Welcome to the final week on how to cultivate a healthy relationship! We here at Chico Creek Counseling have offered a whirlwind of relationship advice this month. Week 1, we highlighted Key Attributes of a Healthy Relationship. Week 2, we cringed at Destructive Behaviors in a Relationship. And this week, to sum up the month of love, we’ll debate the #1 way to strengthen your relationship. Since every single one of our therapists maintain a long-term committed relationships, they all have unique experience in what makes their relationship work. So, like always, I dipped into their wisdom and mined out #1 tricks to relational bliss.
Joe Taylor, married for forty-eight years (!!!) in August, says, “In my relationship, an attitude of being “for” my spouse has made all the difference. By that I mean in just about every decision and action. This worked in our early years as we considered taking a new job (which always meant packing up and moving), or decisions about finances, raising our children, or whatever life threw at us.
When we argued, about 99% of the time I had neglected to consider being “for” her in a decision or attitude. As I get more “seasoned” this mindset has become second nature, probably because I’ve learned the value of thinking about her and the painful consequences when I don’t. By the way, John Gottman (the guru of marriage counselors) agrees with me. He calls this concept of being “for” your spouse “turning inward” and believes it’s one of the main predictors of a long term healthy relationship.
Robert Ponce, married for over seventeen years, says, “For my relationship the #1 trick is most definitely TIME TOGETHER!!! Whether we take a walk, schedule a coffee date, or see a movie, the secret to our marriage success is spending time together. We focus on our friendship and can share hopes, dreams, and future goals as individuals, for our family, and for our marriage. But the ultimate marriage changer is a night away. When we get away from our busy lives and really focus on our relationship, we grow in our emotional connection and intimacy.
Colleen Hayes (whose ninth anniversary is this month! Congrats!) couldn’t decide on just one marriage strengthener. She gave us three. She says, “We have a motto for our marriage: Do one less thing. That means, when we feel like we’ve taken on too much, we take our feet off the gas and get back to balance. We also listen to a lot of music at home and try to see live music as much as possible. I also have a lot of support from friends. And, I go to therapy for myself because I have my own things to work out.”
I may not be a therapist, but being married to my college sweetheart for over twenty years I’ve learned a few tricks to keep our relationship strong. Since I’m forced to pick just one it would be this: Celebrating who we are as individuals, rather than forcing each other into the person we “think” we need.
How many of you, like me, in the beginning of your relationship had those rose-colored glasses superglued to your face? We all start off starry-eyed and on cloud nine. During this ooey-gooey love-struck period it’s easy to project who we think the other person is, rather than really understand deeply who they truly are. This gets dangerous when the pheromones wear off and the shiny new romantic feelings start waning. Suddenly, we’re presented with this person who we thought we knew but turns out didn’t.
And so enters the destructive habit of trying to control your partner. Why can’t she do this? Why can’t he do that? Left unchecked this control spiral burrows deeper and darker and begins to attack who your partner is at their core.
I’ve found these controlling patterns point to deep unmet need in myself. At the heart of it, what I’m really saying is “care about me, see me, choose me.” When my husband and I figured this out it changed our relationship. We committed to seeing each other and calling out the best of who each other are, versus focusing on the worst. Not only did it spark new love in our relationship, but it helped us become the people we always wanted to be.
Make It Personal
I guess I didn’t keep this blog true to its title and offer just one way to strengthen your relationship. But the truth? Every single relationship is different. Therefore, every single relationship needs its own unique way to keep strong. These bits of wisdom from the CCC therapists are essential to maintaining the health of their relationships. But I bet their methods can help the rest of us, too. Try them out, tweak them to fit your relationship, and report how it works back here in the comments. And, don’t be shy. If you have something that transformed your relationship, please share!
Meet Rachelle DeNecochea, Chico Creek Counseling’s new blogger. Rachelle worked as office manager for Chico Creek Counseling, but now spends most of her time writing fantasy novels for teens and blogging about bravery, risk-taking, and living fully. She has an undergraduate degree in behavioral science and a master’s degree in business. She lives in Chico, CA with her superhero husband and two almost grown minions. If you’d like to connect, follow her personal blog or send a message through her Acts of Bravery Facebook page. She’d love to chat with you.