A Valentine’s Primer

Here are some of the essential challenges an intimate relationships asks of us.  Master these skills, and you’re well on your way to having a Happy Valentine’s Day:

  • Build and/or expand “us.”  In every troubled relationship, there tends to be a small “us” and a large “you” or “I.”  The goal, therefore, is to increase “us,” making your relationship binocular rather than monocular.
  • Openly speaking your thoughts and feelings, and encouraging your partner to speak his or hers.  Every love relationship among equals has this same vital give and take, which requires all of us to acknowledge and respect the differences between us.  That means putting more emphasis on dialogue and less on who’s right.
  • Speak wisely and at the right time.  Also, refrain from speaking unwisely, or at the wrong time.
  • Know what you can give, how much you can give, what words or behaviors you can’t or won’t accept, what you require from a partner and from a relationship, and where your limits are.  Then communicate those clearly and effectively.
  • Being emotionally safe.  This means I must remove my reactivity, defensiveness, anger, hostility, sarcasm and negativity from our dialogues—and for me to listen before responding.  Being emotionally safe also means that I will refrain from threatening the relationship or (hinting that I’d be happier without you), that I refrain from name calling, belittling or disrespect.
  • Staying in touch.  Being physically demonstrative and affectionate.  Initiating romance and/or being receptive to romantic gestures.  Making every effort to keep the fire burning.
  • What do you want—for yourself, for the relationship and for your family—say, five years from now?  See if you can combine your goals/dreams/hopes/priorities into an agreement about what the two of you are shooting for together.
  • Each of us must take it upon ourselves to become the guardian of our relationship, protecting and maintaining the connection between us.
  • Good communication is reciprocal sharing, which is more than just bombarding someone with your thoughts and feelings.  It’s also about knowing the difference between “talking at” and “talking with” someone, being interested and inquisitive about the other person’s emotions, needs and desires, being an extremely good listener, and hearing the other person’s feelings without being defensive, hostile or dismissive. It is intoxicating to feel that someone is truly interested in what you’re saying and feeling.
  • Build a deeper friendship with each other.  Figure out how to have fun with each other, and then do it consistently and regularly.  If you quit enjoying each other, your intimacy will begin to grow stale and brittle.  Try some of the simple things: take a hike, go to a movie or give each other a massage.
  • Emotional presence.  There’s a willingness to share our inner lives with each other:  our thoughts, feelings, hopes, hurts, yearnings and fears.  We are nurturing to each other, are generally helpful and compassionate about our partner’s struggles, and we’re caring of each other’s well being.  We have both taken down our walls—even in the face of our partner’s insensitivity, withdrawal, anger or mistakes.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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