Every life has its Trials by Fire, those situations that test the limits of our patience, our endurance, our resourcefulness and resilience. When we are in a partnership with another person, facing these trials has another added element of complexity. Not only do we need to walk through the fire and survive, we need to make sure that the fire doesn’t destroy our relationship. So why do some couples come out stronger after going through these trials and some relationships just burn to ashes and fall apart?
My experiences in my relationship have led me to believe that it is the trust built by the commitment to consistent conscious, loving connection and authentic vulnerable communication that creates a strong relationship.
Though I certainly cannot speak for everyone in a partnership, I can give testament to what has worked in my own relationship. My husband and I have been through many trials so far, and honestly, we are in the fire right now with no idea when we will emerge. We know from all our past experiences, however, that our relationship is the kind that gets forged stronger by every blaze, and so I wanted to share some of our practices with you.
Here are 5 Tips for forging a stronger relationship in times of stress!
(Video at the end of this blog if you would prefer to watch)
***I could write (and in many cases have written) much more in depth about each of these tips, but for the sake of writing an article not a book, I wanted to present the basic idea for you here. I have included links to other articles if you want more info OR let me know and I will write more about each of these topics.***
1. Love Yourself, Know Yourself:
No one else can love you enough to make up for you not loving yourself and you can never love anyone else fully unless you first love yourself.
In many cases, we were raised by people (parents, family, community) who did not know how to love themselves fully. That means that our first taste of unconditional love, comes through our own self-love practice and only after that experience do we have the understanding to start trying to practice unconditional love in our relationship.
When we don’t love ourselves, we become dependent on others (often our partners) for love. This dependency develops into a fear (conscious or subconscious) of our partners removing their love from us in some way. Our mind knows the pain we would endure if we were to lose our source of love. To protect us, fear steps in to taint and manipulate all of our interactions, ensuring that we say or do (or hold back from saying or doing) whatever we believe we need to in order to keep our source of love around. We end up becoming who we think our partner wants us to be, instead of who we are. Now there can be no true love, no acceptance of true self, and no authenticity in communication.
Establishing a foundation of self-love counteracts the fear that our partner will leave us or, in some way, remove their love from us. The fear of abandonment, judgment or rejection may still be there, but it doesn’t have the same power over our interactions.
Self-love gives us the ability to choose to speak our minds and ask for what we need without modifying or sugarcoating it out of fear. This doesn’t mean that we should be harsh or insensitive, only that self-love allows us to be fully truthful and to approach our relationships with integrity and self-respect.
Loving yourself is integrally related to knowing and becoming more aware of yourself. Prioritize your own self-growth and development! Get to know your patterns of thought and behavior in times of ease and times of stress and begin to familiarize yourself with the experience of the loving core of your being.
Knowing comes through a consistent mindful awareness practice and through questioning your own thoughts, emotions, sensations and reactions as they occur in the present moment. I have also found meditation and journaling to be useful practices for experiencing my higher self and for being able to record my observations of my own patterns and then analyze them for underlying beliefs.
We all react unconsciously to stressful situations sometimes, but when we fully know ourselves we can be more quickly become aware that we are reacting with habitual patterns from a place of fear and can acknowledge it and consciously choose what to do next.
Self-love and self-knowing are also inextricably important to the next section… but here are some links if you want to learn more (or you can always use the search bar at the top of the blog page)
2. Communicate Authentically and Compassionately
Personally, I know my patterns around dealing with stressful situations. I know that I tend to react emotionally first, then I need time to process those emotions. Only then can I have a logical and solution-oriented conversation about the situation. I have found it extremely helpful to begin conversations (especially when they deal with stressful topics) by letting my husband know where I’m at in that moment.
A little self-reflection goes a long way towards authentically and compassionately communicating with our partners. We cannot communicate authentically, if we don’t know what’s going on internally, we can’t communicate compassionately if we have not first extended some compassion and acceptance towards ourselves and how we are perceiving the situation.
It helps a lot if we take a few deep breathes and gather some facts about the situation are and how we are feeling. Try asking these three questions…
What is the situation externally?
What is the situation internally, am I reacting with fear or love?
How is my internal situation effecting the way I am perceiving my external situation? Am I making this problem bigger than it really is?
We all view our external environment through the lens of our internal environment (our emotions, beliefs, past experiences, etc.). If we can manage to describe the lenses we are currently wearing to our partner, they have the chance to actually understand where we are coming from in the conversation and are less likely to make inaccurate, hurtful assumptions.
Most trials have many potentially stressful factors, but usually there is one core factor that underlies the rest and is causing the majority of the “problem” in our mind. Assessing the situation and our feelings about it ahead of time, allows us to bring the underlying core issue to the table instead of spending all our time discussing the superficial factors. It also helps get us on the same page as our partner, because they may have a different opinion on what the core issue is, and that difference needs to be addressed before any solution can be found.
There are a lot of other posts on this topic, here are a few:
3. Be brave enough to be vulnerable!
Our Egos thrive off stress. It is during life’s trials that our limiting beliefs and harmful thought habits come out to play in full force. Stress makes us much more likely to take thing personally and become offended because we tend to make assumptions, get judgmental or to assume that our partners are judging us.
I still struggle with habits of victim mentality, people pleasing, low self-esteem and co-dependency to some degree. I know that, when stressed, I tend to automatically go into defense mode and these old habits start fighting for control. I have found it helpful to start tough conversations with saying “I love you” and sharing some things that I appreciate about my husband with him.
Starting conversations with love reminds us that we are both beings made of love interacting in a partnership of love. It reminds us that even though we may forget this and react to trials unconsciously sometimes, those words or actions are not who we truly are. Telling our partners how much we sincerely appreciate them, helps mitigate defensiveness on both sides and helps us take everything with a grain of salt and a pinch of compassion.
Sometimes, the love and appreciation fade as the conversation itself, starts creating stress. If we find ourselves becoming defensive, if our shoulders start to raise up by our ears or we notice ourselves getting too quiet or too loud, we know its is time to go back to breathing! It helps to pause and check in with ourselves again and maybe go back to step 2.
Much better to pause the conversation and take a break and start with all the new cards on the table, then to say words we don’t mean, or to continue to internalize and take our partners words personally in a way that they didn’t mean. Reestablish love and appreciation and of course, always be brave enough and vulnerable enough to say sorry when it is called for.
It takes courage to be the first to lower our walls and get vulnerable when things are tense, to be honest and authentic, to ask for processing time and to be the first to share love and appreciation. But just remember that …
Vulnerability establishes trust and building trust is a huge part of strengthening your relationship.
4. Physical Touch:
I underestimated the power of physical touch at the beginning of my relationship (I was still full of fear and it felt too vulnerable and scary to hold hands). I cherish this tip now!
Physical touch establishes a non-verbal level of communication that is just as important as the words we say. When we reach out a hand to our partner, we are establishing this energy of,
“I love you. I am here. I am listening. I am not going anywhere!”
This silently creates a space of love, acceptance and commitment that makes it much easier for us to communicate vulnerably and authentically. We are able to establish trust on a physical, emotional and intellectual level, because we feel safe enough to do so!
Maintaining physical touch throughout the conversation allows us to deepen our connection and continue extending this undercurrent of love and compassion and acceptance. It also allows us to give a little extra squeeze here and there to emphasize whatever we are saying or feeling.
If we get defensive enough to pull away, the break in contact also gives us a big jolt or a big red flag that something needs to change. It gives us an important clue that some level of trust has been withdrawn, or that someone is getting defensive or is maybe experiencing more pain or stress than they can handle in that moment, and that we need to re-evaluate where we are and how we want to proceed.
5. Prioritize Connection!
When life gets stressful, usually it also gets busy (or we make ourselves busy to distract ourselves from the stress). This usually coincides with first, our self-care time getting cut out of our schedules, and then our connection time in our relationship gets the boot.
We must prioritize time to ourselves and time with our partners if we want to cultivate and maintain a strong relationship!
Each one of us has different ways of connecting and showing our love and support for each other, but for me it is the act of spending quality time together! I know that our relationship suffers when we do not prioritize alone time together (in both an intimate way and a platonic way, both are important!)
Consistent connection is the basis of relationship. Without that constant confirmation of love, our minds start to find more and more evidence to support those fearful beliefs that our partner doesn’t care, or that they don’t support us or that they don’t love us like they used to. We begin to lose our desire and motivation to be brave enough to be vulnerable. Without vulnerability we can’t be authentic, and we can’t build trust. Without trust, our relationship weakens.
Each time a trial comes around, we need to choose to prioritize our relationships with ourselves and our partners. We need to choose to make the time to connect. We need to choose to be courageously vulnerable and to build trust. We need to choose to do our inner work even when all the odds seem to be against us and looking inward is harder than ever. We need to choose to reach out for help and support from our partner and everyone else in our lives who love us.
The strength of our relationships depends on our ability to be conscious enough to choose to prioritize it, to nurture it and to interact with our partners from a place of love, acceptance, compassion, kindness and truth.
I hope you all have a wonderful Valentine’s day! I love you all!