Last weekend, we attended the wedding of the daughter of a good friend. The day was beautiful and the ceremony was a loving, personal commitment for the two of them. We really enjoyed being there.
The ceremony was a traditional, Christian ceremony and the vow “Till death do us part” was of course included.
Because we are relationship coaches and we spend a lot of time working with people on their relationship issues to help them create closer, more loving relationships, we couldn’t help but think that keeping the vow “Till death do us part” truly isn’t the tough part in a committed relationship.
Before you think we’ve lost our minds, here’s why we say this… Many people decide to live together forever and to fulfill this commitment. We all know people who are fulfilling it but their relationship has lost its life, and passion.
In these relationships, it’s clear that the two people no longer enjoy being together. They may not even like each other anymore, but because of their commitment, they are still together.
We are certainly not advocating divorce in these types of relationships just because the life has gone out of them. Also, we aren’t suggesting that you should or shouldn’t make this vow when you get married. That is totally up to you.
In our opinion, more than longevity, the vow that really needs to be made to each other is the moment-by-moment commitment to stay open in love to each other rather than to close down in fear, especially when things get tough. There are millions of ways our thoughts keep us from opening to each other.
Here are just a few… “He doesn’t care what I think anyway…” “She just wants my money…” “An affair is no big deal…” “If I could just get these kids through college…” “I wish he wouldn’t look at other women that way…” “We just can’t seem to communicate…”
So if many of us have these thoughts, or similar ones, how do we stay open in love to our partner even when we think he or she is being unreasonable, irrational or any number of things?
In our opinion, being able to know what to do when we are faced with these kinds of thoughts and feelings is at the very heart of whether you can truly be happy together or not. It’s whether you can do your inner work on a moment-by-moment basis that keeps your heart from shutting down.
John finds that he’s always coming home late and his wife Jody is exasperated with him. It’s a simple thing– John could call her when he is going to be late but he doesn’t get around to it. Maybe John is procrastinating, maybe he just forgets and loses track of time, maybe he’s passive-aggressive, or maybe he secretly feels like his freedom is being taken away.
Whatever is going on, there are things that both of them could do to draw closer in situations just like these. We all have our inner work to do and in John’s case his inner work is to become more conscious, more focused, and more present to his commitment (assuming they’ve made one about this subject) as it gets later in the day.
If it looks like he’s not going to get home on time, his commitment is to call Jody and let her know. This suggestion is not meant to restrict John’s freedom but to be a simple courtesy so Jody won’t wonder where he is and so she can make plans accordingly for the early part of the evening.
Jody’s inner work, on the other hand, is completely different from John’s. She knows he has challenges getting home on time and staying focused and so her job is to catch him doing it “right” and appreciating him when he does. When he remembers to call, Jody can tell him how she’ll be excited to see him when he gets home. When he doesn’t follow through, Jody can and should let him know about her upset or disappointment AND at the same time love him anyway (That’s the tough part).
Both require practice, but if they can do the kinds of things we’re going to suggest, they can continue to deepen their love. What we’re talking about is negotiating the small day-to-day challenges and loving through your differences. This is what brings you closer together– when you can open your heart to each other no matter what’s going on. When you can open your heart when you’d rather close down or react in a different way.
We’re not saying that you can’t have boundaries and that you have to put up with situations that are unhealthy and potentially damaging to you or your relationship. We’re saying that if you are no longer willing to settle for mediocrity in relationships, that you open yourself to love, even in moments of upset and challenge.
To help you do this, here are a few ideas…
1. If your partner is usually kind and generous but on a particular day, he/she isn’t so kind or generous–feel deep into their heart and love them anyway. Instead of lashing out at him/her, simply breathe and just know that this person is your beloved who is having a non-typical moment.
2. Speak from your heart and not from your head when you need to tell your beloved how you are feeling about challenges you may be having with him or her. To speak from your heart, you actually pull your attention away from your head/mind, and focus on your heart area as you describe what you are feeling. If you do, your beloved will be able to hear and feel what you are saying with greater understanding.
3. When you communicate, talk to and listen to your partner as if he/she is the most important person to you. If you treat anyone like they are truly important, they will respond from a feeling of appreciation, reverence and respect.
While it’s our intention in our own relationship to be together forever, and we certainly value longevity as a positive trait in a relationship, we know that people can have it all–longevity and connection, trust and passion.
In order for you to have the best relationship possible, we urge you to focus on those little things that happen moment-by-moment that make all the difference in your relationship and can determine your level of happiness.