How to Grow Your Relationship

holding_new_plant_o4i8I have to admit that I am no green thumb. Plants under my care tend not to thrive. The truth is that whenever I have had a young plant, I usually begin with loads of enthusiasm which tends to peter off as time goes by. If we think about it, many of us treat our significant relationships or marriages like this; we begin with enthusiasm only to allow them to languish in neglect.

And a relationship is like plant. It’s a living, breathing thing which requires loads of attention if it is to grow and thrive. If, however, we pursue our relationships on automatic pilot instead of with thought or intention, then we run the risk of missing valuable “growth-moments”. When that plant becomes dry and withered because of a lack of water, sunlight or nourishing soil, then it will take some pruning, watering and overall care to get it back to a healthy state.

If our relationship is suffering with neglect and needs an injection of life and renewal, then the following  pointers should help us maximize growth.

  • Utilize confrontation wisely: If we are constantly unhappy with the up-turned toilet seat, or with our partner’s propensity to be a workaholic; if we are bored stiff with sex or hate the fact that we have virtually no romantic couple time; then now is the time to open our mouths wide and speak. Suffering in silence or being a relationship martyr is dis-empowering and self-destructive. Practicing the fine art of loving confrontation with disarming ‘I feel’ statements, as opposed to harsh accusations, can go a long way towards improving relational quality.
  • Take responsibility for your own happiness:  Ensuring relationship growth is a two-sided deal because both partners share equal responsibility. While one may be responsible for outright change, the other is equally responsible for facilitating that change. Admittedly, it is very easy to blame someone else for our own misery. It is, however, equally important to look within to see where we have let ourselves down. Very often we can internalize our life-disappointments and project this unhappiness unto our spouse. Taking responsibility for our own peace of mind may mean deliberately letting go of past hurts in our relationship or previous ones.
  • Practice self-love: As women we want to be loved and told that we are beautiful, sexy and desirable. Amazingly, some of us can’t stand the best bone in our own bodies. We are filled with self-loathing and self-rejection every time we stare at ourselves in the mirror. If we are unable to say to ourselves “girl you look fine”, then why on earth would we expect our man to tell us this. Low self-esteem and self-recrimination are tangible states of being which affect the way we carry ourselves. This negativity can be reversed through daily declarations which affirm that we are indeed beautiful.  If there is anything we do need to change, then we can actively pursue this while understanding that our worth is not tied to our looks.
  • Pursue dreams: Some of us have been taught that it is vain or even self-serving, to focus too much on ourselves. As a consequence, we usually place the needs of others before our own; ALL THE TIME. Of course I wholeheartedly believe that there is a juncture in our lives when this is entirely necessary. When we have babies and small children we learn about this all too well and this is perhaps as it should be. But there is nothing wrong with also pursuing what makes us happy or fulfilled; as long as it’s legal and no one is being hurt. Women, who constantly sacrifice their dreams and goals and never share such with their partners or children, run the risk of becoming angry and resentful. On the other hand, when we feel happy and fulfilled, we bring a positive energy to the relationship which is infectious.
  • Shed unrealistic expectations: Falling in love does not mean finding a perfect soul-mate who will meet our every emotional and sexual need; this is a myth. There can be a sense of purpose or even destiny in partnering with someone who does share our vision and values. No one, however, is perfect. We should therefore shed unrealistic expectations. These can include beliefs that our partner should anticipate our every need, read our minds even before we speak, know exactly what we mean when we do speak, be the perfect lover, kisser, gourmet chef, provider, leader, handyman, disciplinarian, planner and the list can go on. While there may be such men somewhere out there on Mars, I haven’t met many of them. Accept that neither one of you is perfect and determine to improve together.

Bouncing Back From An Affair

sexless-marriageThe idea of “bouncing back” from an affair actually doesn’t sit very well with me. It seems somehow to suggest a happy, cheerful recovery period and belies the stress inherent in dealing with the aftermath of infidelity. When I think of the movement past an affair, I tend to think more of a difficult, painful, reluctant crawl back to wherever that couple was before or hopefully to an even better place.

When a relationship which is designed to be sexually exclusive, is threatened by a third party, then that relationship runs the risk of becoming unglued at the seams. Sex with an “outside” partner, threatens the core of what marriage stands for; the idea of forsaking all others. While there are a variety of reasons why people cheat, if a coupe desires to move beyond the affair, then there is the need for honest reflection, to determine why the affair happened.

The source

People cheat for a variety of reasons including relationship neglect, boredom, sexual dissatisfaction, emotional disconnection, sexual greed, unhappiness, low self-esteem, and this list goes on. This knowledge of “why” is critical because it identifies the relationship’s weaknesses. If the couple intends to go forward, this information will be necessary to preserve relationship health and to safeguard it against future threats. This of course assumes that the underlying issues are exposed and remedied through honest and open communication.

Responsibility

While a knowledge of what made the relationship vulnerable to infidelity is great, the reason for cheating should not be used to excuse the act. In other words, the partner who understands why he/she cheated must also be willing to assume responsibility for the affair. It is therefore never kosher to intimate that your partner made you do it. The guilty party must own up to a moment of weakness, bad judgment, a lack of integrity, selfishness and the like. Admitting where you went wrong is critical to the experience of forgiveness.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness should be seen as a mutual, active process and not as a one-time event. The words “I forgive you” must never be forced or said prematurely. The victim of infidelity needs to be given time to grieve the relationship which was. This grieving process is experienced differently by individuals and may be evidenced by emotional and sexual withdrawal, depression, anger, rage, crying or sessions of screaming and throwing things. Whatever the case, it is critical that the victim of infidelity is allowed to vent before there is even am attempt at “fixing” things.

This venting is also often a process and not a one-off event which is characterized by the convenient forgetting of all that has occurred. An affair forever changes a relationship and even though healing is possible, what was lost can never be regained and as painful as this might be for both parties to accept, it must be, if there is to be true progress. This process may be assisted through counseling, therapy or personal pursuits like journaling which help to clarify difficult emotions.

Redefining

Redefining the damaged relationship is necessary and should be seen as an on-going part of the healing process. Deciding together how you want your new relationship to look is going to be a major step in getting your couple groove back. Since an affair involves a fair amount of deceit, then coming clean about all aspects of the affair will be critical to moving forward. This means a new commitment to honesty and accountability, in an attempt to rebuild trust. Questions are to be expected and should be answered candidly.

Since rekindling a healthy sex life is likely to be more challenging, the guilty party should take the cue from his/her partner. While sex itself can be a great healer, it should never be forced prematurely. At the same time, carving out special time together for meaningful communication, attentiveness, romantic gestures and the like, are useful strategies for reconnecting as a couple.

Protecting Your Relationship From Emotional Infidelity

We have to exercise clear controls for ensuring that our relationships do not cross the emotional boundaries which could harm our primary relationship.

We have to exercise clear controls for ensuring that our relationships do not cross the emotional boundaries which could harm our primary relationship.

As human beings we all have an overpowering need for human connection. We want to feel as though we matter. It is important that we are affirmed and that our worth is validated. Most of us therefore enter marriage expecting that our spouse will meet our deep need for love and acceptance. In an ideal world where we all came from well-adjusted families, this would probably be true. Since, however, we enter marriage with our own individual, often flawed emotional life-scripts; sometimes we are not exactly poised to meet someone else’s emotional needs. This is especially so, if when growing up ours were not met.

In other words, inadequate parenting or abuse, can affect our ability to reach out to someone else. So while our spouse may have a valid need, we may not be in an emotionally healthy place to either recognize or meet that need. Additionally, unmatched marital expectations, different socialization, poor communication, even gender-influenced ways of relating, can contribute to emotional disconnection in marriage or other committed relationships.

This leads us to the issue of emotional infidelity. In the same way that we pursue extra-marital sex because we need to have specific needs met, we also pursue extra-marital, emotional attachments because a basic need may not be met in our marriage. In the same way that sexual exclusivity defines marriage, there should also be a peculiar or distinctive quality to the emotional intimacy which should characterize our marriage or committed relationship.

Does this mean that we should not have meaningful friendships outside of our primary relationship or marriage? I don’t think so necessarily, but when such friendships are with the opposite sex, we have to exercise clear controls for ensuring that such relationships do not cross the emotional boundaries which could harm our primary relationship.

So what exactly does an inappropriate emotional attachment look like and is it always dangerous? Deep, opposite sex, emotional friendships are indicated and become lethal in a number of scenarios. These include when:

1. The relationship replaces the deep, meaningful communication which should take place between a couple

2. The friendship causes divided loyalty in the marriage or primary relationship, where the partner prefers to spend time sharing with his/her friend as opposed to sharing with his/her spouse or partner

3. The connection fosters sexual attraction. It is known that the more we open up to someone we feel emotionally connected to, the more vulnerable we are to becoming sexually involved with that person; in this way emotional infidelity becomes a precursor to sexual infidelity

4. The spouse feels uncomfortable or threatened by the friendship and perceives that the intimacy of the marriage or relationship is under threat

5. The emotional tie is accompanied by flirting, touching, or sexual innuendo but stops short of actual intercourse. This can encourage the guilty spouse to be misguided into thinking that nothing wrong is being done while the marriage is actually being steadily eroded.

Guarding Against Emotional Infidelity

Preserving the emotional sanctity of the marriage may not be a big deal for couples who have solid relationships and connect regularly. For those with communication challenges, or for relationships with tensions or unmet needs, greater vigilance may be required. Whatever the state of the relationship, however,  some thought and discipline is needed if the uniqueness of the marriage or committed relationship is to be preserved. The following tips should be helpful.

1. Be open and honest with your partner about your expectations in the relationship; share your feelings about the issue of your emotional needs and please make them known in detail.

2. Cultivate a close relationship by spending more time together. If you are tending your relationship, then it will be very difficult for your relationship to be intruded upon by any outside source.

3. Set rules with respect to boundaries with friends of the opposite sex. Insist that any close friend also becomes a friend of the couple.

4. As a couple, agree not to have secret liaisons like lunches or after-work dinners with someone either of you feel emotionally attracted to.

5. Practice disclosure when appropriate, if you feel yourself drawn to someone other than your spouse or partner. Being open about extra-marital attraction, dis-empowers it and encourages accountability in the relationship.

6. Don’t expect your partner to meet your every need. Seeking ways to develop yourself or to enjoy your own company lifts some of the responsibility and weight from your partner and makes you less emotionally vulnerable to others.