Last month’s article (A New Year Relationship Check-Up) was a call to enter 2013 with an eye toward proactive reflection on the state of your relationships, and particularly for those primary, “significant other” relationships on the home front. Critical self-assessment and the decision to make necessary changes naturally fit with the turn of a new year, but applying that self-reflection to how we are treating, interacting with, and caring for the people who sustain us emotionally might not be so natural. Relationships sometimes stagnate – we become too comfortable, or fail to see where we are shortchanging our partners, or take the stability and routine for granted – while we strive to improve other, less important parts of our lives.
As part of that relationship check-up, we pointed out some of the most common and concerning indicators of trouble, as determined by Doctors John and Julie Schwartz Gottman, of The Gottman Institute, who have studied relationships for over thirty years. The indicators of trouble were necessarily focused on the negative – what am I (or we) doing wrong and how might it hurt the relationship - in order to highlight areas of concern; to root out disease you have to assess the symptoms, after all. But after completing a relationship check-up and finding where you fall short, it’s necessary to make changes. Establishing the means to make effective change is what this article is about.
The concept of WE vs. I
The most obvious and simple course of corrective action would be to just find those points the Gottmans make where you fall short and then do the opposite. This is certainly doable, but the indicators of trouble become solidified through habit and changing out a bad habit with a good one is not a simple or easily accomplished course. Repetition of the good behavior is necessary; some researchers will tell you each consciously chosen good behavior, in each unique circumstance where you would normally and habitually default to the negative behavior, must be consciously repeated a minimum of seven times in order to establish it as a positive habit. By all means, begin rooting out bad habits and replacing them with good. That’s why we wrote the first article.
What we offer here, however, is a framework to put in place first. It is a philosophy to support the establishment of good habits and strengthened relationships. It is what we call our concept of WE vs. I.
Being more than just partners – BECOMING ONE
We think of a committed relationship as something beyond a mere partnership; partnerships can be fleeting, businesslike affairs, motivated by a “what’s in it for me” mentality and easily dissolved. Instead, we think of truly committed relationships as becoming one with your partner. They are selfless rather than selfish, and the emotional health and happiness of one half depends on ensuring the emotional health and happiness of the other.
The first step to becoming one is to committing to being not simply partners, and not simply lovers, but truly each others’ best friend. Any decision that affects the couple is made by the couple, not an individual acting on behalf of what he or she happens to think is the best course of action without consulting the other. You publicly have each others’ back and in conflict and stand united. And knowing – really knowing – what makes each other tick is an ongoing personal commitment you make; knowing your partners needs and desires – and then acting to fulfill them – becomes a drive.
Forsaking all others
To “forsake all others” is a ubiquitous part of nearly all wedding ceremonies, it seems, but how many of you really know what it means?
To “forsake all others” is to put the relationship first. It means putting the relationship – the single most important human bond you have – ahead of anyone or anything that might usurp its importance. It means putting it ahead of family and friends, hobbies and interests, the Job, and, if you have them, even the kids!