The One Ingredient Every Couple Needs For A Lasting Relationship
There are lots of qualities that typically get attention when talking about what makes a healthy relationship: trust, honesty, and communication tend to be the big ones.
But according to licensed marriage therapist Beverley Andre, LMFT, there's one quality that's fully necessary for a relationship to thrive that people rarely talk about: intentionality.
How intentionality makes or breaks relationships.
"Intentional means doing the mental work, aka planning," Andre tells mbg.
A funny thing that happens in relationships, particularly ones that have lasted a long while, is we tend to go on autopilot. A couple will establish a cadence or dynamic that they settle into—including how they interact with each other, what their daily and weekly routines look like, what they talk about, and even how and when they show affection—and they keep at it until an issue comes up. In fact, they may be so married to their familiar patterns of us-ness that they may even just sweep issues under the rug for as long as they can, only finally addressing them head-on once they've gotten too big to ignore.
But as Andre notes, relationships require proactive nurturing—not just reactive responses to issues. That's where intentionality comes in.
"If you want to nurture your relationship, you have to think ahead and figure out all the pieces and parts of what it will take to actually improve your relationship," she explains.
Being intentional in your relationship means regularly thinking about what the relationship needs to function better and ultimately grow, and then actually taking concrete steps now to make that happen before issues arise. "You're making it a priority, instead of an afterthought," she notes.
Instead of waking up one day and wondering, "How did my relationship get here?" or "How do we fix this?" you're proactively nourishing your relationship so that serious challenges are less likely to appear or less likely to significantly threaten your relationship when they do. As Andre puts it, "You won't have to worry about the grass being greener on the other side if you're intentional about watering your own on a schedule."
How to be more intentional in your relationship.
OK, so what does this actually look like in practice?
Andre recommends taking small steps to improve your relationship. That might include proactively having a conversation about how the two of you approach conflict, for example, or it might look like taking the time to cultivate a culture of more appreciation and goodwill in your relationship. If you haven't already, Andre also suggests learning about your and your partner's love languages and finding ways to express more affection in those ways.
"One recommendation I have for couples to nurture their relationship is to do an intention challenge," Andre recommends. "To do the intention challenge, all you have to do is create a list of 12 things, which can be a mixture of gifts and gestures, to do for your partner once a month. That's it—nice and simple."
However you choose to approach intentionality in your relationship, the point is to simply prioritize it as a couple. When you're both engaged and taking steps to strengthen your connection, the relationship is more likely to be able to thrive even in the face of life's inevitable hardships.
Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.
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