Relationships are tricky. A good one can make your days joyful and exciting. A bad one can make every day seem like a never-ending battle. In the post Who is that person sitting beside me I discussed some of the adjustments that retirement often brings.
This time, I'd like to look at a few of the questions that should be asked as any serious relationship moves forward. Trust me, after 34 years of marriage and a decade of retirement I am more an expert in the questions than the answers. To get the most value from this post you will have to pause and think about your answers. I will generally be assuming a marriage relationship as the basis for the questions. But, any relationship, friendship, a relative, even work-oriented relationships can produce some of the same questions. So, if you are not married you should still find some benefit. Are you ready?
Go back to the beginning
Think back to when you and your significant other first became aware of each other. What was it that attracted you to that person? What qualities did he or she possess that made you think this may be the one? Over the years of being together it is easy to forget what made you willing to make a lifelong commitment with this person. What has changed? Are those attractions still there, only somewhat covered up by whatever builds up over time?
Since all of us change over time, you must ask what are you willing to overlook. If some of what attracted you to that person in the first place no longer exists in the same way, how important is that? While asking yourself, remember you have changed, too. This question goes both ways. With change as the only constant in life have you accepted the changes in your relationship?
Identify areas that need improvement
All relationships go through periods of ups and downs. But, it is quite important to recognize when a problem you are having with some area of your life is invading the relationship. Are you taking out that dissatisfaction on your spouse or best friend? Are you taking out misplaced anger or frustration on the person closest to you or a trusted co-worker?
Can you sense any warning signs of building problems? Spending a lot of time on solo projects or in separate rooms doesn't prove a problem, but can point to one. If two people don't enjoy spending time together there are often underlying reasons that need to be explored. Has conversation ceased? How about doing something together outside the home? Do you still have "date" nights? How about shared responsibilities? Does one person handle all the "important" stuff? If so, is it because of a belief that the other partner is incapable? That attitude is not conducive to a happy home.
Trust and honesty
Trust is everything. Without trust there can be no healthy relationship. Are there any trust issues that are harming your relationship? Have you openly discussed the problem? I'm afraid I've never read anything that says the loss of trust can be improved by ignoring it.
Regaining lost trust requires complete openness and quite a bit of time. It requires humility, compassion, empathy, and a willingness to move on from both sides. It requires a belief in the worth of the effort. It demands respect for the other person's feelings. Some issues of broken trust cannot be repaired. But you will never know if a good faith effort isn't made.
Think about new activities and interests
Over a period of time you and your significant other will lose interest in some activities and add new ones. Change is part of the human condition. For a relationship to remain healthy there should be at least a few of those activities that you two share. If the interests you once enjoyed together no longer turn you on, look for new ones you could enjoy together.
Compromise becomes important. If she loves to dance and you would rather have root canal work, occasionally you are going to have to find a dance floor and stumble around for awhile. Likewise, if you love watching grown men on skates bash into each other (that would be NHL hockey) your spouse or friend needs to join you at a game or two. Buy that person lots of food or drink. Explain why something played on ice has a rule against icing. The goal (pardon the pun) isn't to convert the other person to your level of interest in something. It is to share time together and show your willingness to support each other's passions.
Communication is crucial
It is commonly accepted that men aren't particularly verbal while women love nothing better than a good talk. This basic conflict between the sexes trips up a lot of relationships. Texting your feelings to a spouse isn't going to work long term. Discussing the plot line of a TV show isn't enough either. Sharing of emotions and beliefs is required. Reviewing each other's day must be more than a recitation of how hard you worked and how tired you are.
Communication is hard work. It involves a type of listening called reflective listening. This is when you briefly summarize what you believe the other person has said. Reflective listening is a sign of respect for the other person. You are not formulating your answer while he or she speaks, rather you are actively listening to what is being said. For a brief overview of reflective listening skills, click here. I was trained in its use as a spiritual counselor and can vouch for its effectiveness in open and meaningful communication.
Stop Thinking and Start Doing
OK, it is time to stop reading and start taking action. Relationships are dynamic. Every minute of every day it is shifting in some way. Your goal should be to have it shift in a positive direction. That will involve taking some action. Adjust your mindset, agree to some things you'd rather not do, and show a willingness to adapt. If your primary relationship is to grow, you're going to have do do some occasional heavy lifting.
Quite honestly, when I finished writing this, I realized I have a lot of work to do. I would rather have root canal work than dance, and I can go for long periods without uttering a word. After my wife reads this my heavy lifting will probably begin.