The relationships we have with our loved ones determine so many other aspects of our lives. In cultures across the world, the bonds between family members, friends, and the community at large are regarded as one of the most valuable parts of an individual’s life. Nourishing and fostering those relationships is seen as an essential part of living a fulfilling, happy and full life.
One relationship, in particular, is especially significant in impacting the long-term state of our overall peace of mind and happiness—that is, with our romantic partner. Just think of a time when you and your partner were struggling with each other. It probably consumed so much of your energy and left you feeling exhausted, sad and hurt. This is a feeling so many of us are familiar with. This person whom you care about so much can oftentimes feel like a distant enemy, someone you don’t recognize, who has no regard for you or your feelings. During these periods, the internal turmoil within us can cause us to literally feel sick. We feel distracted, our emotions are intense, and we lack clarity.
That’s why it’s so important to take the time to consider how we can contribute to creating a healthy, loving, kind, and mutually respectful dynamic with our partners. It may seem like a lot of time and effort to put in on a consistent basis, but it’s certainly less effort and pain than repairing a broken, toxic relationship.
Here, we’ll discuss three ways you can be more mindful, present and active in fostering a loving, tender, and fulfilling relationship with your partner.
Before we start though, let’s remind ourselves of the definition of gratitude. Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful, kind and ready to show appreciation to another person. So, how do we show this kindness and appreciation to our partner?
In Brené Brown’s book Dare to Lead, one point stood out to me as being essential to starting and maintaining a relationship based on trust, respect, and accountability. In this book, Brown stated, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” She went on to explain how being clear about our wants, expectations, goals, future desires, and feelings, whether it be with a friend, family member or romantic partner, is the kindest and most respectful thing you could do for them. Contrary to this, hiding our expectations, not clearly expressing what we want or need, or what we’re feeling is unkind to the person we’re interacting with.
Let’s consider how this plays out in our romantic relationships. Think of when you first meet someone that you’re interested in romantically. You have no idea what their expectations are, or what their plans and thoughts are about you. You don’t know about their past romantic experiences, what they regard as a healthy relationship, or what values and traits they want in their potential partner. You don’t know if they dream of living on a yacht, or in a small shack in the mountains; you don’t know if they don’t want children or want 10. In spite of all of these question marks, we don’t often ask these questions. We fear it might come off as desperate, urgent, or odd; we don’t want to scare the other person off.
Weeks and then months go by and you’re still not quite sure what their expectations are for their life and for you. You feel anxiety, stress, and exasperation trying to decipher your partner’s actions and words, hoping the assumptions and stories you’ve devised are accurate. This is simply exhausting and a frustrating waste of energy.
Likewise in long-term relationships, we may still lack clarity on the wants and expectations of our partners. Imagine marrying someone without discussing what kind of life you want to lead with them by your side.
All of this spent energy wondering, stressing, ruminating on unanswered questions, this is precisely why being unclear is unkind. This applies to both you and your partner. Neither of you can read the other’s mind or understand your dreams, goals, worries, and plans without you clearly communicating them. It’s a kindness to share with your partner your expectations, wants, goals, and needs. In fact, you may want to even over-share. What I mean by that is discussing even the most minute details of what you want in your life. This could include how you divide labor in the house, how you will manage your money, separately or joint, what professional goals you have in the future, if you expect your partner to be the ‘breadwinner’, or if you want to live in a city or rural town.
Now, just because you’re clear, doesn’t mean you’ll get everything you want. Far from it, it will take a great deal of compromise and discussion to agree on a life you both feel good about. Though by being clear with your partner and inviting them to do the same, you both will have a better understanding of the kind of life you can create together and for each other.
Another approach to expressing your love and gratitude to your partner is through what Dr. Gary Chapman calls in his book ‘The Five Love Languages’. In this book series, Chapman, an author, speaker and counselor on relationships, reminds us that being in a relationship where unconditional love, respect and consideration thrives, requires us to express our love in a way that is best received by our partner.
He goes on to discuss that each of us has a preference for how we receive love, these being: gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. When you know your partner’s preference and express your love in that specific way, your partner is more likely to notice and understand the depth of your feelings and consideration for them. Chapman calls this ‘filling up your love tank’.
Likewise, if you are showing your love in a way that your partner doesn’t perceive as love, you risk your partner not feeling cared about, fulfilled or appreciated, leaving them with an ‘empty love tank’. If you and your partner are curious about each other’s respective love language, you can complete this assessment to help you determine how you best receive love. Meditation is also another way of identifying the things your partner does which mean the most to you. Through visualization exercises, you’ll be able to understand all of the little actions your partner takes that perhaps reflect their own love language or fulfill yours.
Here’s an example that you can consider. Let’s say my primary love languages turned out to be acts of service and quality time and my partner’s were gifts and words of affirmation. If I try to show my love for him by helping him with a chore or work project, cleaning his car, or having a nice picnic together, sure, he might enjoy those things, but it might not occur to him that I’m doing those things to show my love. On the other hand, if I were aware of his love languages and surprised him with a meaningful gift every now and then, or consistently let him know my feelings for him and what I appreciate about him? His love tank would be overflowing!
Being in a relationship often times means putting your preferences aside and acknowledging that making your partner happy and helping them feel loved, safe, appreciated, and respected isn’t about you and how you receive love. So rather than asking what you can get out of being with your partner, shift your mindset to how you can contribute positively to their life. You can even start by asking them once a week, “how can I make your life better or easier this week?” and then do that one habit. Once you begin to put the effort toward learning and executing your partner’s love language, you’ll rekindle a deeper well of love and connection that you could have ever expected.
Sometimes the answers to our biggest relationship issues are right in front of our eyes. Think about it, perhaps your partner has a habit of meeting with their friends a few times a month or getting little meaningful gifts for their loved ones. By being present and observing the daily actions of our partner, we can understand so much about what they consider to be expressions of love. Additionally, the more present we are when we’re with our partner, the more we will begin to acknowledge all of the little actions they take to make our lives and the lives of others better and easier. Consequently, the more we open our eyes to these attributes, the more our gratitude and appreciation for our partners will grow, and with that, our willingness to do our part in showing our love for them.
Another component that is very easy to forget with our partners is accepting them, just as they are at this moment. Oftentimes, we resist and fight against certain characteristics and habits of our partner because we have an expectation of how they should be or what we want them to be. This, in direct contrast to the aforementioned lessons around clarity and love languages, creates an ongoing tension between our partner and ourselves. Acceptance requires us to willingly receive and welcome the experiences, characteristics, memories, attributes, and—most importantly—flaws of our partner. Just as you have a unique personality made up of your memories and experiences, so does your partner. Just as there are certain habits and characteristics about your partner you wish were different, so are there habits of yours they wish would change. And just as you have evolved and changed over time, so will your partner. The ultimate demonstration of gratitude and love is acceptance, for both you and your partner.
Admittedly, it can be a daily struggle not to lunge forward, trying to correct and “train” our partners. Trust me, as a self-proclaimed control freak, there have been many times when I have to bite my tongue before criticizing the way my partner does something. Yet when I pause and look at the bigger picture, the value, positive influence, and support my partner offers far outweigh any of these flaws. The Meditopia meditations on relationships helped me, in fact, to quiet those voices that were critical of my partner. Through these seven days I learned how to draw my attention away from resisting what I wanted to change about my partner’s habits, to focusing on the immense joy, support, and love I feel with him. As I said, it’s not an overnight cure, but it’s helped me take steps toward retraining my mind how to approach our relationship.
We’ve discussed some helpful approaches to reviving or maintaining a mutually fulfilling dynamic with your partner, but none of these are helpful with time and practice. Just as we take small steps everyday toward maintaining our health, appearance, and professional life, we must also recognize that our relationship, a part of our life that has an enormous impact on all other aspects of our lives, requires its due attention and consideration. It doesn’t have to mean a sudden upheaval of your daily schedule. The purpose of the Relationship Meditation series is to give you and your partner a short period of time, no longer than twenty minutes, to pause, take a pulse check on the condition of your relationship, and consider ways of nourishing the mutual love, respect, and support you both have for each other.
As always, we’d love to hear your comments and feedback below. What helps you and your partner maintain a healthy dynamic? Do you and your partner have different love languages? What’s one thing you can do, starting today, to make your partner’s life easier and better?
To try Meditopia’s Meditation series on Relationships, click here.