I've recently been thinking a lot about the power of relationships in our lives.
My last post was about the relationships with our parents, siblings, and extended family and the impact of coping with hurtful and unloving behavior from close family members.
If you read some of the comments on the post, you'll see how strongly relationships can impact us. Unfortunately, in these situations, the impact has been deeply wounding.
Relationships are essential to our emotional health and well-being. In fact, there's strong evidence suggesting they are essential to our physical health too.
A Brigham-Young University study reveals that relationships are so important to our well-being that the lack of them is a risk factor for early death. BYU professors Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy Smith report that social connections — friends, family, neighbors or colleagues — improve our odds of survival by 50 percent.
“When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks,” Holt-Lunstad said.
In fact, look how low social interaction compares to other risk factors:
- Equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day
- Equivalent to being an alcoholic
- More harmful than not exercising
- Twice as harmful as obesity
We clearly need close relationships for our health and general well-being. But there's one relationship that is most important of of all — one that makes the most profound impact on your overall happiness and personal evolution — your primary love relationship.
Whether you are married or otherwise deeply committed, it is through this relationship that you have the most potential for joy and contentment. And it is within this relationship you have the most opportunity for growing as person.
Unfortunately, I don't think many couples go into a marriage or partnership seeing it as a place for personal growth and emotional maturity. There are many reasons we commit to someone — love, sexual chemistry, security, desire for children, or loneliness. But not many people look into the eyes of their beloved and think, “With this person, I have the opportunity of growing into my best self.”
However, by navigating the intimacies, joys, sorrows, and conflicts inherent in this committed relationship, you have the potential to develop a deeply fulfilling and satisfying experience of life in general. Particularly through difficulties and conflict are we able to recognize places of healing and growth within ourselves and blossom into more self-actualized individuals. As such, we are able to give more to our love relationship — and to all of our relationships.
Jodi and Dan
Yesterday I was on Facebook and saw that one of my dear blogging friends, Jodi Chapman of Soul Speak, was celebrating her wedding anniversary and had posted about it. Here is what she said:
Happy anniversary to my sweet love, Dan. Eleven years ago, my best friend turned into my everything. I have loved him with all of my heart every single day from that moment on, and I will love him with everything I have forever. He has the most beautiful soul and the most giving heart, and I feel blessed beyond my wildest dreams that I get to share every moment with him.
Jodi has spoken to me personally about how powerful and amazing her marriage to Dan is. They simply adore, love, and respect one another. As a result, they are two of the happiest people I've ever encountered. You can read more about their love story here.
Imagine having a relationship like Jodi and Dan's. Imagine feeling blessed and excited every day to wake up next to your beloved, even after the honeymoon phase has dissipated — after years of being together.
What if you and your spouse or significant other made the commitment to be the happiest couple you know? What if you recognized the huge potential for an amazing life simply by making your relationship the best it could possibly be?
We put so much time into other endeavors that bring far less return on our life happiness investment. In fact, most of us watch more TV than we spend on tending to our love relationship.
There are some small but very significant adjustments and mind shifts a motivated couple can make in their relationship resulting in a stronger, happier connection — which spills over into all areas of their lives.
Here are 3 adjustments you can make . . .
1. Place the relationship as the top life priority
The couple makes a commitment to themselves and one another that the integrity of their relationship is the top priority in their lives. It is the centerpiece of everything and must come before work, hobbies, money, family, and self-interest.This commitment should be reinforced daily, as it is so easy to slip into mindless routines at the expense of the relationship.
The commitment requires the couple to spend enough time actively working on the relationship to keep it at a peak level. Every couple must define this amount of time for themselves, but in general it's hard for a relationship to thrive if 90% of your time is spent on other things. Quality and quantity time together keeps the relationship at the forefront of daily life.
They must actively stay connected, communicative, intimate, and playful. And they must commit to healing wounds and working through conflict in a healthy and open way. More on that below.
2. Practice kindness and mutual respect
I have seen couples treat one another in the most unkind, humiliating, degrading, and belittling ways. Somehow kindness and respect get lost as the relationship matures. We let our guard down and take for granted the feelings and worthiness of our lover. When we lose touch with their feelings, we sink into unkindness and disrespect.
Spiritual and personal growth counselor Vitae Bergman says this about kindness in marriage:
All too often, in my practice as a spiritual counselor, I find couples have derailed their mutual respect in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways through their style of intimacy.
They mistakenly believe being married gives them license to get into each others head. Too many married couples, soon after tying the knot-or even before-begin to treat each other the way each one treats him/herself. This is what many of my clients think intimacy is about.
With this style of intimacy, we project on to our spouse all the demoralizing, self-inflicting wounds we give to ourselves. Whatever baggage we carry, we thrust upon our partner.
Imagine if we spoke to our boss, friend, or teacher the way we speak to our spouse or partner. We must put our beloved on a pedestal of kindness and respect. We should treat them and speak to them in the most loving way possible, as they are the most important person in our life. Simple courtesy, civility, and deference open the door for deeper intimacy and emotional safety.
3. Learn mature conflict resolution
This is where you find the greatest opportunity for personal growth. Relationship conflict often has more to do with the issues and insecurities of the individuals rather than the apparent source of the conflict.
Initially we are attracted to people who reflect qualities we wish we possessed. But over time, those differences appear threatening to us and reveal our own self-doubts. So we attempt to change the other person in order to make ourselves okay.
When these conflicts arise, each partner should step back and look within themselves for the deeper reasons for their reactions and feelings. Shining clarity on these deeper reasons allows you to resolve the core issue and can actually strengthen the bond between the couple. This requires vulnerability and open communication between both people. You must feel safe and secure communicating your self-doubts and wounds, and you must hold your partner's self-doubts and wounds with tender dignity.
Of course, many other conflicts are situational or stress-related, but regardless of the cause of the conflict, learning and practicing the skills to resolve conflict in mature and healthy ways are part of the commitment you must make to the integrity of your relationship. Here's a great article on mature and healthy conflict resolution.
Of course one caveat is that both partners must be on board and motivated to take these steps. This can't be a one-man or one-woman show. If you are the partner who tends to focus on the health of your relationship, show this article to your beloved. See if you can agree to a one or two week experiment during which you follow the three steps outlined above.
If you prioritize your relationship as the most important element of your life, treat one another with kindness and respect, and learn healthy ways of examining and handling conflict — then you have the foundation for not only an extraordinary relationship, but also for an exciting and fulfilling life.
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