If your relationship is important to you, I encourage you to find a way to nourish and protect it. Now.
Relationships are fragile. Vulnerable. Breakable.
Why? Because they exist between two fragile, vulnerable, breakable people.
My two closest relationships, the one with my husband and the one with my daughter, have both been fragile at times. Most of the times the bruises and cracks are temporary and easily repaired. Good communication, clear intentions, a willingness to apologize and ask for forgiveness, respect for the other, and the sheer force of deep love has been enough to keep the bonds strong. But my marriage has been fragile to the point of being broken to pieces before. I had to learn through the school of hard knocks that nourishing my marriage, and actively guarding it, are necessary to the health of it. But what does that look like?
How do I protect my relationships?
The first need of any and every relationship is safety, which translates as trust and commitment. I wrote about it here. Without safety, not much else truly registers. If my relationship with you doesn’t feel safe, those gifts you give me will not truly matter. If your commitment to me feels shaky, I am not likely to let my guard down with you and be truly intimate because… well… why would I? So building trust and commitment are the first ways to protect a relationship.
The first need of any and every relationship is safety, which translates as trust and commitment.
Ask yourself these questions.
Do I do what I say I am going to do? (Translation: Am I trustworthy?)
If you say you are going to take on a responsibility on the home front, do you do it without being asked? And if you promise to call if you are running late, do you do it? If you are working on your temper or your irritability, is that effort showing?
Do I have my partner’s back? (Translation: Is my partner a priority?)
If my partner needs me for support or encouragement, am I there? What about if there is an emergency, say a death or an illness, do I rearrange my life in order to meet these new demands on the relationship?
So, these questions are the litmus tests of the first level of protecting your relationship and building a solid foundation.
I cannot tell you how many times I hear stories of betrayal around a death or illness. Or even, believe it or not, around child birth. A spouse’s father dies, and the partner will not take time out to attend the funeral. A child is hospitalized, and the partner makes the assumption that the other person will handle the details and is emotionally and physically uninvolved. A child is born, and the spouse cannot handle the lack of attention and has an affair.
The damage to relationships at times like these, times when the veil is thin and people are especially vulnerable, is often irreparable. So be wise, Friends. These are not times to mess up.
How do I nourish my relationship?
Whereas the hows and whys of protecting a relationship are pretty universal and clear, my mother would have called them “common sense”, the hows and whys of nourishing can be as unique and creative as the individual relationship. One size does not fit all.
Know your Self, Know your Partner. In Gottman language this would be called building your love maps. What makes you feel loved? Is it words of affirmation and fondness? Or do you prefer spending an evening out together? Perhaps you like a thoughtful, surprise gift or an affectionate afternoon in bed. It is important to know what registers with you, what truly nourishes you, and then you must communicate that. While it is supremely lovely if your partner knows you well enough to know that, remember that mind-reading is not a part of a healthy relationship.
How well do you know what nourishes your partner? If you think you know, try checking out your assumptions. “What’s your favorite way to spend time with me? When do you feel like our relationship is the strongest? If you had 24 hours to spend exclusively with me with no interruptions, how would you want to spend it?’
Many of you know that dancing is nourishing for me. And words of affirmation. And quality time together. I even wrote a blog about it.
Why then, do we protect and nourish our relationships.
Because LIFE IS MESSY! Shit happens. Sometimes we get clobbered.
And the safer and better nourished your relationship stays, the stronger and more resilient your relationships will be when life is messy and shit happens. So, Friends, don’t wait. Use this month to strengthen and build resilient relationships that can weather the storms of life and bring you joy and contentment.
Amy Sander Montanez, D. Min., LPC, LMFT has a private practice of individual psychotherapy and marriage counseling in Columbia, SC. Her book, Moment to Moment: The Transformative Power of Everyday Life, won Spirituality and Health’s top 100 books of the year. Amy is passionate about many things in life, but especially about psychology, spirituality, dancing, cooking, marriage, family, friends, traveling, and learning. www.amysandermontanez.com