My husband and I live in the same fast paced modern world as you probably do. Dan’s children from his first marriage are grown and we don’t have children together, so it is just us two in the house. Yet, even so, we often have times when we are in the same house… the same room… but aren’t really present.
You know what I mean? The lights are on but no one’s home… to each other or the relationship.
When we married, it was our intention to help one another live more fully. To use our marriage as a catalyst to be more truly ourselves. Our desire was to have a deeply intimate relationship and marriage. We didn’t want to skim the surface of ourselves as individuals or as a couple. And so over the ten years of our marriage we’ve done some pretty amazing couple building counseling and workshops.
Even so, the proverbial shit has hit the fan for us on more than one (or two) occasions. There were times when we felt like slamming the door with a parting, “I’m SO out of here!” I think we’ve actually done it. Both of us! But whoever walked out the door always walked back in, or else the other ventured out to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to bring us back home. We are pretty engaged and connected, but as I said there are times when we really need to go to our toolbox for tools of connection. Here are some of the ground rules that we have found helpful. Love to hear what you think.
1. Be prepared to earn what you yearn for
Being fully and totally committed to your marriage (or relationship) doesn’t just happen. Saying the words is easy. Making it happen takes work. Hard work. But there are ways to make it light, to make it fun, and to make that work enjoyable. Working on your relationship doesn’t need to imply drudgery! If you operate from a creating mode… learning to be in flow with each other, to listen, to vision, to dream… the tough times can be as fruitful as your high spirited ones. Just know that it takes constant effort and that this will always be so to some degree. Don’t live in a fairy tale world where things happen just because we wish them to be so.
2. Set high standards of behaviour right away
If you tolerate rudeness, criticism, bullying, hurtful words etc, in the early part of your relationship these traits can become entrenched. It’s hard to shift something that has become a bad habit. Discuss together what is acceptable and what is not. Talk about boundaries and how to express a boundary around words and actions you don’t wish to be part of your marriage. Have this discussion when you are in your happy place, and not when you are arguing! When you’re both feeling good, do some role playing of scenarios. Practice saying the words like this: “We agreed that we would not speak hurtful or wounding words because it is not loving. I am not comfortable with your behaviour right now. I am going to take a time out for 10 minutes. Please can you take time to calm down too. Then we can try talking in a more respectful way.”
3. Be Generous
Each of you should make it your personal mission to exercise your generosity gene as much and as often as possible. Being generous allows you to forgive your partner when they goof-up or forget. In that case you can say, “Geez you pissed me off, but I still love you. We all make mistakes and this is one of those times. I know we’ll work through it.” I find it helps to shift from a scarcity mentality to one of abundance. Scarcity is when you are worried about what is equal and fair all the time. My advice is to ditch that concept. Pretend it simply does not exist. Nothing is fair all the time. Don’t make yourself a doormat or house slave, but be generous in spirit. That is most important here. Cultivating goodwill is different than being a martyr.
4. Develop Apology Rituals
It’s good to talk about these together. What may be meaningful to you, may not be to your partner. Think in advance about what will help you clear the air after an argument. Become experts in making up! Do you write a note? Make love? Give backrubs? Do a chore the other person dislikes? Pledge to make a batch of her favorite cookies once a week for a month?
5. Don’t roll your eyes
Learn quickly to break this bad habit for it is utterly dismissive of your partner. I know… I did it and sometimes catch myself. Years ago a study was done with arguing couples. It found that relationships where one or both partners rolled their eyes during discussions, were the relationships that most often ended in divorce. Hope that is enough to sway you. If not, think about how you feel when someone you care about rolls their eyes at you.
I hope these five concepts will inspire you to move towards a more conscious relationship and way of being together. Let me know how it goes!
Celebrant Michele Davidson, Modern Celebrant