As many of us prepare to gather our most important relationships together to celebrate Thanksgiving, I’d like to share with you a few thoughts on creating the best possible relationship between you and your partner. For those of you who are currently single, many of these ideas can be applied to your friendships and family members as well.
In a lot of ways, relationships are like gardens. They need watering, pruning and tending to in order to remain lush. If left unattended, you can imagine what a garden might look like. Living things need nourishment to sustain them.
Emotional safety is the glue that binds relationships – where both partners feel like they have a “safe base” to return to in each other. This kind of relationship environment does not occur spontaneously. It requires a bit of effort but the payoff can be well worth it!
Here are 5 ways that you can tend to your own relationship garden:
- Communicate: Communication is to relationships like water is to plants. As obvious as this may seem to some of you, the reality is that many couples don’t communicate often enough – or well enough. This is especially true for people who have chaotic lives with dual careers, kids and other external factors – which all have a tendency to inhibit communication. The important thing here is not to forget to at least check in with each other.
- Pull out the Weeds of Resentments: There are bound to be times when you or your partner behaves in a way that upsets the other. Rather than sit on it, discuss the incident and how it made you feel. The couples I see in my office who are the most distressed typically have a mountain of resentment built up between them.
- Make Time for the Relationship: If your lives are crazy, as many of ours are, still commit to making some time for each other. This can be a date night, weekly walk or whatever fits for you.
- Apologize: If you screw up, own it. Saying the words, “I’m sorry” demonstrates an ability to be humble, compassionate and validating. Also, showing empathy for your partner is one of the most powerful ways to create emotional safety.
- Bring on the Oxytocin: Laughter and hugging both have the ability to reduce stress hormones like cortisol (“fight or flight”) and increase oxytocin (love hormone.) Research has shown that a 20 second body hug can release oxytocin – I encourage you to try this the next time you see your partner and talk about your experience. Notice what goes on in your body.
Just like as a garden needs nurturing to thrive, so does your relationship. Keep the “watering can” filled and ready.