In recent weeks, I've received emails from a number of readers asking me for advice about their lives. Since I write mostly about my own life, and don't claim to be a therapist, I felt both surprised and flattered. But one particular letter I received really grabbed me.
The woman who wrote to me is having a challenging time with her husband, and wanted my advice on how to deal with him when he is being particular controlling, demanding and non-communicative. As I read her letter, I realized it could have been written by just about any person in a long-term partnership, at some point in the relationship.
The laundry list of complaints may be different depending on the person (e.g. a different person could be especially needy, jealous or possessive), but the basic sentiment the same: if you are with someone long enough, you are bound to see each other's "dark sides."
It may sound surprising, but I think this essential challenge of being in a long-term relationship is also the most romantic thing in the world. To love someone even when they show you their dark side is, in essence, real love. It's the willingness to be the grit in the oyster that creates your partner's pearl. Helping each other constantly learn and grow, and not giving up when things get challenging — now that's love.
I am no relationship expert, and compared to my grandparents' 67 year marriage, the 15 years I've been with my husband seems like a drop in the bucket. But I can share what I've found to be true in my relationships.
So here's how I answered the email, and the advice I hope to not only give, but to follow:
Marriage relationships are probably the most challenging ones we ever experience because we are so close (physically, emotionally and spiritually) with our spouses. We share space, sleep, money, sex, food, possibly parenting duties and more: what a ripe environment for challenges to arise! But that means marriage also provides an ideal opportunity for personal growth.
Of course, it can be hurtful if our partners are not communicating how we wish they would. But what I've found in my relationship with my husband, as well as relationships with other people, is that you can't change anyone else. Ever. The only thing I can change is my own attitude and my own behavior. And what I've found that has been amazing time and time again, is that when I do change my attitude and behavior, other people actually end up changing too!
With that said, here are three simple suggestions to help you in those challenging moments. By opening yourself up to new ways of interacting with your partner, you will be able to open your heart and mind. And in the process, you may find yourself falling in love all over again ...
1. Do what makes you happy.
It could be something simple, and unrelated to your partner, like listening to your favorite music, doing yoga, taking a hot bath or eating a favorite food. Do it — and do it often. Get yourself in a good mood however you can, as often as you can.
2. When you're feeling pretty good, make a list of all the things you love and appreciate about your partner.
Ignore the things you don't like at the moment. Maybe he or she's a great provider, a loyal son/daughter, a loving father/mother, a good cook, a passionate lover, skilled in his/her work. Make a list of everything you can think of, and feel free to regularly revisit and add to this list.
3. When you're with your partner, praise him for whatever you see that’s worthy of praise.
Hold your tongue if you have the urge to criticize. Allow your appreciation to flow without waiting for some behavior of his to change first.
If you follow these three steps for even a week, I almost guarantee you'll see at least some profound changes in your relationship. If you follow them for a month, I believe your relationship could completely transform. You may find your partner opening up in a whole new way, or adoring and appreciating you in ways far better than you ever imagined.
By simply changing how you adore yourself and appreciate your partner, you may find yourself beginning the romance anew, again and again. Let me know how it goes!