Anyone who's been in a long term relationship knows that sometimes it is hard work to get past disagreements, even when the relationship is healthy. When we make a commitment to our partner we usually expect the relationship to last a very long time -- even a lifetime. We may think that love will get us through the challenges. Yet the reality doesn't line up with that thinking. Yes, love is a vital ingredient of a long-term relationship and it also take skills, and support.
I'd like to share three key skills that will help your love to grow and make your relationships last.
Speak and listen without defensiveness.
Deliberately think positive thoughts about your partner. Think about how much you care about your partner, and put the focus on what is good about your relationship rather than the things you think may need to change. In other words, keep your eye upon the donut, and not upon the donut hole. Share these thoughts with your partner through statements of appreciation, and offer your encouragement and support even when it isn't requested.
Learn to be calm.
This skill is very important, especially when conflicts arise. Staying calm allows us to see the overall picture rather than over-reacting to the stress of the moment so that we can access the more understanding and caring parts of ourselves. When we are physiologically in a state of stress response we are much more likely to get lost in those emotions then hurt and anger will intensify. Staying calm allows the "thinking" part of your brain to remain active and the "reactive" part of your brain, to remain silent so you do not blurt out hurtful words.
There are many deliberate things we can do to calm down.
- Give yourself a time out. When things start to get out of control a twenty minute break can allow us to become calm and regroup. If the discussion is not productive or is escalation into a nasty fight, agree to disengage and pick up the discussion another time.
- Shift your thoughts away from distress and toward self-soothing. (She's very angry now, but this really isn't about me. We'll talk it out together.)
- Use deep breathing or other mindful practice like self-hypnosis or meditation to manage the feelings of turmoil and bring yourself back to a state of calmness.
Validate your partner. This is one way to show empathy for your partner's feelings and situation. You can understand your partner's experiences and thoughts about a situation and consider them valid, even when you don't agree on all points. Take responsibility for what your partner may blame you for. It takes strength to apologize -- Complement your partner on their ability to make their needs known.
Sometime we can be right and happy, but would you rather be right than happy? Most people want to be happy. Learn and use these skills frequently and they will become "second nature" and start up automatically when you need them the most. Reduce conflict, fight fairly and productively, apologize sincerely, plan fun activities, and let your love grow on Valentine's Day and throughout the year.