Remember when Prince Charming kissed his Valentine, the beautiful Sleeping Beauty? He carried her up those stairs, and we saw them disappear behind the palace doors.
The story ends there. We’re told they lived “happily ever after.”
Now most of us know this just isn’t so. “Happily ever after” is a fairy tale. In real life, finding your prince or princess is not the end of the story — it’s the beginning. And the real question is after you find your Valentine, then what?
From my experience counselling couples, knowing the challenges that face any couple on the journey to real enduring friendship, here are five fundamental skills meant to support you in keeping your partnership healthy and satisfying.
Tip No. 1.
Learn to make yourself happy
There is nothing more important in relationship than learning to make yourself happy. It is an art and begins as you let go of your hope or expectation in which you’re holding your partner responsible for your life turning out.
Looking after ourselves is a clear life skill. It has something to do with learning to be able to quiet ourselves, to enjoy or be present to life’s simple moments, to satisfy our own needs as they arise and to dance with life’s predicaments, problems and challenges as they appear.
There is nothing more empowering than two people in a relationship committed to looking after their own personal wellbeing — and doing that.
Even if only one person in relationship practises this skill it makes an enormous difference.
Tip No. 2.
Relationships are an inside job
Most people think a relationship is something that exists “out there,” outside of themselves.
However consider this: A relationship is not really “out there” at all. A relationship exists in what you are saying to yourself, in the thoughts and stories you are collecting, about the other and the relationship. A relationship is an inside job.
In this way, being in a relationship is like growing a garden. Your thoughts, your decisions, your stories, your views and judgments are the seeds that take hold and grow in your garden.
Tend to your garden regularly. Clear weeds that appear. Learn to let grievances judgments and quarrels go, disappear and dissolve. That’s how you keep your garden soil fresh and clear for new growth.
Tip No. 3.
Your spouse is your friend
Quite naturally, a relationship includes moments of misunderstandings, conflicts, personal reactions and sensitivities.
Given these moments, your partner can begin to feel like an adversary sent to deliver certain trouble and difficulty.
Want to break this pattern? Do it by remembering you began your marriage as friends and you are learning together.
Let this awareness of “being their friend” colour your actions and watch the difference it makes.
Tip No. 4.
Accept your differences
You and your partner are very different. Have you noticed? Many couples spend a great deal of their time resisting and quarrelling about their differences, trying endlessly to improve, or fix the other.
These efforts to change the other only produce “protective circles,” a feeling of defensiveness and distance, and displace the experience of intimacy.
Consider that part of the spark of a marriage is produced precisely by your differences.
Think of your differences as being like two sides of a coin. They expand and contribute to your range of responses as a couple to life.
Make peace with your differences, accept them, celebrate them — because you have them.
Tip No. 5.
Intimacy is a creative affair
A relationship is a knowing, understanding and appreciation of another person’s way of being. This is the solid foundation the ongoing “action” of a relationship.
Notice however, that if you are going to have appreciation and regard, they don’t just naturally appear on their own.
To have appreciation and regard in your life, it must be consciously searched for and created.
Then once found, for this to be real, the appreciation needs to be expressed and communicated.
Creating ongoing appreciation and regard, the relationship becomes a creative affair.
—Paul Beckow is an individual, marriage and family therapist on the West Shore. See www.paulbeckow.com.