12 Aspects of Healthy Relationships – Conclusion

After reflecting on the aspects of a generative, healthy, long lasting relationships, the question becomes, “How do I get there?” Practice is the key. Just like in sports, music, dance, martial arts, or any activity that requires mastery, relationships, as we are speaking about here, require ongoing, rigorous practice throughout the time of the relationship. It will not serve to be in the conversation, “Been there, done that.” Disciplined practice will serve. Embodying these aspects of relationship requires practice over time; there is really no other way. Become the relationship you want to live, develop mastery in the skills. This is one of the benefits of having a partner. Partners can assist each other in the practices, remind each other when someone forgets, and help the relationship to stay on track. It will never be perfect, and it won’t help to expect perfection from your partner, as there will always be breakdowns, especially in the beginning. Have patience and practice until it becomes second nature.

Remember these things on the path:

  • Each individual has to take responsibility for their “stuff’ and commit to working on it. Two strong individuals will build a strong foundation for a long lasting relationship.
  • Begin by picking the right person. Make sure the “settling for” conversation is not happening. Everyone deserves the person who is right for them.
  • Commit to and stay in the practices. Like falling off the horse, when mistakes are made, recommit and start again – no judgment. Sometimes one partner will do better than the other. Remember you are there to support each other in their growth.
  • Make agreements that will support what you are looking for. Making and keeping promises is the best way to build trust in a relationship.
  • Keep talking! Take the time to have the necessary conversations to make agreements and handle issues and breakdowns. Stay with the conversation to completion, even if it takes weeks or months. Over processing is not resolution. Always move towards resolution.
  • Create a vision for the relationship you want then align the practices, conversations, and agreements accordingly.
  • Be kind to each other, even when it is hard. This, as much as anything, will get you through the difficulties.

And remember, the work is never completely done. Until you are able to count your relationship in decades, it is difficult to understand what can be achieved. The gift is living a fulfilling, satisfying relationship for the rest of your lives.

 

Mark and Madeline have a thriving coaching practice in Petaluma, California, serving clients from around the world. We are especially keen on supporting people in relationships that are committed for the long haul. You can contact us at Mark@ecosomatic.com, or MadelineWade@comcast.net.

Aspects of Generative, Healthy Relationships

Life can be hard. For some, life’s not fun. Suffering happens to us, those around us, and throughout the world. And, we have been given the capacity to laugh, have fun, be playful, and silly. To create balance with this, it is important if not necessary to be playful and have some fun. It can also be a source or excitement and passion to support balance in our lives. Playfulness and having fun in a relationship is a necessity for long lasting relationships.

#12 Play

“Seriousness is too boring to the playful human condition. A heart of stone that has a long face can never express love.” Michael Bassey Johnson

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”- Plato

Humans have a wide capacity of ways of being. Everyone walks around in a predominate mood in life ranging from excitable, joyful, fearful, angry, and playful, to sad and numb. Predominate moods are organized by our historical shaping. It’s like all those shaping experiences are bundled together and spits out the background mood that we live in. The good news is that all our shapings were put on us and learned, which means we can work to shift many of the things we don’t like about ourselves, and our predominate mood is one of them.

Unless it was part of our historical shaping, which means it will seem easy or natural, being playful is a developed skill. To be playful, being playful has to be practiced. Working with many people over time, we find it curious how many people have no practice for fun. Frequently it shows up in the, “Well I used to…” have fun conversation, but then life took over, careers happened, and/or families developed. We have seen repeatedly that one of the characteristics of a generative relationship is partners having fun together, being playful together, and kidding around and pulling practical jokes on each other. Why not? Life is short, let’s have fun! And who is the person you spend most of your time with during your life?

And let’s be clear, many people have strong boundaries in place to insure time and energy for the things that they are passionate about. Wavy Gravy, the original Yippie, says’ “If you don’t have a sense of humor, it’s just not funny.” Historical shaping may be at play, being shaped in a way that life seems dangerous, or one receives “you have to work hard” messages, living religious repression, receiving personality inheritance from overly serious parents, growing up in repressive environments; all these things can limit the ability for play and fun.

Playfulness has the possibility to not only be an occasional remark, joke, or activity, it can also be a way of being. Everyone knows someone who seems playful most of the time, sometimes genuine, sometimes as a defense. Some people will have to dig deep to open up to and allow their playful side to be expressed. But consider what would happen in your relationship and in your life if your overall outlook was an approach that always looked for that spark of fun and lightness. This doesn’t mean we ignore seriousness when it is important to be serious, or that we joke about things when inappropriate or hurtful. It means we stay focused more of the time on the lighter side of life, the lighter side of our relationship.

We also believe humans have a responsibility to play and have fun. One view into life is to consider balance. How do we support balance if there is suffering in the world? One could say we are obligated and have a responsibility to practice fun and play in life. “What is satisfaction and fulfillment in life?” Are you satisfied with how much fun you have in life? Relationships are the perfect place to practice fun. Tie a knot in the sleeve of your partner’s sweater when they try to put it on. Do sneaky fun things with each other. Agree to always go to bed with a smile on your face. Hide their cookie and pretend you may have eaten it. Life by itself is not fun or miserable, it is neutral. We make life fun by practicing being playful and having fun. How do you practice fun in relationship? Go dancing, go for a hike, go listen to music, learn a new language together. And make a commitment with your partner for more fun in your life.


Practice:

Get grounded in how playfulness shows up in your relationship both individually and together. If it is there, great. Have an explicit conversation about how it shows up and if playfulness can be improved. Are you satisfied with how fun and play shows up in your relationship? Is it too much? What new practices could you begin? If it is not there, take a look at what each person may be doing to not be practicing playfulness. Then open a conversation and make agreements about what playfulness could look like and how it will be brought into the relationship.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

We love hearing about experiences, questions, and comments!

 

Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

Equalization of Power is a basic concern in relationships. Often when power is unequal, one partner will end up subordinate to the other often causing anger, fear, and resentment. Unaddressed it becomes one of the bigger factors related to divorce, not power itself, but the conflict and resentment it causes between partners.

#11 Control/Power

“Unacknowledged power festers and destroys relationships.” Dr. Michael Aaron

“Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can’t figure out what from.”Mae West

In relationships, power is most often domain specific. One partner knows more, cares more, or exerts more influence about certain things in a relationship than the other. This is not necessarily a problem in itself. Unexamined, this can create problems and dysfunction.

How are you in your primary relationship related to power/control? You can think this through, feel into the question and see a certain set of examples. Do you feel equal overall? Do you feel your opinions matter? Do you feel you partner dignifies you? Do you feel resentment? Our feeling self, which includes moods, emotions, and our felt sense of things, is our ground for knowing ourselves. In language we can rationalize, fool ourselves, and even lie to ourselves. Our felt sense of ourselves can’t do that. What we feel in the moment is who we are, our truth in the moment. Learning to listen to this aspect of ourselves is a skill, and using this as a feedback loop of verifying our feelings related to how things play out in our life offers a glimpse into internal alignment.

The key to success related to power/control in a relationship is communication and respect. Take nothing for granted. Talk about it. The power conversation is optimally important in the beginning of relationships and useful anytime. Did things start off well and get weird? Bring it up, talk about it. One of the difficulties for conversations related to power is when the behaviors and structures are in place where one partner is exerting control over the other partner. The “controlled” can often feel powerless to speak up. Fearing the loss of the relationship, attack, projected anger, or any kind of real or imagined consequence can influence or halt the bringing up of the issue. This has the possibility of being shifted by using the communication suggestions in the section above. If communication around this issue breaks down and becomes impossible to resolve, there is nowhere to go and the relationship will most likely be in peril. As with many of the other issues related to relationships, one’s own personal work becomes one of the keys to resolution.

One of the keys to the power/control dilemma is respect. If there is a practice of respect within a relationship, power over other is only an issue as a mistake, not as a pattern.  So what does it mean to treat your partner with respect? Well, you could go with the “9 Valuable Principles,” or learn “How to Treat Others Fairly,” or learn “How to Treat People with Respect,” or learn “How to Demonstrate Respect in the Workplace.” All good tips! Most of us really already know what to do. Treat other like you want to be treated. It’s not about what you know, it is about what you do or don’t do. If there is an positive practice of resect in a relationship, most likely power and control will become secondary issues.

Practice:

Have each partner look at their own issues related to control. What is easy and what is hard related to facing the issue. How are you contributing to imbalance? Even if there doesn’t seem to be an imbalance, this practice is useful. Are you seeing yourself clearly or rationalizing to be right? For each partner, what would equality of power in the relationship look like?

Come together for a conversation. Be curious about yourself and your partner and take nothing for granted. Live in the knowing that every issue has two sides and invisibility happens, and we can only see through our own lens of what is real and true. Be open to what you can’t see. Make agreements about how both partners want to live this, commit to the agreements, and gently hold each other accountable. If respect seems to be an issue, the practice is to make request about how your partner can show you more respect. Be clear about what you want and support having the conversation move to completion. Completion means that some form of a promise is made and there is clarity about what is being asked (See Communication blog). And as always, follow through on your promises.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome  http://www.relevantelephants.com

Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

Ah, yes, Change, the inevitable. How many people look at their relationship when it begins and is so glorious and hope it never changes? How many people in that same moment look at their relationship and look forward to its evolution? Many more in the former than the latter.

#10 Change

“Life is change.”~Heraclitus of Ephesus

“We die to each other daily. What we know of other people is only our memory of the moments during which we knew them. And they have changed since then. To pretend that they and we are the same is a useful and convenient social convention which must sometimes be broken. We must also remember that at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.”T.S. Eliot

Heraclitus lived from 535 BC – 475 BC and was a Greek philosopher known for his doctrine of change being central to the universe. Everything changes moment to moment so why would it be any different for us as humans? The self we are is the sum of all of our inherited and lived experiences up to this moment – no, wait, this moment, oh, and there goes another one. Every moment is an experience that may or may not change us, and the sum of these moments is who we are today, and maybe a different us tomorrow. We hear too often about one partner in a relationship resisting changes in their partner. We have seen people halt their own personal work for fear of loosing their partner if they themselves change too much. We also hear all too often, “this is just who I am” declining the possibility of change within themselves.

To live a long lasting relationship as art, embracing change is fundamental. We will change and our partner will change. What is your attitude about this? Resistance? Acceptance? Support? Encouragement?  We want to suggest support and encouragement. Do you really want to be with exactly the same person for the next 50 years? That just might get a bit dull and boring not to mention the holding back of a self-expression that is change can be damaging to our psyche.

Supporting partners comes in many forms. What we are speaking of here is supporting your partner in change, their personal process to better themselves as a person, and/or them dealing with their issues. One form support can take in a relationship is using the relationship as part of one’s path for conscious change. This is the person you are with daily and is THE thing (person) most likely to push your buttons. There is no escape, but then why would you want to? Instead of fighting it, use it.

Different parts of ourselves will change at different rates during our lifetime. Among other things, we physically age, we emotionally mature (hopefully), our energy level will shift, and our sexual expression will transform. All these things will happen. I checked and found many, many quotes on “growing old together.” What does that even mean? If you are choosing to be together for decades, it will be useful to be curious about what will it be like in 40 years? What you do now sets the stage for who you will be, and what your relationship will be like in the coming decades. To set that stage it will be useful to support how your partner wants to change. From early on, support each other’s growth, find a way to allow each other to take advantage of opportunities that arise in life even when it looks challenging to be able make it happen. Many times Madeline or I have remarked, “We’ll find a way to make this work.” What higher ideal than to want the best for your partner?

Practice: 

Set up a time to have a conversation with your partner. Before the conversation, each partner take some alone time to consider their ambitions in life personally (like personal growth) or professionally. Focus on individual ambitions even if there is some joint aspect such as family business ambitions. When you have the conversation, one partner speaks their ambitions while the other partner listens. Ask questions for clarification. Then ask the speaker, “How can I support you?” The speaker can then make request of support from the listener. You may request moral support, verbal support, monetary support, or any combination of these.  As the listener, don’t just arbitrarily agree. Make sure you can fulfill the promise you are making and follow through. Switch roles and move through the process again.

Have attention to how you are in this conversation in both roles. On the speaking end, be clear about your ambitions. Watch if your “stuff” attempts to undercut your real desires. Will you ask for what you really want? It may be that you have never spoken a particular ambition to your partner before, and it may be a surprise to them. Be bold. On the other side of this, make sure your ambition is realistic. There are conversations floating around that suggest, “You can be anything you want!” This has value in assisting us moving forward and being bold, and yet sometimes suggest moving towards something that is really not possible for us. I could have the ambition of being a lineman for the 49ers football team. Not gonna happen! I don’t like football, I’m too old, and I’m not big enough! Notice where you might hold yourself back or strive for things clearly out of your reach.

As a listener, you want to practice listening. Have attention to possibly wanting to make suggestions, to assess their ambitions, or to fix something. As listener you are practicing supporting your partner. There may be another time or place to have a further conversation about their ambitions. This is not that place. Even if you feel compelled, it’s not your job in this conversation to talk them out of it. If a request is made and a promise given, fulfill your promise.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome  http://www.relevantelephants.com

Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

Ah, yes, dealing with the issues of money in relationships. According to a study compiled by Wakefield Research for LongVest , as many as 25% of relationships end due to unresolved money issues. And maybe even more importantly, “a 2015 MONEY magazine poll found that across the generations, couples that have greater financial trust in each other and fewer money conflicts reported having better sex lives.” I hope we have built a case for the importance of resolving money issues.

#9 Money

“Money may not buy love, but fighting about it will bankrupt your relationship.”Michelle Singletary

Financial issues can be one of the big areas of conflict in relationships. Unresolved disagreements about all the differing aspects of money are a huge cause for stress. According to a study at Kansas State University: “Arguments about money is by far the top predictor of divorce,” said Sonya Britt, assistant professor of family studies and human services and program director of personal financial planning. “It’s not children, sex, in-laws or anything else. It’s money — for both men and women.” The study also suggests that unresolved money issues leads to “poor relationship satisfaction.”

The range of money issues can include things like being in debt, being secretive about spending, inequity in income, disagreement on how to spend, and not having enough money to pay the bills.

Like all the other aspects we are talking about in these blogs, most all of us bring a big suitcase of money issues with us into our primary relationship. Resolving these issues requires skill. Mostly it is the skills of commitment, generative communication, the ability to be in generative conflict, and connection. So if money issues require attention in your relationship, it may be useful to develop these skills before an attempt at resolution, or use the effort towards resolution as a way to practice these skills. And you don’t want to wait too long. Once you know you are partnering with someone, deal with this issues around money, get clear about how each partner deals with money. It is not a taboo issue, it’s just sometimes hard to talk about. Resolution around money offers the possibility of a secure and trusting foundation for the relationship.

A person’s attitudes, skills, habits, and behaviors related to money are shaped very early in each of us. The shaping is a combination of several factors:

  • How did money issue shape your family of origin?
  • In what socio-economic strata did you grow up?
  • How was money reflected within the institutions you lived in?
  • Social norms? How are you “supposed” to deal with money issues if you are a woman? Man? Rich? Poor? Red, black, white, yellow?

Some of the things to get clear about with each other regarding money includes knowing each other’s historical leanings, clarify spending habits and agreeing on what works for this relationship, is “my money, your money” going to be an issue, is saving a desire and/or a possibility and how will that be done, and having a family budget or not. This is the beginning of the list. What else is up for you in your relationship around money?

True freedom is freedom from our inherited past, freedom to respond related to our conscious choices, not our historical automaticness. Resolution of money issues and relationship satisfaction related to finances comes so much more easily when we deeply know ourselves and bring a willingness to partner on these issues early in our relationship.


Practice:

Face into disagreements about money. First, name the issues. This requires a commitment of honesty and a willingness to hear and accept what one’s partner needs to bring up. If an issue is important to one person in the relationship, it is important to the relationship. Then prioritize the issues, that is, what is the most important issue(s) to address first? Use the practice from the “Communication” section to begin to address the issues. No practice will work perfectly, there will always be bumps and issues. Holding each other’s dignity and integrity in speech and action will assist in returning, repeatedly if necessary, to any difficult conversation.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

We love hearing about your experiences, questions, and comments.

Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

So don’t fight us on this one! Dealing effectively with Conflict, large and small, can potentially offer a more relaxed atmosphere inside of a relationship with the knowing that any conflict can be resolved. The primary conflict in most relationships is the intersection of “their stuff” and “my stuff.” So acceptance, owning, and wisdom and knowledge of this dynamic within oneself and within the relationship is essential to gracefully resolve conflict. We look forward to hearing from you about this.

#8 Conflict

“Every couple needs to argue now and then. Just to prove that the relationship is strong enough to survive. Long-term relationships, the ones that matter, are all about weathering the peaks and the valleys.”Nicholas Sparks

Conflict is not an “if,” it is a when, it is part of life. This is recurrently seen in nature along the food chain, territorial disputes, competition for mating, and habitat destruction. Everyone has internal conflict and when this gets activated it often goes external. Conflict comes in degrees from a mild differing of points of view to an emotional or physical clash. Differing points of view are often fun and exciting to talk about – until one gets too stuck on their point. Open conflict when tempers erupt is not always bad, though it can be really uncomfortable feel very unsafe for some. Voices get loud, emotions are on the rise, and it gets worse when we loose ourselves to the conflict. So it becomes valuable in a relationship to have a conflict practice, basically meaning couples knows what to do when conflict occurs. Left to its own devices and unchecked habituated tendencies, a couple’s conflict pattern will become fixed and habituated into the relationship. Once this happens it can be difficult to re-pattern but not impossible. What becomes useful is when partners both know, own, and can interrupt limiting patterns of behavior. As remarked in the “Communication” section, a series of agreements and owning one’s own tendencies goes a long way to defuse conflict.

One of the ways conflict is handled in a relationship is ignoring. Like this isn’t too bad, so I will suffer in silence because the possibility of open conflict is worse. Take note if you find yourself thinking or declaring that there is no conflict in your relationship. There is a wall that can be erected relating to conflict, and here are several possibilities that can lead to a “no conflict” wall in a relationship. These are things like both partners being conflict adverse, one partner always gives over to the other, there is a negative threat from one partner, or disagreements are ignored.

Resisting or ignoring conflict can have big consequences in relationships. Unresolved issues will most likely result in resentment, and resentment will undermine the possibility of satisfying relationships as there will always be an undercurrent of stress from what is unresolved. There is also the possibility of overreacting to situations if an unresolved issue is provoked, even indirectly. This can result in a response of, “Where the heck did that come from?”

The positive power of conflict is one of the ways that conflict can elevate a relationship. Done well, conflict has a generative aspect, that is, it assists in clearing the air, lowering stress, and producing intimacy. This requires a new, embodied, and generative relationship to the practice of conflict. That differs from the “old” story that conflict is bad and should be avoided and will create distance in the relationship. The old story is most likely embodied from historical shaping and that the threat of conflict will often carry a legacy of danger. The new practice is to learn to move towards and into conflict as a possibility for intimacy and connection, regardless of the irrational fears that may intrude into one’s thinking.

Understanding, owning, healing, and reorganizing our personal internal conflict offers us distance from automatic confrontation, distance from shrinking from being pushed against, or from always taking action to make things “all right.” Sometimes things will just not be all right, and life is asking us to face into it. What would it be like for you to feel that initial trigger of conflict, settle yourself, and directly face into the conflict towards resolution? Through self-knowing and practice we can reframe our relationship with conflict into a generative skill.


Practice:

Take the opportunity to notice both partners’ reaction to conflict without judgment. Name it and own it. Notice what it is that triggers you. Is it a look, a phrase, the energy of the moment? Remember that you are not to blame for your automatic reactions. Your history made you. And owning it means taking responsibility for what you now see about yourself.

Stand about 8-10 feet from your partner. Ask your partner to mimic what triggers you, fine-tuning and scripting your partner for maximum trigger (sound like fun??). Even though this is being purposefully set up, our soma, our self, will in almost all cases react as if the event is real. Noticing how you get triggered, then walk towards your partner, mimicking you moving into conflict. Again, notice your reaction to this. Hard? Easy? Reluctance? Freeze? Then practice walking into conflict from a place of ground, power, and dignity. It is most likely not going to be an exchange of this for that, but more like even though I have all this “stuff” going on, I will find ground, access my power, and stand for my dignity while maintaining dignity and integrity of your partner.

After learning your reaction, repeat this practice looking to center around developing the skill of moving towards conflict even in the face of your historical automatic reactions. What you then see about yourself reveals self-work to do in this area.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome  http://www.relevantelephants.com

Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

Communication is one of the more obvious breakdowns and useful skills in relationships. When we have the beginning conversation with couples we work with, this is the most recurrent theme we hear, the most publicly written about, and has the most offers of ways to organize and be skillful. A somatic and language based orientation is a valuable holistic practice for this important theme, and we could easily extend this theme into a whole book. Let us know if this has value for you.

#7 Communication – Speaking and Listening

“If you understood everything I said, you’d be me.”- Miles Davis

Well, here you are, face to face, and you’re going to have that conversation that has been waiting to happen, and neither of you knows how it’s going to turn out. Both have a lot a stake and feel tense and stressed, and one partner is frustrated and the other is fearful. OK, go for it!

Communication is not just about talking to each other; it is also about how partners have conversations and what is being talked about while practicing the skill of generative conversations. When we are coaching couples, effective communication is one of the first skills we support couples to learn. Among other things, it lays the foundation for moving relationships forward, making plans, addressing breakdowns, cleaning up unspoken assessments, and resolving trust issues. The practice of generative communication brings with it trust, choice, care, and connection.

Generative conversations begin with making agreements about how to have conversations, scheduling conversations, and what happens when the conversation becomes difficult. What do you do in the face of disagreement and conflict? The how of conversations and the agreements about them are not just useful, they are necessary, and defines the ground for being able to have any kind of necessary, and sometimes difficult conversation.

The results and outcomes of most conversations are agreements, decisions, requests, and offers. Also be clear about what satisfaction means related to agreements, decisions, requests, and offers. If you are making a request, think, “I will be satisfied when” this set of criteria has been successfully completed. If you are making an offer, what will satisfy your partner? This part of the conversation requires honesty, transparency, respect, and authenticity. With differing levels of intimacy in different domains, it is useful to pay attention to language, asking the question, “Is my choice of words and tone bring us together or create distance?”

Another skill to apply during conversations is mood management. This is a personal responsibility for both partners. Mood management is another important skill for relationships. Everyone has a trigger point, yes even you. Being triggered is natural and automatic and comes in several forms, and some level of self-management and self-control is valuable.

Good communication early in a relationship will build a solid foundation for growth. And if a more mature relationship finds itself lacking in useful agreements, it is never too late. It is not unusual that the discovery of a gap in agreements occurs in the midst of a new breakdown. It will serve your relationship to sooner or later have agreements about things like money, intimacy, type of relationship, expectations, and partner support, and there are many other areas for which conversations would be useful. The danger comes when things are not spoken about.


Practice:

What conversation is either pending or being avoided that would be useful to complete. For the sake of this practice, it will be useful to choose a conversation that has limited importance with a minimum charge between partners.

The first step is to agree on the day and time for the conversation. If for any reason this needs to change, renegotiate day and time BEFORE the originally agreed upon time. Be prepared for the conversation by thinking through the outcome you would like to see happen as a result of the conversation. Come to the conversation in a mood of curiosity and openness to other points of view. Know the outcome you are looking for, but it won’t be useful to be fixated on that outcome. Be open to the possibility of compromise.

Throughout this practice, notice your inclinations. Do you want to be right? Are you giving up your stand before the conversation even starts, or do you give over to other too quickly? Do you move towards avoidance? There is no right or wrong way to be in this, just notice where you go and be honest about what is happening to you. Once complete ask yourself if you are satisfied with the conversation. If your response is yes, what made it satisfying? If your response is no, what made it dissatisfying?

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome  http://www.relevantelephants.com

Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

We are being very choiceful including Choice as a basic part of relationships (OK, couldn’t help myself). Often our automaticness precludes choice, not only in ourselves, but also in how we allow others to be in choice. How does choice play out in your relationship? How are you practicing choice? Let us know your thinking.

#6 Choice

“We are our choices.”Jean-Paul Sartre

How do you live with choice in your life? Do feel you have choice? Do you make conscious choices? How has your life experiences shaped you regarding having choice and being choiceful? Do you make your own choices in life, or does your life make your choices for you?

We bring our all habits, behaviors, and historical leanings around choice into our relationship. This can produce some great possibilities and also some frustrating patterns. Some people will use their own parent’s relationship style as a template for themselves without considering their own choicefulness. When these kinds of things are revealed to us, it often feels like an, “Oh, poo!” moment. Like am I really doing what my parents did? Unexamined, the subtleties and sub-conscious absorption of those experiences can sometimes look and appear as choice, but are more likely to live as unconscious patterns of non-choice. One clue is when pressed with a question like, “Why is this important to you?” there is difficulty in finding an answer. It becomes important to practice and become choiceful so we are not living by someone else’s standards. Being choiceful is part of the skill of knowing what you care about, why is important to us, and being able to act on it. If you want the kind of relationship you are really looking for, knowing your choices and being able to express them matters. There is always the usefulness of compromise in relationships, and compromise by choice is much cleaner than the resentment that can build by not thinking choice is a possibility or by feeling pressured to choose.

What things should be considered when choosing to live a long lasting primary relationship? We suggest the first, best consideration is the choice of partner. Pick the right person! This is all about choice rather than being compelled to act in a specific way. It can be the difference between allowing my history to make choices for me, or choosing to do the level of my own personal work that frees me to be able to make choices related to my life’s values, standards, and deep desires. Left to it’s own devices, one’s historical shaping will make decisions for us or possibly move us into indecision, which is an inability to feel our choices.

Living choice in relationship brings the possibility of balance, compromise, and a greater likelihood of getting what you want. First and foremost is the wisdom to know one’s own choices, to know likes and dislikes, and be willing to speak up, especially when it makes a difference to you. If this is difficult, what practice would allow you to know yourself better? Do you have a practice to hear yourself, your own truth? When a moment of choice shows up in a relationship, like making tough decisions together, or when it is just a decision of where to have dinner out, being authentic is most useful. Supporting each other in being choiceful begins with supporting each other expressing truth. Agreement in this moment is secondary, as honesty and authenticity breed trust and connection and is a form of intimacy.  Expressing opinions is just that, an expression of a perspective or inner knowing, it is not a decision or a fact.

Being choiceful is first, knowing one’s own truth. Second is a willingness to hear others truths without judgment or by making other wrong. Be open and curious, asking for other points of view and unspoken desires. When truthful choices are out in the open, it is much easier to make decisions, find compromise, and because you care, making sure your partner gets what they want.

This requires that each partner be able to manage possible automatic reactions such as always being right, victim (why don’t I get it my way?), don’t have a voice, push back, or fixing “them.” And it won’t be perfect. We get reactive sometimes, and catching that reactiveness and reeling it back in is possible and useful. And nobody always gets what they want. This is the art of compromise, the willingness to give over here, and receive over there. Some good habits to get into are things like it’s your turn to decide; it’s my birthday, I get to decide; let’s do what you want to do today; hey can we do what I want to do today? All of these things can be built in through practice to make choices fun and generative. It can be occasions to ”give “ to your partner, or just to rack up a few brownie points. As long as choices come from a good place, don’t become one-sided or lead to resentment, being choiceful together is fun and rewarding.


Practice:

Note how you practice choice in your relationship. Who makes more of the relationship choices? Do you let your choice be known? As a practice, have a conversation with your partner about how choices are made in your relationship. Note if you are satisfied with what is discovered from this conversation.

To practice shared choices, pick a topic like dinners or another activity that is recurrent. With dinners, some relationships rely on one or the other partner to organize meals. As a way to practices choicefulness, have each partner pick an alternate night to decide what is going to be served for dinner. This is first about feeling into what you would like to have for dinner, knowing your own wants and desires, being able to hear them and speaking up about what you want. “I don’t know,” or “I don’t care,” are not acceptable responses. It is true that sometimes you may not care, or really not know, and the practice here is to search for your inclination for a certain choice whether it really matters or not. How is it for you to be clear and definitive about your choice? How are you at allowing other to make choices?

Another practice is around decisions, small and large. For each decision, allow each partner to offer their choice(s).  If you are not already, begin the practice of speaking up for your choices, and, if you are not already, begin the practice of listening and taking into consideration other’s choice.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

We look forward to hearing from you with experiences, comments, and questions!

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome  http://www.relevantelephants.com

Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

How do you express Care towards your partner? In what can seem obvious to many can also be seen as a skill to be developed. What level of care do you want in your relationship? What level of care do you offer? Is it balanced? We look forward to hearing your responses to this writing.

#5 Care

“Care is love in action,” Doc Childre, founder of Institute of HeartMath

 “There is greatness in doing something you hate for the sake of someone you love.” Shmuley Boteach

It seems obvious that partners will care for each other in a relationship. If you don’t care about each other, why would you be in the relationship? Making the hidden obvious is one of the ways that long lasting relationships are created. This issue is connected to the aspects of connection and intimacy and could be a part of either or both of those relationship concerns. Remember that generative, long lasting relationships almost never happens by accident. They happen by design. Are you being cared for the way you most desire? This is not the conversation of either partner having to “take care” of the other. This falls into the realm of assumptions.

For example, protection. One of the social norms we live in is that the man should “take care” of the woman. Mae West said, “Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can’t figure out what from.” Here we are talking about assumptions again. Our historical shaping will move us to act unconsciously, so better to know what our partner wants.

Research at the Institute of HeartMath finds that, “sincere and positive heart-focused feeling states, like care, boost the immune system, while negative emotions may suppress the immune response for up to six hours following the emotional experience.”

Care comes in many forms. There is having attention to a partner’s needs, like, “Can I bring that to you?” or, “Can I help you with that?” And there is the care that comes from necessity, like being ill or incapacitated in some way. Times like these can put one partner into a caretaker’s role, and can be expected to bounce back and forth between partners over time. There are also acts of care that go beyond these things. It is more like extending care when our partner needs it the most, the hard times, when our partner is struggling. They fall down and we stick with then and help them get back up. And on the more positive side, we allow our partner to be themselves and support their needs for growth and change.

When care goes bad, it can look like over care and controlling. Again from Heartmath, “The draining cycle of over care begins as we over-identify with a situation, an issue, or a person we care about. In other words, we identify too much. We begin to over care and want to see things go a certain way. We get over attached to how we want things to turn out.” In other words, we care more than our partner does.

Also be on the lookout for when caring turns into controlling. This can show up in things like one partner makes decisions for the other person, making it difficult to disagree with them, it’s never their fault, or when relationship rules are one-sided.

Caring and receiving care comes from knowing what care means to you. Know what and how you want to receive care, and make sure your partner knows it, too.


Practice:

Know what care means to you and your partner and put it into practice. It will be useful for each partner to know how each other wants to be cared for. What does care mean to you and how would you like to see care happen in the relationship, both for you and for your partner? Notice if your individual care conversation has elements of, “They need to (have to) do this for me.” It will be most useful to be organizing around your wants and being choiceful rather than your historical needs.

Have each partner pick one way you want to have care extended to you, and one way you want to extend care to your partner. Make an agreement together about how this would look. The more specific you are about what you are looking for the more likely you will be receiving it. Be sensitive to what is easy and what is hard for each partner. There are many people who, from their historical patterns, have a difficult time asking for what they want. There can also be a pattern of difficulty in receiving. What you see here is where you work is.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

 

Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

We all have a biological and psychological drive towards Intimacy. It seems like part of our DNA and is related to our deep desire for connection. Here we will look at different components of intimacy that can be practiced in our relationships.

#4 Intimacy

 “Nothing in this world was more difficult than love.”Gabriel García Márquez

Intimacy has many dimensions and domains and include: physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, spiritual intimacy, and energetic intimacy.

Physical intimacy includes lovemaking and touching. Touch includes things like snuggling, spooning, offering massages, hugging and kissing for no reason, and holding hands. Lovemaking is, well, making love. Humans crave touch. In an article by Dacher Keltner, “research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.” Partners can make it a practice to touch, and touch in a good way. Random touch, when for no reason or occasion, can provide comfort and peace. Touching more can add to the aspects of trust, connection, and care.

Emotional intimacy is one of the ways to produce strong connection between partners. This is the sharing of feelings and emotional states, both as a kind of report, like sharing how the day was, and also as an expression of being authentic in the moment. Being in a regular practice of sharing “real” feelings offers both partners a clear insight into the emotional wellbeing (or not) of each other. It offers a closeness and connection that the lack of reporting and sharing can nullify. Having difficulty sharing with one’s partner is not unusual. It is not unusual that our historical shaping will organize us to have difficulty with authentic sharing.

Intellectual intimacy is the sharing and/or discussions of what you know intellectually with each other. Talking about the news of the day, or having conversations when finding out about things one might be curious about are examples. Intimacy is created here when this becomes a shared conversation, shared knowledge, and it is not unusual for one person to know more than the other in particular areas. Intellectual intimacy is not about having a one sided conversation or teaching the other person. It is best to include each other, asking for the others opinion or insight.

Spiritual intimacy means being in a spiritual practice together and sharing what it is to be in the practice individually and together. Many relationships share a spiritual practice, and many do not. What becomes important for intimacy is sharing. If the practice is jointly practiced, then it is best to practice together and to speak to each other about how the practice affects their life. If partners don’t share the same spiritual practice, it can still be shared and discussed. Breakdowns can happen when there is lack of acceptance, ignorance, a lack of sharing, and pressure for someone to change their practice or beliefs. Acceptance and honoring each other’s practice produces intimacy.

Energetic intimacy and connection shows up in our “felt sense” of things, often referred to as our sixth sense. That phrase has become analogous to a thinking that something mysterious and obtuse exists that we can’t understand, and can even discredited as non-existent. Energetic connection to others exists continuously. Energetic connection to all life exists continuously for all of us. Our western culture has worked very hard for millennia to disconnect us from our energetic self in favor of our intellectual self. We suggest energetic connection is a normal part of our existence as human beings and most of us have an experience of this on a regular basis. Like any other muscle, it requires practice to be used well. If partners assume it exists, then it can more easily be cultivated and used as a way to create more intimacy in relationships. This is the thing we feel with each other when we know something is off, and we can’t exactly place what it is. Intimacy is created when we acknowledge this “sense” we have about our partner and express it as a concern or as just a noticing. We might ask our partner if everything is OK, or if they are all right. We suggest this dimension of relationship be expressed as a natural part of what exist between partners.

Related to all the domains of intimacy, there is friendship. A “friend” is someone you know and trust, and then there are our “close friends.” Naming friendship as “close friends” goes beyond just knowing and trusting. It elevates the friendship to a much higher level of sharing that happens, a much higher level of support that is offered, and higher level of connection both when together and when apart. When deciding what kind of relationship you want to be in, it will be valuable to consider what will be expanded in the relationship if you are partners, lovers, AND friends.

Practice:

For physical intimacy, touch more. My partner and I have a practice of kissing each other every time we part. It may be that one of us is just going to the store or running an errand. When we walk together, we almost always hold hands, and we have been together 40 years. What is your practice for physical contact?

Have a conversation about lovemaking. Are you both honestly satisfied? This is a practice for honesty, authenticity, and transparency. Try new things.

Share your feelings. Have a conversation about what you both want the sharing to look like. Some aspects of these kinds of conversations can be easier or harder for some people. Give your partner space if it is difficult, and be willing to allow some time for your partner to be fully expressive. Sometimes people will want to over-share. Be aware of what is too much and what is not enough, noticing what is easy and/or hard for you.

Have a conversation about your spiritual practice. Is it shared? Can you share it more? What ongoing practices do you want to be in together? Name them and decide when you will begin. If you don’t have a shared practice, is there a way you can share with each other what you practice and what it means to you? Is there common ground within the two practices that you can share? Notice when and where the sharing is easy or difficult. Also notice if there is openness and allowance of each other’s practice.

Practice your energetic connection. The more you stay in touch with your own aliveness, the more you will feel each other. If either or both partners are not connected to this aspect of themselves, make a commitment to learn. Practicing together is another good practice for intimacy. If you are connected, every so often either together or not, see if you can “feel” your partner. This practice will produce, over time, a deeper connection between partners. Have a conversation with your partner about what you notice. Note: This is a skill to develop. It may not be useful to assume that if you get a certain kind or hit or message about the other person that it is “true.” Check it out with each other.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

We would love to hear your experiences and comments about this!

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome  http://www.relevantelephants.com

Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

Connection as an aspect of generative relationships is generally ignored by mainstream writings on relationships. It can be viewed as one of those “unseen” qualities of humans. But as spoken about below, it’s importance cannot be overstated. We look forward to hearing from you on this topic.

#3 Connection

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”Brené Brown

Connection, from a generative point of view, is having two strong individuals come together with presence and with the skill of deep connection without losing themselves. Either in your primary family or through your experiences in life, how often have you seen a couple and felt the strong, loving connection between the partners? This appears to happen much less often than seeing or being with partners that seem as if they are truly connected in a positive way, but are not. And this is different than partners that are overly enmeshed in their relationship. The ability to connect to others and to allow others to connect to us is a skill. How we approach connection is almost entirely defined by our historical shaping. Only a few people learn an ease and openness of connection, and this is vitally important in a thriving relationship. Done well and practiced, positive, generative connection with our partner develops and increases over time.

Let’s expand on the possibilities of generative connection. It is through connection that we are able to fully see, appreciate, trust, and be open with our partner. It is the willingness and ability to be seen, be vulnerable, and be fully honest and transparent together. On an energetic level, there is a felt sense of other; scary for some, exciting for others. The evolved (or devolved) state of our humanness in today’s world promotes separateness, but the natural state of humans is connection. Matthew Lieberman in his book Social, suggests, “Our need to connect with other people is even more fundamental, more basic, than our need for food or shelter.” Allowing the recognition of connection as a basic human need and practicing in a choiceful, generative manner paves the way for depth and fulfillment.

*Connection is happening anyway, so we might as well get good at it. Reflect on an experience you may have had in a conversation or when meeting someone where you could feel them connecting with you. What was happening? What did they do? What did you do? Cultivating generative connection is a learned skill, and during our formative years we learn to connect.  The way we learn this may or may not serve us. The possibility is there, but not necessarily the skill. We are all potential energetic connectors, and generative connection happens energetically. We can physically reach out, touch, and connect, but that is not exactly what we are talking about. Humans are both material as in atoms, molecules, skin, bones, and organs; and also energetic beings as in awareness, consciousness, and the energy streaming in our bodies. All the healing systems such as acupuncture, acupressure, Polarity Therapy, and Reiki, to name a few, are supporting the energetic body. Quantum physics also suggest that everything is matter and energy at the same time, and that includes us humans. Energetic connection is happening subtlety all the time. The skill of connection is the ability to direct our energy and give it feeling by purposefully attaching dignity and a relevant positive mood. This is not as hard as it seems. If you use your imagination, “seeing” this happening, directing attention and managing your mood, you are doing it. Even though there are those for whom connection is experienced as dangerous or unacceptable, connection is happening between humans anyway. This is mostly done without choice and intention. When choice, intention, and an uplifting mood are in place, we feel strong, positive connection with others. Done well, this opens the possibility for authenticity, curiosity, compassion, and empathy as opposed to judgment.


Practice:

Sit opposite your partner (you can also do this practice with any good friend) facing each other making eye contact. Notice how you are in this moment. What script are you running? What is your mood in this moment? Are you contracting or tightening in your body, or maybe you are relaxing and becoming more expansive. Also notice what it is to be in the presence of your partner without speaking. Are you present? Do you feel connected to your partner? What is your bodily response?From this starting place, imagine that your self, or energetic self, is extending towards and enveloping your partner. Is there a different feeling when you do this? Do you feel more or less connected? Please note: If nothing changes or you have difficulty “feeling” a connection, be easy on yourself. This just means that you have not yet developed this skill. There is nothing “wrong” with you.

For a stronger connection bring your seats closer (or stand up) and one of you reach out and gently place your hand on your partner’s heart. Make sure you place you hand flat with the palm of your hand in full contact with your partner and maintain an upright posture. Give yourself permission to feel the connection, leaving your hand placed there for about a minute. Notice if there is somewhere in you that is contracting or relaxing. Alternate this with your partner, one person extending and connecting, then the other, doing this 3 times. Notice what this is for you. How does it feel? Easy? Hard? Loving? Disconnected? After several repetitions, both partners extend each placing a hand on the others heart at the same time. Stay in this for a minute or so, again noticing your response. One of the things you are looking for is how it is for you to see yourself in the domain of “connecting with others.” Recurrence of this practice over time will assist in building a capacity for connection.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome  http://www.relevantelephants.com

Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

We hope the writings on commitment in the former blog had value for you. This next topic, Trust, is a big one. Let us know your thoughts about it.

#2 Trust

“Every couple has ups and downs, every couple argues, and that’s the thing—you’re a couple, and couples can’t function without trust.”Nicholas Sparks

This is also one of the more important aspects of generative relationships. If we were to name what must be in place for a viable, generative relationship, it is commitment and trust, and it is difficult to have one without the other. We trust when 3 things are in place: sincerity, reliability, and competency. If we lack trust in others, most likely one, two, or all of these parts are missing. If both partners are truly committed to the relationship and truly trust each other, you will most likely be able to work through any issue, even those that seem like the biggest breakdowns.

Trust is earned, rarely granted. Occasionally we meet people where we will grant trust directly related to their presence. We feel or sense their trustworthiness, and some people are better at this read than others. In our relationship, Madeline has an uncanny ability to know, and in most cases know immediately when meeting someone, whether or not they are trustworthy. Mark has had to learn to trust her instincts. We call it an instinct and/or intuition, and also know it is at least partly a result of Madeline’s historical shaping.

Building trust with others is a skill. Though it may seem like others are a natural at it, it is always a skill that is or has been developed. What seems natural in others comes from their historical experiences over time, usually not consciously. There may have been people around them from whom they inherited the skill through examples and appreciation. The inclination not to trust or be trustworthy happens the same way. It is powerful to acknowledge and attend to embodied tendencies and be choiceful about how we want to be seen and assessed. What identity do we purposefully want to create both inside of and outside of our relationship related to having others trust us?


Practice:

Take some time out for this conversation. With your partner, feel into and think about what is automatic in each other related to trust. I am trusting first; I distrust first, or is there something in-between? Have the conversation together about where you find yourself and ask your partner how they see you. Be kind and gentle here. If you offer an opinion, ground it in things you have seen your partner do as a way to verify your opinion. The grounding offers your partner a place to look where they may want to work on themselves.

Is there something you or your partner is doing that if changed, would build more trust? Is there something you or your partner could begin doing that would build more trust? If so, make a clear request for what you are looking for. Be clear about what you want to request, and name a time frame in which your partner can be successful.

Negotiate the request together before a promise is made and make sure there is clarity about what is being asked. The possible types of promises include the response of yes, no (a promise NOT to do something), counter offer (shift the request into something you are willing/able to promise), or commit to commit (“I’ll get back to you by…”). The conversation is not complete until a promise is made. Becoming skillful with this is a practice to continue to build trust within a relationship.

Things to look for:

How is it to be making a request to your partner?

How is it to be making a promise to your partner?

Once the request is complete, what happens? How is this being held and carried forward?

Is there dignity or blame in the conversation?

Is there accountability with both partners?

How this is done and what it provokes can offer a view into where more effort on the part of each partner can be organized. Remember you are supporting each other, a partnership if you will, as opposed to working in opposition. If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

This is a big one! Let us know what this is for you, and any questions or comments you may have.

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome  http://www.relevantelephants.com

Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

We are now crossing the threshold into the 12 aspects of healthy, generative relationships. As we move through these different elements, we will offer a viewpoint into the meaning of each element and describe practices you can be in related to each one. We are looking forward to offering not only our thinking about these, but also practical experiences and practices with each aspect. We begin with Commitment. And we look forward to receiving your comments and questions related to each topic. OK, here we go!

#1 Choiceful Commitment

“We have to recognize that there cannot be relationships unless there is commitment, unless there is loyalty, unless there is love, patience, persistence.” ―Cornel West

It can be easy to say one is committed, and it is quite another thing to embody commitment. Knowing how to live commitment is one of the most important foundations for a long lasting, viable relationship. Embodiment of a commitment to relationship means taking the actions necessary to fulfill the relationship commitment. Every partnership has to decide what this means to them, decide the particulars of the commitment, and how they will be acted upon. Some examples could include:

  • Presence and connection – truly showing up in the relationship
  • Listen to your partner, taking their concerns into consideration
  • Have necessary conversations in a timely way
  • Taking actions that produces trust
  • Willingness to compromise – collaborative compromise

Choiceful commitment is important, and almost everyone has at some point felt either coerced or compelled to commit to something that just didn’t feel right. Commitment in relationships works best when choice is happening. It can occur at times that a commitment happens and the other person senses reluctance from the one committing, like when you see one of those side glances with a sighing, “OK….”. It is healthy to note and bring this up with a question such as, “Are you sure?”. If there is care for your partner, why would this not be attended to? It should not be all about one partner getting what they want; it benefits the relationship when there is care and collaboration.

Through decades of working with individuals and couples and from our own experience, it has been revealed to us that the skill of long-term commitment can be difficult for many people. Regardless of the content of a commitment, holding commitment over time is often not what seems to be happening. This shows up in the highest levels of politics, from our own parents, and to that friend we all have who is chronically late. It doesn’t seem like sincerity is missing, more like a skill is missing. Those who have the skill of commitment stand out as different and powerful, powerful in the sense of being very effective in their lives. No one is perfect at this. We are human and we will make mistakes. Our humanness suggests it is the effective handling and management of commitments, not perfection in execution, that holds the real power.

Managing commitment means we honor the relationship with the person we are in commitment with whether it is internal, our commitments to ourselves; or external, commitment to others. Think commitment = promise. There is something very basic about this: Don’t promise anything you can’t do or really don’t want to do, and if you make a promise, fulfill on the promise in a timely way. Holding our promises also means that if something interferes with our ability to fulfill, it is best if we speak up and admit it. This is best done before the promise is due. Seems simple enough, but often our “stuff” takes over. Things like the inability to admit mistakes, “what will they think of me”, I’ll be a bad person, they won’t love me, they’ll leave me, etc., are the kinds of internal constructs that can interfere with this skill. Then we have to go back and apologize, do damage control, or hopefully it will just be forgotten. Fulfilling and effectively managing commitments builds trust. Commitment breakdowns erode trust. Building and maintaining trust is foundational for long-lasting relationships.


Practice:

Choose a commitment that is missing in your life that will build trust and enhance your relationship. This could be finishing a home project, behaving differently, offering support to each other, or some fundamental commitment to the relationship. Form the commitment into a short, positive statement that will be easy to remember. Write it down!

For example: For the conclusion of a conversation about having dinner together as much as possible, partners write down their commitment, such as, “I will be home for dinner to eat with my family.”

What will success look like? What is the timeline? Look into the future and describe what, when the commitment is fulfilled, will be different. What does satisfaction look like?

Using the commitment above, it might look like this: Success is being home minimum of 5 nights a week with dinner at 6:00 PM, sitting down and having the meal.

Then write what steps you will take to fulfill on the commitment. These may include learning how to fulfill. Is there a missing skill set? Is there a book to read, a workshop to attend, conversations to be had? List in detail the steps to take for each action and attach a time by when each specific action will happen. This level of detail allows for efficient tracking of yourself and your actions. Your ability to take each action by the appointed time reveals your ability to make, hold, and manage commitment and may reveal a place to focus personal work.

Partner with your partner. Your partner can support your commitment and assist you staying on track. Offer ongoing updates and be willing to admit when you make mistakes. This also works well when each partner makes and is working a commitment and you are supporting each other. You may pick a specific time to get together and have this conversation. Be a listener, not a fixer.

And remember, you are human and you will make mistakes. It won’t be perfect, so it’s not about that. Part of the skill of commitment is to be able and willing to re-commitment after the mistakes. If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.


Thank you for reading! We look forward to hearing from you.

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome  http://www.relevantelephants.com

Prologue

Welcome to our relationship conversation! Beginning with this post and through the next few months, I will be delivering a series of blogs related to an inquiry into and commitment to people living fulfilling and vibrant long lasting relationships. My partner Madeline and I have been in this conversation for the past 30 years. We invite you to join us. Let us hear from you, your thoughts, feelings, and questions.

What are the “must-haves” to live a vibrant, healthy, generative, long lasting relationship? Who do I need to be and what are the skills? By curiously observing and researching relationships, most of what we see is a hopefulness that things will work out well with less than the necessary effort expended to be successful. Even with many partners who appear to be exerting good effort, the effort often lacks full commitment. Instead, what happens is, “if you would only be different!,” “How come you do it that way?” “I don’t wanna talk about it.” Any of this sounds familiar? In this ongoing conversation, we will examine ways to create, live, and support generative, long-lasting relationships. Below is a graphic showing:

 

The 12 Aspects of Generative and Healthy Relationships

Introduction

There are many facts and statistics that reveal the cost of failed relationships today. Things such as the 40%-50% divorce rate for first marriages in the US, individual cost such as depression, and there can be a cost to children. Best case, a divorce is done well and children have the experience of moving through difficult situations, coming out OK and becoming stronger in crisis. Not done well, children will do worse in school, social skills can be compromised for a lifetime, and partner selection will be compromised. You are a mirror for your children.

The cost of ending relationships is high, and it is clear that not all relationships will last a lifetime, and that not everyone is looking for that. There is also a cost to partners and kids staying in relationship when there is unresolved conflict, constant tension, and repeated emotional outburst. Divorces and breakups can be messy with their associated cost, and in this day and time couples will often take the easy way out by ignoring the situation or just leaving.

It is also evident to us that many, many relationships that have ended did not have to end. Often missing in those relationships is a willingness to be self-responsible, and a willingness for partners to fully engage with each other, and to be curious. If the intensity and depth of personal issues outweighs the skill, competency, and commitment to resolve these issues, the relationship is threatened. The relationship can go to hell in a hand basket. Fault is not the question in this paper. Issues between partners will happen. Generative resolution (nourishing change and regrowth), done with care, trust, skill, dignity, and humor will assist almost every relationship to move through their stuff. We have explored with commitment (like Einstein and the theory of relativity) an answer to the question, “What does it take to have a generative, vibrant, long lasting relationship?”

We have partnered for the last 40 years. About 12 years into our relationship, we realized things were not working out to our expectations and desires – we hit a wall. From that realization we began a path that continues today and will continue as long as we are together. In those 28 years, we have gone through many different trainings, workshops, books, and have embarked on a serious inquiry (serious – really?) about what it takes to “make it work.” We are both highly trained to work with people and have been working with individuals and couples for the last 20 years. So this exploration comes from both our own experience and the experience of working with hundreds of people.

We are not declaring that what we offer here is the final word on this topic or the only answer to these questions. This is a perspective we have lived in and offered to literally hundreds of individuals and couples, and we know it works. We offer it here for you.

Practice

Practice – how does this relate to us transforming as individuals? What does it mean, “To be in a practice?”  Medical practice? Law practice? Yes, these are clearly forms of a practice. What else do you think about around practice? As individuals, music, dance, sports, martial arts, and many other endeavors are well known for the demanding practice required to achieve mastery.

We are what we practice. This notion is very old, dating back to Aristotle if not before. And except for a few avenues of mainly spiritual practices, this notion of “We are what we practice” is virtually ignored in mainstream thinking. Our culture is one of, “Been there, done that, what’s next?” or a checklist of all the cool things we’ve done. We pay very little attention to being creatures of habit when it comes to the self we are with minimal attention to how practice, recurrent activity, and the shapes (of body/self) we have become due to practicing. Then we notice something like this:

“I do this thing, I know I do it, I don’t want to do it, and I keep doing it anyway!”

This “thing”has been practiced to the extent it has become embodied in us, not separate from who we are – it is who we are. The difference between who we think we are and who we really are is defined by how we actually act in the world, by what we have practiced to the extent that our actions, behaviors, stories, and habits become embodied. We cannot notact in these ways. And it is useful to remember that the most favorable aspects of who we are operate in us the same way. We also practice to get good at things. Our basic routines and ways of being in the worldare practiced as well. So what is your practice when someone cuts you off in traffic? How do you practice drinking coffee or tea? What is your morning routine practice? How do you sit? How do you listen? We are practicing something all the time.

As soon as we enter into a relationship, we begin a joint practice. One way to look at this is that the relationship begins to be defined by what is being practiced by the partners, and how it is being practiced. Unaware, practices in relationships will be defined by the individual’s own set of behavioral practices and habits; the intersection of two sets of practices. This interaction and blending practiced over time will set in place the positive aspects of the relationship as well as the limiting aspects of the relationship.

For this conversation, we will be offering practices to both reveal ourselves within a particular topic and to build skills. We become skillful through practice, and the best, most direct way of becoming the person we want to be is to clarify who that person is, then practice being that person, that self. To have the relationship we really want, define the relationship, design the practices, and become the best self that can authentically live that relationship.

In the next blog we will begin to explore Choiceful Commitment and offering insights into how to practice this aspect in your life and relationship.

As a way to reflect on and consider your own relationship and take full advantage of the upcoming blog posts, take a few moments to answer the following questions. You may want to do this individually or with your partner. Consider reflecting on these questions in a quiet, peaceful environment with as little interruption as possible.

What is working for you in your relationship?

What is NOT working for you in your relationship?

Where do you and your partner hit the “hard spots?”

Are you willing to do what is necessary to have the relationship you really want?

Are you settling for something less than what you deserve?

 

We look forward to being in this conversation with you!