Part 3: How To Have A More Fulfilling And Dynamic Relationship
Over the last several weeks, I have been discussing the Seven Reasons Why Relationship Feels So Hard Sometimes and what to do about it. Many of us long to feel profound love, yet find cultivating a lasting, loving relationship to be an elusive and daunting process.
In this three-part series, I am addressing ways that we can actively work towards a more fulfilling and rewarding relationship. Part one, I addressed the first two ways to deal with “why relationship feels so hard sometimes.” In part two, I discussed the third and fourth way to proactively shift difficulties into opportunities. In this article, I will explain the last three ways to combat these seven areas of difficulty, addressing point five, six, and seven.
As a reminder, these points might seem easy to understand conceptually, but there is a depth to be understood, explored, and integrated as you apply these principles into your life and relationship. It is one thing to understand them, but another thing to live them.
5. Taking ownership for your needs, preferences, and desires.
As mentioned, in my first article (#5), when we do not take ownership for our preferences, desires, and needs, we tend to try to make it our partner’s responsibility.
Yet, taking ownership for your needs and desires might seem contrary to what you have heard or believed about love and relationship.
The lines are blurry.
On one hand, we make commitments and vows “to have and to hold, for better or for worse” or “to love without reservation.” These vows are beautiful, as they express a sentiment and a proclamation of one’s love.
On the other hand, individuals within the relationship are living different lives. At any given moment, individuals are having two different experiences, with varying needs, priorities, and goals. Your partner can’t responsible for your needs, health, and well-being. Unless, of course, you are incapacitated in some way. Even in this example, your partner has a choice in whether or not they care for you. You can’t pressure them into it. If you did, it might work for a little while, but it will not be a lasting, workable dynamic. Your partner will most likely get resentful and find ways to change the dynamic…directly or indirectly…consciously or unconsciously…skillfully or unskillfully. Ultimately, your partner has to make a choice, and only he or she can do that. You can’t choose for them.
The risk of loving deeply.
In relationship, we tend to enjoy the very bonded and connected states with our partners. These moments are special and wonderful. AND they are experiences, not the constant state of a long-term relationship. It can feel scary to love deeply and hold space for the mystery of life that is ever unfolding. Many of us find the unknown uncomfortable, so we attempt to manage our anxiety by entering into areas of control, dependency, and expectation. While we are our intention is to deal with the risk, the control, pressure, and dependency create difficulties in the couple dynamic.
In Passionate Marriage, David Schnarch talks about the exercise of hugging until relaxed. The goal of this exercise is to hug your partner while maintaining your own balance and equilibrium. In this exercise, you will want to focus on your own individual experience and manage your own reactions. Often times, when we share an embrace, we have reactions that we are not even aware of – we may lean on, cling on, tense up, hold our breath, or pull away. The goal is to calm yourself while connecting with your partner, so that you can get to a place of intimate connection with your partner while feeling stable and secure in yourself.
“Passionate equanimity- to be fully passionate about all aspects of life..to care to the depths of one’s being but with no trace of clinging or holding..” By Treya Killam Wilber
Your motivations, passions, desires and creativity give you fire and juice in your life. It is important to feel your own authentic vitality from within. While your partner might be a huge part of your desire and passion, your partner does not fuel your energy. You don’t want to see your partner as your source of life. Your partner is the one you want to share your passion and desire with. At times you will choose to enter into a state of union and connection with your partner and receive a tremendous amount of love, joy, pleasure, and intimacy. However, you are also an individual that is growing and developing that is separate from your partner. Your lessons, your goals, your path is unique to you and your development.
Once you accept that it is not your partner’s job to take care of you, you will begin to see their love and attention as gifts. You will also be more proactive about taking care of yourself, by attending to what you are wanting and needing. One way of taking care of yourself may be able to ask your partner for what you want ahead of time rather than hoping, wishing or even testing. You will be more likely to communicate from a revealing and open stance, rather than a dependent or controlling stance. The best you can do is to honor their choice and from a self-responsible way, invite them into or ask for what you would like.
“The hard part of loving is that one has to learn so often to let go of those we love, so they can do things, so they can grow, so they can return to us with an even richer, deeper love.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
6. Making “Winning With” a priority.
When our needs or desires conflict with our partner’s needs and desire, it is easy to get into power struggles and compete to get our way.
As I mentioned in Nine Destructive Behaviors To Avoid During Conflict, it is common for couples to enter into a conversation with one another, with the intention to talk about a concern constructively, and then find themselves arguing. At this point the goal has switched from “trying to resolve an issue” to “trying to be right.” Partners will feel pitted against each other, both feeling like they have to defend their position to “win” or to “lose”. This describes a power structure of one-up and one-down, where only one person can win.
From a very early age, we all have been well acquainted with the concept of winning. Do you remember the childhood game “king of the mountain?” Immediately, I imagine wrestling with someone to either get to the top or stay on top on the hill. The whole idea here is that there is one winner. The choices are to win or be beaten. This game spawns a sense of competitiveness, dominance, and scarcity. I have to win over someone else to be on top. Even if I make it to the top, I don’t feel secure because I know someone will be gunning for me soon. Even if I am strong enough to hold the winner position for a while, it starts to get lonely at the top. Playing “king of the mountain” may be fun for a period of time, but it may not be the best global approach.
While this power structure might be relevant to other spheres of your life, it usually will not be a conducive approach for a lasting, authentic, loving relationship. Cultivating a relationship where both people are considered requires a new game that is mutually beneficial and rewarding. This requires a new paradigm, where the relationship dynamics are fulfilling and satisfying for both. This might seem like a foreign idea and may not even seem feasible. However, can you imagine an approach that allows both people in the relationship to win? Where both individuals feel considered? Where the interactions continue to foster generosity, passion, engagement, and investment?
Here are a couple tips:
- When trying to resolve a concern with your partner, notice when you start to react (i.e. feel threatened or defensive – see #3 Regulating Our Emotional Reactions).
- Be committed to calming down, either within the conversation or by taking a break.
- Recognize power struggles. Either take a break or both agree to refocus on the goal.
- Keep asking, “What is my goal right now? Am I trying to be heard? Am I trying to be right? Do I want to find a resolution that meets both of our needs?”
- Participating to conversations where the goal is to have resolution. Using this Step-by-Step Guide.
- Generate and brain-storm ideas for a win-win solution.
“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we are not really living. Growth demands a temporary surrender of security.” ~ Gail Sheehy
7. Gaining awareness of our internal conflicting needs.
At times, we have internal needs that are in opposition with one another. For example, one need is to feel excitement, growth, or newness. And the other need is to feel security, comfort, and safety. These needs can feel incompatible at times. As it is hard to both take risks to grow and expand and seek comfort and security at the same time.
Attending to both needs.
First, it is important to realize that both needs are critical and essential for optimal growth and development. Early in life, a child will want to explore the world from the safety of his or her parents’ support. The child will move back and forth between these two needs, moving away from the parent to explore and then returning for comfort and a feeling of security. Both needs are very important and appropriate.
You will have different phases that you will go through in life. At times, you will take risks to learn something new or achieve new goals. Other times, you will want to recuperate and integrate the learning, by seeking comfort and safety. Even as an adult, you can ebb and flow between expansion and contraction within your growth process. If you can recognize where you are in your cycle of growth, you will be better off in advocating for your needs.
Tolerating the tension between expansion and contraction.
It is unlikely that your partner’s rhythms of expansion and contraction will match yours. There will be times when you partner wants to feel comfort and security, and you may want to experience something new and exciting. Other times, you will be the one seeking safety and comfort from your partner, and he or she will be more interested in exploring and expanding. Seeking comfort could look like a night at home snuggling and watching a movie. Seeking expansion could look like going to a new town near by to explore a new restaurant or music venue. There is value in both experiences and both needs.
Being able to take care of your needs and desires (as mentioned in #5 – see above) will help you tolerate the discomfort during the times when you and your partner may have differing needs and preferences.
Utilizing the “win with” strategy (discussed in #6 – see above) will also be helpful. If both people are able to generate solutions that are mutually beneficial, than there will be room in the relationship for both needs.
While I am stating these needs very objectively, I realize that it does not always feel emotionally easy. For example, if I am needing to feel comfort and security and my partner is wanting to expand and seek newness, I may experience his desire as a threat. In an attempt to feel secure, I may resort to putting pressure on him or try to control him. In the end, this will not be helpful.
The best that I can do is:
- Acknowledge my need
- Validate the need as important
- Communicate it fairly to my partner
- Ask to work together to generate solutions that are mutually beneficial
- Deal with my fear, and possible sadness and grief (see below)
- Take care of needs
- Be present and open to the connection that my partner is available for
When we feel risk, vulnerability, and fear, it is common to shrink back into what seems normal, status quo, and acceptable. However, this keeps us in a very restricted state of being, loving, and relating. If you feel fear or anxiety, then it is likely you will still need to deal with this. Your partner will not be able to fully alleviate this fear.
Here are some of the common fears in relationship:
- Fear of merger and loss of self
- Fear of exposure, inadequacy, inferiority
- Fear of being attacked
- Fear of one’s aggressive, destructive impulse
- Fear of abandonment and loss of the other
“You will either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety.” ~ Abraham Maslow
Cultivating a relationship that keeps evolving and developing.
I encourage you to consider these points as practices and a learning process. The more you stay with it, the stronger and more skillful you will become. You will begin to feel more inspired and capable. Most likely, you will feel a sense of synergy with your partner that will continue to develop and evolve the relationship.
Thank you for taking the time to learn and contemplate new ways of relating to improve the quality of your relationship. Please Click Here to Subscribe, if you would like to be up-to-date on the latest posts.
What do you think about these suggestions? Please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you. Thank you. ❤