Most people can’t believe that I ‘let’ my husband photograph beautiful women without their clothes on. The ‘me’ from 10 years ago would never have believed this either. I remember one day finding a picture of a hot little lady on my boyfriend’s computer and freaking out completely. I instantly felt not good enough. I cried. I’m pretty sure I girl-slapped his arms. I got fixated on all his female friends and obsessed with the idea he was only with me because he couldn’t be with them. I felt lonely all the time, like we were on different planets. I wrote songs about breaking up, and we did, once. I was doing everything wrong. I knew so little about relationships and was living out the same old patterns that saw me break up with my first boyfriend who I had convinced myself was ‘the love of my life’. 10 years later, my husband and I are happier than ever- as individuals and together.
Although we still have more work to do, I really wanted to share some advice that changed the way I saw and experienced my relationship. Try some of these out and you will instantly feel more fulfilled and empowered. These can work in non-romantic relationships too, so please feel free to try these out with a close friend, your child, mother, boss, colleague or anyone really who is a big part of your life. Let me know how these go for you in the comments section, and of course share any of your own beautiful insights and advice. In no particular order...
1. Listen for and Respond to their Values
Aim to notice, acknowledge, act and speak in accordance with what your partner values. Work out what is important to them. Most of the time you can just guess based on what they talk about. For example, if your partner’s favourite topic of conversation is new scientific breakthroughs, you could guess they value science, learning, sharing knowledge or being seen as knowledgeable. If you know this then you can feed that back to them when appropriate. It also makes sense that if you want to gush about feelings or topics your partner is not comfortable with, he or she may either really enjoy the learning, or feel completely uncomfortable not being seen as in-the-know. When you keep your partner’s values in mind, a lot makes sense, and any critical judgment or frustrations quickly melt away.
More important than knowing general values is understanding your partner’s relationship values. A few years back I asked my man, Dan, about what he values in our relationship. We both did our top 5s. As I recall, acceptance, as a value, was right at the top of our lists. Easy peasy. As long as we accept each other, we are aligned with our highest value. Now, I was actually stunned that Dan had that conversation with me. I am gung ho into personal development, but it’s not really his thing in the way I define it (although, damn that boy develops himself!). So I felt privileged to be able to get these straight answers. Again, if your partner would not be into this talk, you can just guess. Communication was on my list, love was on both of ours, loyalty on neither… It was a really interesting exercise. Other values you may consider are sex, time together, openness, mutual growth and fun. You may be wondering whether different values mean conflicting values, but in my experience (my own and working with others), different values are not usually a problem. If they are, values can be shifted and reordered. But simply staying mindful of another’s values really helps me understand behaviour, communicate about the relationship and adjust my actions so my partner feels more fulfilled.
If you just had a brainwave and realised your own or your partner’s values, you can share them in the comments below or just write them down for yourself.
2. Don’t Rely on Your Relationship for Happiness
Relationships make us happy, but don’t make them your only source of joy. It may sound corny, but it’s the holy grail of truths (or up there!) that the happier you are with yourself, the better you feel about other people. The better you can treat people. The less you make one relationship the be-all and end-all. You can bring a real positive energy to the relationship and you will have more clarity about what is going on. It also means that if something feels deeply wrong, you can get out because of your increasing self-value and respect.
Like many aspects of our lives, it is easy to see in retrospect how everything fits together. You can see when you are happy exactly what led to that. For me, getting involved in music, seeking and achieving some tangible goals in karate and loving my work meant that I was more fulfilled and that I could easily let go of what might normally having me stewing over my life, including aspects of my relationship. The compound effect of this was that my husband became a kick-arse photographer and the more he felt his value in this arena, the better we could feel about each other. I’m certain of this. We both say and mean that we love each other more than ever. At the same time, I’m pretty sure that I could be just fine without him, but I don’t want to be!
3. Know Your Partner’s Love Language
Now, you may have heard about love languages, so I am gonna explain this with a personal slant. There are different ways to communicate to a person that you love them. And each person has a preference for one or more of these ‘love languages’. Broadly, some people like to be ‘shown’ that they are loved or ‘told’. More specifically, some people like be shown through touch, or gifts, or through time spent together. Even more specifically, we may need to be touched in certain ways to feel especially fulfilled in love. I am particularly into kissing, public and over-the-top displays of affection (like doting Facebook posts) and handwritten notes. I’m also pretty sure that I feel loved when people feed me, only because that is my go-to strategy to show people I love them. You see, the way we want people to show us we love them is usually how we try to show them we love them. The trouble is, they don’t always have the same love strategy. If we feel loved when someone buys us something, chances are we will buy gifts for our love ones assuming that will make them feel loved. What if all they really need is a good conversation with you? What if they really need to have you sitting with them for a couple of hours? The gift may not make them feel loved in the way you would imagine.
If you are feeling unloved in your relationship, try asking your partner how they know that you love them. Here is a paraphrased conversation with my husband that I used to guess his preference.
Me: How do you know that I love you? Like I obviously love you, but how can you tell?
Dan: (says something explicit)
Me: Is that your final answer?
Dan: It’s the affection you show me and the little smiles and hugs and just everything put together that adds up.
So even without mentioning the Love Languages, I can tell that physical touch and signs are more important than the verbal when it comes to my hubby. I could say ‘I love you’ til the cows come home, but it would have the same impact for him as would morning snuggles.
4. Say What You Want
Pretty obvious. Steal some of these starting points if it makes life easier.
- ‘There’s something important to me that I really want to talk about.’
- ‘I know you love me- and there is also another way I would like you to show me.’
- ‘There’s something that makes me feel bad that you probably don’t realise cos I haven’t said anything.’
It doesn’t help to stew on what’s not working or feed all your attention into accommodating your partner without saying what you want. Speak up.
5. Only Judge Your Relationship by Your Relationship
If you look outside your relationship to work out whether you have a good thing going, in my opinion, you are doing it wrong. All sorts of relationships can be healthy, fulfilling and just what we need. Arranged marriages, huge age disparities, high school sweethearts- all valid. Dan and I have pretty much opposite dispositions and approaches to aspects of life, and honestly, this challenges me in a way that makes me GROW. Because growth is so important to me, I see this as a blessing. Dan has taught me patience, to slow down, the value of hard work and the value of down time. Just by being himself. We don’t chat about philosophy or literature, but that’s what I have friends for! Our wedding was the only time we have danced together and I bloody love dancing. Again, I can find people to dance with- no prob. Some couples happily do everything together, and if I thought this was how it is meant to be, I would feel seriously disappointed. But judging by our own relationship, I know I have a good thing going.
6. Know What On-Track Looks Like for You
For me, I feel like my husband and I are on-track when we are resolving issues quickly (we seriously never fight, except I get a bit sooky when I’m hormonal) and when we are happy to see each other and spend time together. I also define my relationship as awesome because I feel FREE- never trapped or over-dependent. You may know you and your partner are on track because you more readily compromise or because the sex is better or because you are talking more. Remember to ask for more of what you want if you are not getting it, and ask in the way your partner needs to hear it.
7. Work it!
When you get two human beings together- two of the most complex creatures, it may not all be effortless. You can have effortless encounters in your life, multiple people who feel like soulmates and past lovers who seemed to fall out of the heavens. But relationships take work. Nurturing. Don’t resist this fact. And, as I choose to believe, work is beautiful.
BONUS BECKY TIPS!
- Get cute little rituals going that create intimacy or perpetuate a feeling of love. We do something with our dog called ‘family cuddle time’ where we all get on the bed and cuddle our dog Olly and each other. It’s immediately uplifting and it’s the kind of thing where we just accept it will be done.
- When the grass seems greener somewhere else, remind yourself why you choose your partner. What is it that they offer you? What do you love about them? Why do you choose him/her everyday? Stay conscious of this to combat any natural doubts that you may have.
Other little sentiments. What do you think of these?
- Again, choose your partner every day!
- Don’t stay in a soul-destroying relationship. If someone doesn’t let you shine, get the hell out!
- Choose commitment over loyalty.
- Remember that there is more to you than your relationship.
- One person working on a relationship is better than none!
- A change in perspective may be all your relationship needs.
- Don’t even try to own a person! That is just silly. Even if there is a ring on your finger, nobody owns you.
And in the overwhelming spirit of what we do here, trust that when you work on yourself and take responsibility for your life, things absolutely get better. There are plenty of other relationship gems of advice that may be perfect for you, so if there is anything you wish to ask- something specific to your unique situation, get in touch with me. Simply subscribing and replying to any of my emails will get a conversation going.
Do comment with anything that worked for you or any further queries, tips and stories that could help our readers. Relationships are super complex, so speaking openly about them can be really empowering.