Romantic Relationships (series)

Romance central; How to cultivate healthy intimate relationships and get the most out of your love life Part Five

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Last week we examined the healthy relationship model and looked at several healthy relationship behaviors. This week we continue in exploring more healthy behaviors.

 

Valuing your partner and expressing this – often (brownie points game)

 

Showing your partner you value their efforts and them as a person is really important. It reinforces to them what behavior you appreciate the most, makes them feel validated and confirms that they are cherished by you – all essential ingredients to any thriving relationship.

 

I created something called the brownie points game to better vocalize how much my partner and I value one another. I’ve mentioned it before in my life audit series but as it’s so relevant have included an excerpt below just in case you wanted to try the game out for yourself.

 

The brownie points dating game… (for those who are actively dating)

 

I’ve recently invented something called the brownie points game. It’s a really good way of injecting fun and romance into any relationship. The rules are simple. Whenever your partner does something sweet, thoughtful, kind or romantic you score them, giving them brownie points and vice versa.

For every one hundred brownie points I earn, my dating partner gives me a romantic surprise, which could be a meal or even theater tickets. Alternatively my partner may create what I call ‘top tier’ rewards, whereby the reward is revealed in advance (these are usually big ticket items, like buying a bike and teaching me how to ride one, taking me to a super nice restaurant or even Secret Cinema tickets) so as to incentivize me to work towards the prize!

The amazing thing about this game is it eradicates the typical dating games of playing hard to get and instead replaces it with romantic gestures and traditional courtship. Even more than this it encourages appreciation for your partners efforts whilst showing them what type of affection you value most.

 

Being affectionate – often

 

This is often forgotten in the later stages of a relationship but I think it is so essential to remain affectionate towards one another. Just a hug, taking their hand in yours or a little peck on the cheek communicates your love in a way that only physical affection can.

 

Forgiving openly and freely

 

Forgiving openly and freely is a prerequisite of any healthy romantic relationship.

 

Unfortunately there are many misconceptions about forgiveness, some of these are:

 

  • Forgiving means totally forgetting – you needn’t forget completely as it might be wise to remember what situations your partner may be inclined to behave poorly and avoid them but equally you shouldn’t harbor resentment or bring it up once you have forgiven.

 

  • Forgiving means reconciling – it is totally possible to both forgive and walk away from the relationship.

 

Unless your partner is a repeat offender and continuously cheats on you or does something equally horrid, I do believe that it is important to rebuild trust to the level it was prior to the incident.

 

For more on forgiveness please read my article titled ‘How to liberate yourself by overcoming the three blocks to forgiveness’.

 

There are several ways you can rebuild trust, these being:

 

  1. Encourage your partner to be honest but do not seek an in-depth account of what happened as this can deepen hurt

 

  1. Seek to understand the reasons for the incident without blame and identify, what, if any, part you had to play

 

  1. Examine together how you can change the existing conditions which lead to the incident happening in the first place

 

  1. Discuss and make it understood what would happen on both sides should the incident occur again, being careful to not place blame but rather create a healthy, mutually understood boundary

 

  1. Make a promise to be diplomatically honest with one another from now on (honest but equally sensitive to the others feelings in your wording and delivery) and keep to this promise

 

  1. Once the situation is dealt with and the underlying reasons for the hurt addressed, make a promise to one another not to bring it up casually or in conflict again

 

Accepting the flaws of your partner and never trying to change them

 

No one is perfect, everyone but everyone has flaws. Habits and irritating personality traits, we all have them. One of the reasons romantic relationships can be so fulfilling is the intimacy they offer us. In order to gain intimacy we must share all of who we are to our partner, even our flaws. As I’m sure you are aware this takes great courage as we all fear rejection on some level.

 

When you accept the flaws of your partner and never try to change them, you are accepting them wholeheartedly. This doesn’t equate to accepting a serial cheater or a chronic alcoholic for a partner – I am strictly talking harmless habits and personality traits.

 

By accepting your partner in this way you will greatly deepen the love, trust, intimacy and respect you share and your relationship will thrive as a result.

 

Laughing and finding the comedy in tough times

 

To be able to laugh and find the comedy in tough times is not only cathartic but essential for any healthy intimate relationship. Seek to laugh at the absurdity and desperateness of situations and you will have found a way to avoid conflict, regain perspective, release tension and bond with your partner.

 

In an ideal world we would avoid all of the negative behaviors and exhibit all of the positive behaviors all of the time, but alas, not everyone is perfect, as we have already discussed in this series.

 

This doesn’t give us free reign to do what we like and simply shrug ‘I’m only human’ but it does give us permission to accept when we falter, admitting our hurtful behavior to our partner, explaining why we messed up without placing blame and earnestly communicating to them how we will rectify the situation, making the relationship the healthiest it can be.

 

In today’s modern world where the media presents us with fairytales on a daily basis, I would encourage you to ponder what true love looks like for you. I don’t subscribe to the notion of the charming prince saving me anymore, I have long since learnt that I needed to do that for myself in advance of getting involved with anyone.

 

To me true love develops when a partnership is formed based on honesty, trust, vulnerability, respect, acceptance, thoughtfulness and consideration. Whilst life can make us cynical that true love is the thing of fairytales I would disagree – I believe that true love is much more magical than the movies!

 

Are you affectionate? Do you forgive easily? What does true love mean for you?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below to gain encouragement, support and insight from our community, we’d love to hear from you.

 

Further resources:

 

‘The relationship skills workbook: A do-it-yourself guide to a thriving relationship’ by Julia B Colwell, Ph. D.  An ideal book for you or – even better – both of you!

 

‘Safe People: How to find relationships that are good for you and avoid those that aren’t’ by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend

 

Romance central; How to cultivate healthy intimate relationships and get the most out of your love life Part Four

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Last week we finished looking at the unhealthy relationship behaviors, this week we begin exploring how to cultivate healthy relationships.

 

How to cultivate healthy relationships

 

Cultivating a healthy relationship is not complex but it does take effort and ideally commitment from both partners to want to actively work on the relationship. This isn’t to say that by adopting these behaviors yourself you can’t improve things, but rather that for the best results both partners should be willing to work together – with shared responsibility – for making the relationship the healthiest it can be.

 

Health Relationship Model

Unsurprisingly the healthy relationship model is very balanced, with equal times spend both together and apart. This works to promote a sense of identity and independence outside of the relationship whilst the shared contact encourages inter-connectedness and provides sufficient emotional and mental support to the other.

 

Healthy relationship behaviors

 

The good news is that there are also many relationship behaviors that we can adopt to foster a more healthy, happy and balanced relationship.

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Romance central; How to cultivate healthy intimate relationships and get the most out of your love life Part Three

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Last week we looked at the unhealthy relationship dynamic models and looked at several unhealthy relationship behaviors. This week we continue to examine the remaining unhealthy relationship behaviors which we can change with just a little effort.

 

Trying to change your partner

 

Girls, we all know this one. When we think we can change that bad boy or commitment phobe into the perfect boyfriend. Guys, I’m sure you’ve experienced this too. This never works for several reasons.

 

Usually the person doesn’t want to change because they perceive there to be distinct advantages to them being how they are. Also, when someone tries to change their partner, the person in question may feel trapped or begin to resent the partner who has tried to initiate change. Lastly, by trying to change someone it inadvertently (and often unintentionally) communicates the partner doesn’t unconditionally love the other, or that in some way they are viewed as unacceptable.

 

As you can see not only does this strategy often fail but it usually has a detrimental impact upon the relationship.

 

Carrying past hurt into the relationship (overreacting to things due to your past hurts)

 

I was very lucky in that I allowed myself ample time to heal from my past hurt before entering into another relationship. But love doesn’t know our timeframe and often hits when we least expect it.

 

If you still have past pain that is unresolved it is worth remembering that our memory is historical. By historical I mean that when a situation arises our brains look for a time in the past when something similar happened.

 

What tends to go awry is that when we have unresolved pain our current partner may do something relatively benign but it will trigger a painful memory which may cause us to react disproportionately to the current situation, or trigger.

 

If you keep this in mind it may well protect you from disproportionately reacting to things however what I would recommend is to seek out therapy, as in my experience, this is the best and by far the most constructive way to heal from pain.

 

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Romance central; How to cultivate healthy intimate relationships and get the most out of your love life Part Two

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Last week we explored why it is important to be happy and whole before entering into a relationship and looked at the warning signs of mentally and physically abusive relationships. This week we explore what an unhealthy relationship dynamic looks like and examine what unhealthy relationship behaviors there are and what we can do about them.

 

Unhealthy relationship dynamics

 

One of the first things I was taught in treatment was what an unhealthy relationship looks like. Although there are definite traits which contribute to a relationship being unhealthy (more on those later) there are several models which show unhealthy dynamics. Let’s look at each one and why they are so unhealthy.

 

Unhealthy Relationship Model 1

In this model we see two people who have so little contact that their shared life is very small. This is unhealthy for several reasons. We need a certain amount of quality time and inter-connectedness in our lives to romantically bond with someone. Without enough contact the people are unable to offer a healthy level of emotional and mental support to the other and if there is too little contact whether in person or by Skype, phone and text, the relationship is weaker as a consequence.

 

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Romance central; How to cultivate healthy intimate relationships and get the most out of your love life Part One

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It’s hard to believe but this year I will be thirty five. When I was just seventeen I entered into a destructive relationship which taught me that my thoughts, opinions, beliefs and feelings just didn’t count; the relationship had made me forget my inherent worth. When I finally made the break I was petrified of being alone. I didn’t like myself very much and being in my own company with no one or nothing to distract me scared me silly, I could think of nothing worse.

 

But something deep within me knew that being alone, truly alone, was exactly what I needed. I didn’t really know who I was anymore, my sense of identity lost itself as it was slowly but surely replaced by his. His opinions, his beliefs, his family, his life.

 

So I embarked on a journey, having no idea where it would lead. All I knew was that it was a journey I needed to go on, a journey comprised of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, one on one psychotherapy, Tony Robbins and faith. During this time my friends and family supported me through the inevitable ups and downs. The loneliness, the anger and the confusion. The letting go, the forgiveness, the elation at finding myself again and in the empowerment I experienced.

 

Once I worked on my self-esteem and liked myself again I crafted a life that brought me joy and happiness, a life that nurtured my creative spirit and celebrated those I loved. It was a six year journey, but it only took two years for me to be happy again. With every year I grew more and more in love with the life I had created. I had male friends again, my creativity flourished, I landed a managerial job and I even decided to start this blog so I could reach out to others that might be facing similar struggles.

 

Although I was the happiest I had ever been in my life I thought that it might be nice to share my happiness with someone, a partner, maybe even a soul mate. But this time my motivations were completely different, I didn’t need a partner out of fear of being alone, I simply wanted one.

 

So I joined eHarmony. I have to be honest, most of the guys on the site looked like either geeks, arrogant bankers or play boys looking for one thing. Just as I was about to cancel my subscription I saw a hunk of a guy. He had the most handsome smile I think I’ve ever seen. His eyes were intoxicating and looked so genuine I almost got lost in them. So we started talking, first on the site, then on WhatsApp, then on the phone. Soon after we had our first date; it was nine hours but it felt like three. Being in his company felt so effortless.

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