Peace in our relationships begins with us. We can have peace even in the most trying times. We will fail to find peace when we try to achieve it by arranging people or things outside of ourselves. When we have peace and calm in our hearts, when we are at peace with ourselves then we will have the reserves we need to make peace in our relationships. Peace is an inside job.
There may be a bit of a chicken an egg dilemma here. Does improving your relationship improve your happiness or does improving your happiness improve your relationship? The answer is yes! Both are true. When you are happier your relationship tends to improve and improving your relationship makes it easier to feel happy. Healthy relationships are key to lasting happiness. Where to begin? The easiest place to begin is to SMILE. Right now, choose to smile, even if you do not feel like smiling. When you choose to smile, your brain starts to take that as a signal that you are happy. Make an effort to smile often, every day and you may notice that you start to feel happier.
Next, express your admiration and affection to your partner. Start trying to catch your partner doing something right. Let them know that you notice and appreciate it. Give your partner at least two genuine compliment a day. When you start to do this, you may notice that your partner starts to smile more too.
Finally, practice gratitude. Every morning when you wake up mentally rehearse as least five things for which you are grateful. Every night just before sleeping focus again on those things for which you are grateful. Remember that happiness does not come from having what we want; it comes from being grateful for what we have.
The happier you are, the more likely you are to have a happy, lasting relationship. The happier you are, the more likely you are to have great friends and family and to feel satisfied with your family and social life. Start now by choosing to smile. Start looking for reasons to be happy and you will begin to find them.
In counseling, we frequently hear concerns expressed about a lack of respect hurting relationships. Many people think that if their partner would just conform and do things the way they want them done, that they would then feel respected. Respect is an important foundation of any healthy relationship. But it begins with self-respect. Ask yourself, Am I easily offended? Do I justify my anger at my partner by thinking things like, if only s/he would change then I could be happy, feel respected, etc? The reality is that the better we feel about our self the less likely we are to be offended and angry at the behavior of others.
It is very empowering and freeing to NOT be dependent on the behavior of others to feel respected or loved. When our self-respect and self-esteem are high we are far less reactive to the behavior of others. When our self-respect and self-esteem are low and someone does something that we see as disrespectful we can feel a loss of control and respond with anger.
In the long run, it is our behavior, not our partner’s that determines how we feel about our self. The more we guard our integrity by making good choices, rather than choices of convenience or appearance, the better we will feel about our self. The better we feel about our self, the less likely we are to over react to our partner’s behavior. When we feel good about our self, we are more likely to be patient, understanding and generous with our partner.
Choices of appearance are those you make to make yourself look good or keep yourself out of trouble. Choices of convenience are based on what feels good in the moment, rather than on what you know is right or good. Whenever we make choices that go against our values, when we do what we believe to be wrong, we hurt our self-respect and self-esteem.
The greater our sense of self-respect, the less we will crave and demand respect from others. The more we are in control of our self, our behavior and feelings; the less we will feel the need to control and manage others.
We create intimacy by sharing who we are, what we think and believe, and how we feel with each other. Mutual sharing is a most satisfying experience. A question to consider is, does total honesty always benefit your relationship? Open and honest communication is vital to the success of relationships; brutal honesty on the other hand is not. When is it okay to not tell the whole truth? There are times when an omission or partial truth simply avoids upsetting the other person unnecessarily. For example the response to the classic question, “Does this dress make me look fat?” perhaps should not be, “Yes, it sure does.” A more tactful, but possibly less truthful answer might be, “The other dress is more flattering.”
Scott Peck suggested 6 rules for withholding or keeping a secret:
1. Never tell a lie.
2. Remember that withholding the truth is always potentially a lie and a significant moral decision is required. (Not something to be done lightly)
3. Never withhold the truth for personal gain (to gain power, to be accepted or liked, or to protect your values from challenge)
4. Always base the decision entirely upon the needs of the person you are withholding the truth from.
5. Genuine love for the other person is required to responsibly make this decision.
6. Ask yourself if sharing this information will benefit or hurt the other person. (Remember that we are more likely to underestimate their capacity to handle the truth)
It may seem like a contradiction to say that we should fight fair, but fighting dirty is a definite relationship killer. Unfortunately far too many couples resort to dirty tactics when their tempers flare. Although it may momentarily feel satisfying to win that battle, just remember that each time you destroy your partner in a fight you put your relationship at greater risk of failing. Here are some suggestions that can help you to solve disagreements in a positive way:
Be Respectful This is true at all times. Name calling, sarcasm or nasty teasing are never a good idea. If you slip and say something disrespectful apologize right away.
Validate Each Other's Thoughts and Feelings Saying things like, "It seems that you are really frustrated and I hear that you would like me to . . . " helps the other person to feel heard and understood. This can this means that one person talks at a time, rather than trying to outshout each other.
Make The Problem The Problem Visualize that it is the two of you against the problem. Try not to make each other the problem.
Tackle One Problem At A Time Don't get side tracked into bringing up all the past issues you can think of. Deal with the problem at hand.
Use "Time Outs" Wisely If you find that either partner's temper is getting hot, take a time out. If your partner requests a time out, honor that request. Use the time out to calm yourself down. Make sure that after the time out is over you finish dealing with the problem.
Listen to Understand This is probably one of the most important things that you can do to reduce conflict. Everyone wants to feel hear and understood. Giving that gift to your partner may make it easier for him/her to listen to you.
Deal With Needs Rather Than Positions Rather than taking a stand and sticking to it, try to identify the needs underneath your position. Try to find a way for both of you to get what you need, perhaps not exactly what you think you each want, but a way that works for both.
Communicate Clearly Don't play games, or beat around the bush. You cannot solve a problem if you cannot understand what the problem is.
Forgive and Accept Each Other Forgiveness and acceptance are incredibly healing. Be kind to each other.
Happy couples tend to express gratitude for each other and gratitude for being together. How are you doing in this department? Do you feel lucky to be together? Focusing on the things that you are grateful for about your partner and about your relationship adds positive energy to your relationship. Make a conscious effort to spend more time talking about the good things in your relationship. Try to eliminate complaining about your problems. Complaining does not solve problems. Smile at each other, look each other in the eye and share with each other the reasons that you feel blessed to be together.
As an experiment try the following: Each morning when you first wake up, mentally list and picture in your mind at least five things that you are grateful about your partner and your relationship. Each night before you sleep, do the same. Invite that feeling of gratitude each morning and night for at least 30 days. Pay attention and notice how you feel when you are visualizing and making your gratitude list. Notice how you feel during the day. Notice how you interact with your partner.
The beauty of an experiment is that you cannot fail. The purpose of an experiment is to gather information. What do you learn from completing this experiment? Is this something worth continuing?
Susan Derry, B.Ed., M.S.Psy., R.P.C.
Professional Counselor & Life Coach
Co-author of Marriage Prep: Beginnings a downloadable marriage preparation course
Co-author of Intimate Sex: Manual for Lovemaking, a sex manual for couples
Offers a free Nurturing Marriage Ezine