You fall in love with someone because you're similar, because your differences complement each other, because the other person has qualities you unconsciously desire for yourself. The dynamic is different for every relationship, but there is always some kind of mirroring that goes on between two people.
I tend to put myself in a care-taking role, which is often what I want to do. But I also need to take care of myself. And sometimes, the act of care-taking can make me resentful. So I've learned to know and assert my needs making me happier and more fulfilled. Getting to know the dynamics at play will help you communicate about when they aren't serving the health of the relationship.
8. Laugh and play together
Laugh, adventure and play keep your relationship bubbling and alive. Relationships can get stale when play diminishes. Mix things up with new couple activities to keep your chemistry alive.
Everyone has their own definition of fun. My partner and I explore the world and rediscover each other on mountain trails, island travels, and spiritual getaways. Do what works for you.
9. Recognize the growth potential in difficult times.
When my partner had a health issue for four years, I supported him but deeply missed the carefree man with whom I fell in love.
As a therapist, I know every challenge holds an unborn gift. I used those four years to take care of myself. I mined for my truth, developed my creativity and work, and reclaimed my inner strength.
My partner healed in four years, which we now know was a vision quest, where he needed to "withdraw" in every way including from me to upgrade himself and his work. We enjoy each other in a whole new way now. Sometimes, it's healthy for two people who are together to experience separate paths of growth. Just because it's difficult doesn't mean there isn't beauty in the experience.
10. Never stop being YOU.
Your relationship is about you. It's about being the best you. I've learned to show up and open to myself and to my partner, rather than trying to be the person I think I should be.
It's incredibly empowering to let go of the expectation that your partnership will ever be perfect. The growth, the magic, is in how we respond to difficulty and grow together — as individuals and as a partnership alike.