Relationships are hard work, and no matter how good we think we may be going we can always do more to improve them. That is not just the case for marriage relationships but for the wider family and even work relationships! There are no “three easy steps”, no short cuts or quick answers, because it is a long term continual process. When I started this list there were only seven points, then there were ten, and now I have settled on twelve and I’m sure I could find a few more if I tried! Instead of feeling overwhelmed, start working on:
1. Realistic expectations! Things never work out quite like you thought they would, so choose to enjoy the journey anyway.
2. Environment of acceptance! Because only then can you share the real you without fear and provide opportunities for effective communication.
3. Love to give not to get! Build a positive emotional bank so that when things go wrong and you make withdrawals, you will still have credit.
4. Assertiveness! Each party must be able to say how they feel, ask for clarification, not just assume they know! However, this must be done sensitively.
5. Time! Both quantity and quality! You cannot force quality, it grows out of giving enough quantity. If you say the relationship is important you have to prove it by giving it a priority in your planning.
6. Integrity! Recognise that truth and trust are the foundations for any relationship. It takes a long time to build but can quickly be destroyed. In short think before you speak and act.
7. Offer forgiveness! None of us are perfect, we all make mistakes so make sure that your relationship incorporates forgiveness. You may not forget, but you do up the right to get even and to punish.
8. No judging! Rather the challenge is to learn to offer the opposite – compassion, and give them the benefit of the doubt. If you say you care follow it up with action.
9. Separate facts from feelings! Is your response really about the facts or a symptom of your own baggage or your feelings? Make sure you do not take work issues home and dump the on your partner.
10. Hope! Shared plans for the future are essential to a healthy development of the relationship. Make time to dream together and plan how you are going to get there.
11. I lost in we! That will mean accepting the fact that you unique and different from your partner, and seeing that you are also complementary. Together you can achieve so much more than you can separately.
12. Physical, mental and spiritual balance! To build a holistic relationship you need to have shared values. Thus the foundation needs to be much more than just good sex, and include genuine friendship and exploring deep concepts together.
That might seem a like too many points, but if you start by talking through the list with the person you want to build a better relationship with, you might be surprised at how obvious it will become to pinpoint what is missing in your relationship. This process is not meant to be painful – it can be fun IF you adopt the right attitude!
Chaplain Ian S Whitley