My wife, Carol, and I have been together for a long time and we’ve been through some good times and some bad. In thinking about how we keep our relationship healthy, I came up with what seem like several key ingredients.
The first is that we keep working on ourselves. Through doing our own individual personal growth work we have come to realize that when we’re upset about something the upset is not only about what’s going on right now but also about the million other times it reminds us of. It can be hard but doing personal growth work helps me to minimize blaming her and take responsibility for how I’m creating whatever upset I’m feeling. We like to use breathwork because conscious breathing is really effective at freeing up tension and constriction in the body where we hold old wounds that turn into defensive patterns.
Another thing we’ve done is to do some couple’s workshops and even couples counseling during hard times. We particularly like the Imago work of Harville Hendrix, and we use Imago dialogs when we talk about our upsets. Imago dialogs start with mirroring (saying back what you hear your partner say so they feel heard) and adds a series of questions, like “What are you afraid of?”, “What does this remind you of?” and “What do you yearn for?”. I’ve learned that taking turns in this process challenges me to sit with my upset until it’s my turn to speak, and often by the time it’s my turn I’ve lost some of the upset because seeing the vulnerability in Carol makes it hard to blame or be angry with her (by the way, go watch Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability).
Another thing that feels important in our relationship is spending quality time together. We meditate for 15 minutes together each morning and we schedule date nights two or three times each month. As we’ve gotten to the empty nest phase of life we’ve discovered that some activities are not to be shared (I don’t like her musical theater and she doesn’t like my guitar jams) but it does feel important to do creative or fun projects together sometimes. We took Gary Chapman’s Love Languages online quiz and discovered that Carol’s love language is spending quality time together and mine is touch. So we try to give each other the kind of love that we crave.
Most recently we’ve been working on sexual dynamics in the relationship. That seems to be one of the harder ones for us. Lots of shame and wounding! But we’ve found Human Awareness Institute (HAI) and Robyn’s puja weekends to be helpful, as well as some structure from exercises like those in Margot Anand’s The Art of Sexual Ecstasy. And lots of breathwork and Imago dialogs!
Guest blog from Paul Phillips, a member of the Love U Come Back to Love® community.