People enter into and remain in intimate relationships for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from the romantic to the practical; the material to the spiritual. This article is intended for those who see their partnerships as opportunities to learn and grow in love, happiness, and emotional maturity.
Human beings seem to exist in a paradox, where one part wants to experience wonder, transformation, and the adventure of journeying into the unknown, while the other part seems interested in maintaining safety, predictability, and the status quo. The first part leads us to a constant unfolding of life experiences and growth, while the other tends to lead to routine and atrophy. Bob Dylan phrased it simply when he sang that those who are not busy being born are busy dying.
In 2001 I decided to explore what key indicators determined the direction intimate relationships would take – growth or atrophy. Below are listed some of the key influences in most, if not all, intimate relationships.
- Individuality/intimacy balance
- Emotional transparency
- The sacrifice/indulgence factor
- Accountability; increase of blame, complaints, criticism and judgment
Entering a relationship is similar to entering a three-legged race, where one person ties their left leg to the right leg of the other, and then the two race down the field, competing against other tripod pairs toward the finish line. There is a need to co-ordinate your steps, maintain an equal stride and pace, contribute equally, and move in the same direction. A major difference between the race and relationship is that a relationship is more like a three-legged triathlon, where the finish line is not visible, and the route takes you through forests, over mountains, across rivers, and deep into the desert. Still, the need to agree on the direction and pace is essential to the experience, and it’s important that the agreement be a true consensus. Imagine a three-legged race where the partners are trying to go in different directions each struggling to pull the other towards where they want to go. Or imagine that one stubbornly refuses to go in the other’s direction and stays in one spot, while the other runs around in circles. A third possibility is that one partner lifts the other off the ground because the one doing the lifting insists that the other must “do it my way”. The couple may go in a specific direction, but the burden will tire out the carrier pretty quickly, while building up resentment in the one being carried.
Establishing a relationship based on true agreement may slow you down initially, but will save you enormous amounts of energy in the long run. You may even discover that it’s best to untie your legs and let each other run freely, leaving the three-legged races to the children.
Since I could never find one in a dictionary that described what “appreciation” means to me, I discovered my own definition: appreciation = love + awe + gratitude. The wonderful quality in appreciation is that it is self-fulfilling. In other words, the more appreciation you express toward your partner, the more you will see in your partner to appreciate, and the more you will appreciate yourself. Conversely, the less you appreciate in your partner, the less value you will see in both him/her and yourself.
Appreciation becomes truly fulfilling when you can look beyond your partner’s personality and see the wonderfully gifted essential being with whom you have been sharing your life.
It surprised me when I realized how essential true agreement and true appreciation were to the experience of harmony in relationship with my wife and children, and, in fact, to all the important relationships in my life. If you are interested, I explore these topics in greater depths in my book, The Untethered Relationship.
Part 2 of this article next week.