Hey, welcome back! The last post I started a conversation about conscious loving on purpose. I told you that there were three things you needed to know to be successful in a committed relationship or marriage. In case you missed it or just forgot, first you have to learn the basic principles of successful relationships. You also have to consciously practice until those principles become habits. That’s a key thing you’re going to be hearing from me in this space. Conscious, on purpose practice or action is the key to a powerful, empowered life whether you’re in a relationship or single, so remember this! Finally I said that you will need to experiment and innovate using some of those principles you’ve learned and practiced. In other words you’ve got to put some funk in your style! Your love relationship should be like a jazz, R & B, hip hop or gospel set.
The best Soul musicians always know the basics of the music they are playing, but once they get the basics down they feel free to innovate. That’s where the funk is in the creative innovation as they allow themselves to play off of the other people in the group. Wow, wouldn’t it be fun if you could riff and funk and create with your love partner like that? Well hold on, we’re going to give you some good stuff to make that possible right here, so keep coming back.
Back to Principles
In this post I want to share the principles that will help your relationship work right. We’re starting with the stuff you can do to make it good. We’ll come back later to share with you the things you might be doing to mess stuff up, but we’ll begin with what works. I’m betting that a lot of this will be familiar to you, even if you don’t think your relationship is going well. Even a broke clock is right twice a day right? I’m certain that even if things don’t seem to be going right today, there have been some days when you got it right. One of the things you have to get good at is learning how to notice what’s good and nurture it with each other. In other words you have to start remembering the good times on purpose. We’ll come back to that later.
Your Love Should Not Be an Accident!
I focused last time on the idea that a lot of folks approach relationships like a bad accident. We even call it “falling in love”, ouch! Then most folk after falling in love, wander around blindly trying to figure out how to make it work. The really good thing is that over the past fifty years or so, there have been real efforts to research, study and understand what makes intimate relationships work and what makes them fail. The overwhelming evidence points to the fact that relationships succeed or fail based on the practical things people do. The other thing that I can say with a little bit of confidence is that relationships today in the twenty-first century can not succeed using the expectations and ways of being in relationship that our great grand parents, our grand parents or even our parents had in the twentieth century!
Marriage Ain’t What it Used to Be
Let’s be honest, even as few as fifty years ago most marriages were based on a principal of commodity exchange and unequal gender balances where most women were told to perfect her cleaning, cooking and child care and seduction skills in the hope of finding a man who would take care of her, bring home the income, and be her representative in the public world. In exchange she agreed to be obedient, submissive and make sure that his home was well kept and he and the children were nurtured and healthy. It was an exchange based in built in and assumed inequality guaranteeing men the privilege of being real heads of the household, unchallenged. If a woman wanted the social protection and access without conflict to the social sphere it was important that she played the commodity exchange game. This was a game that was pretty much rigged and set for the benefit of men.
Look for Your Friend
Well that was then, but now, because women have legal access to the education, skill training income possibilities and social capital that used to belong to men, it’s a different game. Built-in inequality no longer guarantees men access to unlimited choices of women. Though it’s painful to hear for some men, women no longer need men for social survival. That means that twenty-first century relationships have to be built and maintained on a different principle. The research shows that the most successful relationships today are based not on unequal commodity exchange but on egalitarian friendships. That’s right, your best chance of having a good stable and happy marriage today is to make sure your partner is your friend!
Three Characteristics of a Good Relationship
Now I know some of you out there are slapping yourself up-side the head and giving me a big “Duh” because for you I’m stating the obvious, but I’m telling you, you’d be surprised at how many couples forget to be friends after the first year or so of a relationship. They just sort of let things run along on automatic pilot trusting in the magic of falling in love. In my practice I teach couples that good relationships often have three characteristics that reflect that you and your partner are be-friending each other. And just in case you haven’t got the point yet, successful couples are always, consciously befriending each other. So what are these characteristics of a good befriending relationship?
1. Multi-Level Intimacy
First relationships that work well usually have multi-level intimacy. I’m not talking about just sex here, though that’s really important (and we’ll talk about that on another posting) but intimacy is that thing that insures good sex long before you get to the main event. Couples who do well share physical intimacy like caresses, holding hands and hugs and kisses throughout their day. These couples share mental / intellectual intimacy by having ongoing conversations and check-ins to keep up with each others lives. Remember when you first got together, and you talked about everything all the time! Well couples who have good relationships keep doing that on purpose even years into the relationship. Finally couples who practice multi-level intimacy share emotional intimacy together. That means they allow themselves to be vulnerable and to share their inner lives, emotions and thoughts with each other. They are emotional risk takers with each other in an attempt to know and be known (yeah, that’s a hard one but it’s worth it).
The second characteristic of couples who have good relationships is that they practice reciprocity with each other. There is a give and take in the relationship and sharing of responsibility. They also compromise and make sure that each partner feels valued and valuable in the relationship. When they have problems to solve they make sure that both their voices are heard and respected and decisions are based on knowledge, experience and the context of the moment for that issue and not on predestined privilege based on gender, age or some other intangible root of authority. Now I know that’s going to be a hard one for some of you out there, especially some of the brothers, but we can revisit this idea later.
3. Mutual Meaning and Purpose
Finally, couples who do well together and find success in their relationship, work on a mutual sense of meaning and purpose . These couples share the experience of going in the same direction. They have a sense of US-ness between them. Now this does not happen overnight. In fact it takes time and patience before you can get there. I mean it’s not easy bringing all of your own family stuff to this new relationship and deciding what practices and meanings and rituals you keep and which ones you can give up and which ones of your partners you decide to share in and then which new practices, meanings, and rituals you create together. It takes patience, compromise, physical, emotional, and intellectual intimacy, reciprocity and more to build that protective wall around your relationship that sets the boundary defining the Us in Y’all as we say down here in the South.
These three characteristics of couples who are doing well and consciously loving each other on purpose are just a few of the principles I hope you will be open to learning as we continue sharing in this forum. If you’ve got questions or comments or if you have a topic related to relationships or mental health that you’d like to see me write about leave me a message and I’ll be happy to follow up with you. Until the next time, remember to keep loving each other on purpose!