That’s right, you want a relationship so solid that rocks will be coming to you for advice on how to keep it together.
And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to give those heavyweights a run for their money?
I’m not sure there’s many people out there who would say they don’t want to improve their relationship with their partner in some way.
But, as with anything, there are always exceptions and if that’s you then the good news is you don’t have to read any further! Instead, you get to sit back (on a rock maybe?), sip cocktails and watch the sunset over the ocean. Now I’m the one who’s jealous!
Because I’m definitely not in that camp or on that rock if we’re sticking with that metaphor.
And if you’re anything like me and want to find small ways that you can improve your relationship, then you’re definitely in the right place.
I can tell a lot about you from the fact you’re still reading this. For example, I bet you care a whole damn lot about your partner and want your relationship to be as strong as it can be.
You’re probably also someone who beats yourself up for those times when you feel you’re not being the partner you know you’re capable of being.
And you’re also clearly invested in your own growth and that of your relationship or otherwise the title of this piece wouldn’t have captured your attention.
You may even be interested in rocks.
All of those things make you pretty phenomenal in my book.
Because it shows you care. Well, the rock part maybe not so much but definitely the rest of it.
Sometimes when our relationships aren’t where we want them to be, the thought of trying to get them back on track can feel overwhelming.
Change is also just really hard. Consistency is hard. Rewiring your brain and creating new habits is hard.
That’s why it can be so easy, even with the best of intentions, to slip back into familiar patterns of behaving and relating.
You’ll already be familiar with what follows because if you cared enough to click on this piece then you’ve probably already read hundreds of other articles and books on similar topics.
Although I bet none of them compared your relationship to a rock.
So, what follows won’t be new but thankfully new isn’t always what we need. Sometimes we just need someone to say something in a slightly different way or to say it at just the time we’re ready to receive it and things click into place.
I hope that one of these steps clicks with you today.
Let’s rock and roll!
3) Release the need to be right
I’m not sure there’s a single person on the planet who hasn’t got caught in this trap before so you and I are in good company.
If you’ve ever found yourself in an argument with your partner where you’ve got caught in a right-fighting cycle then you know that it almost never leads to a peaceful resolution.
We’re hardwired to react in ways that are detrimental to our relationships and the need to prove that we’re right is one of them.
It’s not unusual to find ourselves in conflict with our partner and be hell bent on explaining to them in great detail why they are wrong and we are right.
At worst they engage in the same behaviour and the conversation disintegrates into two people who love one another putting themselves on opposite teams, each arguing for the other to back down and admit they’re wrong.
Best case scenario, you have a partner who goes into freeze or flight mode instead of fight mode and either walks away or completely shuts down.
If the former plays out then all you end up with is two people locking horns and refusing to back down. If it’s the latter then it can feel like a victory but it’s a hollow one. The partner who has fled or is frozen to the spot is likely left feeling shamed, like a child who has just been reprimanded by their parents.
Neither is a good outcome.
So what can you do instead?
See if you can catch yourself in the act when you start to go into right-fighting mode. Ask yourself whether being right is more important than your partners happiness and the health of your relationship.
Unless your partner has done something that has caused you a great deal of pain and you’re needing to get all your emotions out there, then chances are proving that you’re right isn’t going to be worth it.
It will only cause a relationship rupture, a tearing in the fabric of your partnership, which add up over time and can be hard to mend.
If it’s something small, ask yourself if you can let it go. Think back on all the times you’ve been wrong and it’s likely that with a bit of space and generosity on the other persons part, you’ve come to that realization on your own.
Now think about how it’s felt when someone has tried to convince you that you’re wrong. Did it endear you to them or did it make you want to dig your heals in?
Honey will always get you further than vinegar.
2) Practice generous listening
Given that you’re a human being and not a robot, it’s likely that you’ve made one, or all, of these mistakes before:
- Listened to respond
- Half listened while doing other things
- Made judgements and/or assumptions
- Become defensive
- Stepped into fixing mode
I’ve committed all of the above crimes and not just once but multiple times.
If you’ve not read any of Rachel Naomi Remen’s books then I highly recommend them. It was while being absorbed in the pages of Kitchen Table Wisdom that I stumbled across the phrase ‘generous listening’ and it’s stuck with me.
Master this skill and you will be blown away by the difference in your relationship.
Have you ever found yourself completely drawing a blank on what your partner has just said because you were too busy thinking about what you were going to say when they stopped talking?
Or how about half paying attention to them while you were busy texting and making dinner?
When we know someone well, it can be easy to take them for granted and not give them our full attention.
Enter, generous listening.
In this crowded, noisy and busy world where a million different things are constantly competing for your attention, you will set yourself miles apart from 95% of people if you get really good at listening.
And not just any old listening. A lot of people think listening is simply about being quiet but it’s so much more than that.
Generous listening is about presence, it’s about giving your partner the feeling that they are the only person on the planet for you right now. It means turning down the volume of all the thoughts in your head, mentally filing away your to-do list, and tuning in to what your partner is saying.
Generous listening means that you don’t think ahead to what you want to say, instead you hear every word that your partner is speaking and when they stop you pause to consider what response is needed based on the information they’ve just given you.
It means suspending judgement, assumptions and defensiveness and instead adopting a mindset of curiosity where you’re keen to know more about why they think and feel the way they do.
Generous listening is a simple strategy but not always easy to implement. It requires a great deal of patience and practice to catch yourself when you’re about to fall into the trap of making one of the five mistakes.
But it is so worth the effort.
If practicing and mastering the art of generous listening is the only step you ever choose to implement in your relationship, it will make all the difference.
1) Balance caring for your partner with caring about them
I already know that you care for your partner because otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this but sometimes it can be easy to focus so much on this part of care that we forget to also care about our partner.
At first glance these two things may seem the same but there’s a key difference between them.
If you’re someone who cooks your partner meals, fills up the gas tank in their car when it’s running low, makes the bed when you know they don’t have time and brings them hot chicken soup when they’re ill then that’s what caring for someone looks like.
When it comes to a relationship, caring for your partner in these ways would be seen as the more technical aspects of care.
Caring about your partner is different in that it asks you to be relational. It’s less about doing for and more about being with.
We usually choose the caring for option because let’s face it, even if you don’t know how to make chicken soup it’s still easier to learn that skill than to think about being vulnerable and doing a deep dive into your partner’s inner world.
But caring about your partner and not just for them, is infinitely rewarding and helps your relationship to grow and deepen. Sharing pieces of who you are beyond the surface level is what bonds you together.
And of course, you most definitely need a balance between the two. Your relationship can’t solely survive on caring about each other, caring for one another is important too.
Taking some time today to check in with your partner beyond the ‘how was your day?’ type chit chat will really help you strike a balance between these two important aspects of care.
Give it a try and watch how it brings you closer.
While I know that this piece probably hasn’t shared with you anything you didn’t already know, I hope that it contained the odd sentence that resonated with you.
Even if you just found one thing that you can add to the toolbox of items that you’ve collected along the way, then I’ll be delighted.
You and your partner deserve the best and I know you’re more than capable of co-creating the phenomenal relationship you’re both so worthy of.
Simple steps every day can add up to impressive results that over time transform our relationships in beautiful ways.
That’s what I want for you.
And as always, the thing that brings me the most joy is hearing your stories so please do reach out as I’d love to hear from you.