Mindful Cafe: Focus on making relationship work
By Stephanie Willis Submitted February 12, 2013 11:12AM
Updated: March 14, 2013 6:14AM
Though it’s not always roses for the Joneses, many couples are putting time aside this year to focus on how to keep their relationship solid. Working with partnerships is challenging work and maintaining a focus on their goals is key. Consider some of what the Joneses have been learning about their relationship.
Step toward affection. Physical boundaries in every partnership vary, but within that space, commit to nurturing affectionate moments. Some partners need admiration and respect to be open to receiving affection, so be purposeful in those efforts. If 15 minutes is 1 percent of your day, take one step toward affection during that 1 percent.
Learn how to eat crow. In many partnerships, one or both individuals may struggle with taking ownership for their part in a conflict. Letting go of the “right” and “wrong” power struggle is a key tool. Swallowing emotional pride after a strong stance on an issue takes a lot of practice, and it will help shift the dialogue into a more productive direction.
Listen to the research. After decades of collecting data observing couples, psychologist John Gottman identified four common behavior patterns in couples who eventually divorced: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. Based on his observations, these patterns were predictors of early divorce on average about 5.6 years post nuptials.
Avoid gridlock. There is a saying that resentment is like drinking poison yourself while hoping the other person dies. Holding onto grudges affects you far more than the other person. Decide what issues from the past need to be left on the shelf and which ones need closure. Keep in mind that choosing to let go of the past doesn’t have to mean you approve of what is back there, it just means you are willing to live in today with your hands unclenched.
Know your options. According to psychologist Russ Harris in his book “Act with Love,” he describes four basic approaches to problematic relationships: option one: leave; option two: stay and change what can be changed; option three: stay and accept what can’t be changed; option four: stay, give up and do things that make it worse.
Even when it looks like the grass is greener for others, all partnerships require a certain amount of work. Connect to what matters most about the kind of partner you want to be and take one small action toward those values. Set aside time to find out how to allow your relationship to be more meaningful in your life.
Stephanie Willis is president of Willis Counseling & Consulting, a private group therapy practice in Naperville and Chicago. She can be reached at email@example.com and 630-481-6463.