In this blog, I propose to you that hard work will help to make your love partnership vibrant and strong. But it takes a specific kind of work – work of the four winds – approaching from all four directions: North, South, East, and West.
Work and You
Ask yourself, what is your concept of “work”? Do you get pleasure, self-definition, a sense of mastery and/or self-esteem from a job well done/from working hard? And, do you add a healthy dose of play into the mix? Now apply your concept of work to how you approach your most important intimate relationship.
Work and Your Relationship
So I’m among those who, both personally and professionally, believe that it takes “work” to develop, enrich, and keep a healthy and growing relationship with your partner. And by that I mean, deliberate thoughtful effort on (almost) a daily basis. This “work” will help you reach your relationship goal: a partnership in which you feel safe in the world and secure in a special love where the relationship comes first. Stan Tatkin, PsyD, calls this a “couple bubble.” John Gottman, PhD, calls this building a “sound relationship house.” Both these well-known psychologists/researchers have helpful books – google them. Below, I’ve integrated my clinical experience as a couples psychologist with their research.
1. South Wind: Know Each Other
This means making “bids” for connection.
a) Be curious about the other – what s/he did, felt, saw each day. Invite the other into your internal world, often by asking open-ended questions. Say the “2nd & 3rd sentence” to elaborate and to enrich your conversation.
b) Know how your partner likes to connect (e.g., how much space vs. touching s/he needs).
c) Know how s/he regulates his/her emotions (e.g., slow burn? Or 0 to 100 upset?).
2. North Wind: Prioritize the Positive
When problems arise, e.g., when one of you gets upset or feels rejected or criticized, a) stay positive; b) see him/her as caring, not adversarial; c) focus on appreciation statements (try not to criticize and/or correct mistakes, or need to have the last word); d) make your launchings (e.g., bye in the morning or going to bed at night) and landings (e.g., arriving home each night) deliberate and loving. You should know when and where the other is coming and going.
3. East Wind: Manage Conflict
a) Soft (not hard) starts work best (e.g., “I’d appreciate if you could move your…”).
b) Accept your partner’s opinion, voice, and influence.
c) Repair immediately (e.g., “Sorry, I didn’t realize you felt that strongly…”). This de-escalates and helps to avoid a fight.
d) Compromise. See his/her perspective: you don’t need to be right. The relationship comes first.
e) Identify your core issues: about 2/3 of these will likely not change. Decide which those are and work on those where change and compromise are truly possible.
4. West Wind: Share Dreams, Values, and Meaning
When you share your time and feelings and innermost thoughts with your partner, you develop a shared narrative and deepen your connection and hope for the future.
These steps do take work and effort from you both. Try to keep these objectives on a low simmer in the back of your brain so you can use them as needed – and often. Do add some smiles and a sense of humor to the ways you know, look at, and speak with one another. This “work” can be playful, too! Value this work. It truly is “a ‘labor’ of love”!