Posted By: Kelly Seal Date: 12-15-2020 Comments: 0
A good, lasting relationship doesn’t just fall into place because two people are attracted to one another and get along well. The attraction makes you want to invest your time and love in that person, but relationships require more work – specifically, personal growth from both partners. Self-improvement is a necessary part of any strong relationship.
I hadn’t thought of how necessary this would be until I committed to my current partner. When things got hard in previous relationships, I tended to question my judgment – or worse, I blamed my unhappiness on my exes. When I began to do this with my current partner, I realized that it was an unhealthy practice, and I needed to understand why I was defaulting to blame so that I could build a stronger foundation in our relationship.
Here’s what I came to understand: I had the same growth work to do that I had when I was single. Nothing magically changed once I met my partner. I realized I was expecting our relationship to bring me happiness, instead of asking myself what I could do to create more joy and fulfillment in my life. I needed to understand how to nurture myself – what made me happy – to be able to give and receive happiness in my relationship.
You might have heard this before and understood it intellectually like I did. But in practice, it’s difficult to navigate, because inevitably things go wrong, you don’t communicate well with each other, or outside challenges put stress on your relationship (hello, COVID-19 quarantine!). Instead of finding reasons to blame your partner when things go wrong, or to expect him to change or react in a certain way that would please you, it’s time to take matters into your own hands.
Here’s the truth: in any relationship, there is a growth opportunity for us. We have the power to not only create change in our lives, but to create more happiness for ourselves. Our relationship challenges are often internal magnifying glasses, helping us to focus on issues that we haven’t quite resolved.
Here are a few self-improvement tips to get you started:
Listening isn’t a given, it’s a skill when it comes to relationships. Instead of going through the same old communication patterns, try this: stop, listen, and repeat back to your partner what they just said. (for example: “I understand what you said is…” or “I heard how you are feeling is…”) Don’t assume you know or understood what they meant – let them inform you. When you practice this exercise, you listen better. When you say it out loud, it helps you to understand and remember. Listening is a skill, and part of the self-improvement toolbox.
You might be feeling angry or frustrated, but the surest way to altering your headspace is to find something you are grateful for. In other words, it’s necessary to our own well-being and peace of mind – not to mention our relationships – to have a gratitude practice. You will find this to be the single most effective tool in strengthening relationships. It’s easy in the moment to feel slighted, but when you have a daily practice to remind yourself of the big picture, of the love in your relationship, you will find more peace and happiness overall.
It might sound a little juvenile, but as we get older, we get more stuck in our ways. We don’t like to be corrected. We assume we know things. Instead of deepening this mindset, try expanding your mind a bit more each day. It can be involved, like learning a new language or taking up a hobby or sport, or it can be small – like taking a walk and paying attention to what you see – the flowers, the animals, the birds. As Elizabeth Gilbert said in her book Big Magic, whatever makes you curious, follow that urge to discover.
Do what makes you happy.
This is not just a slogan, it’s a practice. For example, I know that I’m a people-pleaser, so I tend to agree to whatever someone else wants to do when I’m meeting friends, family, and yes – even my husband. Instead of aiming to please, I’ve made it a practice to carve out time for myself to do something I want to do, like hike a new trail or read a good book, because it fulfills me. Advocate for yourself and what you want to do, because nobody else will. And if you’re having trouble figuring it out? Go back to step number three: stay curious.
Relationships require the strength of both partners. When you practice self-improvement, you are showing love for both yourself and your partner.