"Well, you two certainly have a very resilient relationship!" our marital therapist exclaimed to my husband and me several years ago, with obvious surprise and relief detectable in her face and her voice. She was responding to our report that we had nicely recovered from our Armageddon conflict from the week prior and were in a good space.
Damn straight, we are resilient. How else do you think we would have made it 25 years from prom to present day?
Resiliency isn't about avoiding conflict. Conflict is inevitable and is something that we can learn to manage better with practice. Resiliency is about bouncing back to connection after conflict.
Through my own personal relationship journey as well as 20 years experience counseling individuals and couples, I recommend the following strategies for developing resiliency in your relationship:
1) Detach from your ego. Practice humility. Be willing to let go of the need to be right. Be willing to let go of the need to win. Be willing to unlock your horns, put down your sword, or let go of your end of the rope in the game of "tug-of-war." When we detach from ego, we become conscious. When we are conscious and practice empathy, we diffuse anger and invite our partner to become consciously connected with us.
2) Zoom out. Step back and see the big picture from a larger perspective. The current issue or argument is just one small blip in time in a much greater context. In my Armaggedon example in the first paragraph, my husband and I were able to see that even though we were both really hurt and mad at each other, the current issue wasn't worth dwelling on when we have a lifetime of positive experiences behind us and a family and a future together. This greater vantage point helps shrink overwhelming mountains back to molehills that you and your partner can manage.
3) Look at the good parts. All relationships have problems. All people have faults. We are human beings in human relationships. Nobody is perfect, and there is no perfect relationship. If we focus our attention on all that our relationship is not and all the ways our partner falls short, we will be unhappy. Practice gratitude and shift your attention on what you appreciate about your partner and value about your relationship and watch your relationship become more positive.
4) Be willing to laugh at yourself. We can all be so ridiculous, especially in our love relationships. This is because we are so vulnerable, we become hyper defensive in attempts to protect ourselves. There are times in my marriage that I know I'm acting like a 5-year-old, rather than a 42-year-old licensed mental health professional. I love when my husband can get me to laugh at myself and let go -- it feels so much better than digging my heels in deeper and continuing to fight. Kind-spirited laughter can release tension and invite connection in your relationship.
5) Stay sexually connected. One of my girlfriends recently commented that when she and her partner are having good sex, they work through the bumps in their relationship more easily because the intimate bond is there. I noticed one of my client couples shared positive initiations of sexual connection despite going through a bumpy patch in their relationship during early parenthood (e.g., she slipped her hand in his shorts after she returned from a run, he initiated sex another time when she was changing clothes, "because it seemed like the smart thing to do," etc.). When I applauded them for staying sexually connected, they said this was the yin to the yang of their conflict and helped even things out in their relationship. The power of the sexual bond can fortify a relationship.
6) Practice forgiveness. Extend the compassion and forgiveness to your partner that you would want him or her to extend to you. Let go of the issues of the past and let them lay to rest. Instead of hanging onto the resentments of the past, choose to be consciously connected in the present moment. Be the bigger person and forgive, and together you will grow.
Resilient relationships resonate with sustainable acceptance, laughter, love and forgiveness.
"Real love is a permanently self-enlarging experience." -- M. Scott Peck
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