Tips to strengthen your Relationships

I heard this question recently: “Do I love you because you are beautiful or are you beautiful because I love you?” Relationships are beautiful but also bring many baggage and questions. We can ask ourselves sometimes – do I love this person because of what they give me or do I love them because of what I can give them? Relationships have this way of making us feel both profoundly alone and profoundly intimate all at the same time. We are all complicated people in need of uncomplicated love. Only God can provide this uncomplicated love we seek but here are some steps to help you in your relationships.

1.    Accept offers for connection from your partner and be willing to repair the relationship.

 Better yet initiate an act of love! Be the first to change. Be vulnerable and risk comfort for love. Put your heart on the line first. Risk change because you only control yourself! Don’t let pride, resentment and fear stop you from loving – if it doesn’t work you know you gave it everything. Some ideas to connect: Pray together - this demands vulnerability and turns the focus from you and the other person to God. Respond to your partner's reaching out with love. Reach out through jokes, an invitation to go for a walk or a funny story that happened that day. Take each opportunity to connect. Be intentional with small acts of love such as relationship rituals, daily prayer, or a weekly date night. This creates rhythm, safety and closeness. Little things like a kiss before going to work, or random hugs during the day or a 15 minute recap over dinner about your day or holding each other for 5 minutes each day makes all the difference. Hold on to your commitment to love each other through stages of disconnection and tough times. Respond with empathy and learn to accept love from each other.

2.    Talk through past fears of intimacy and be open to questions.

Intimacy allows you to know yourself and be known but our past influences us so practice empathy and sympathy and see the world through your partner’s eyes. Be sensitive to other’s insecurities – bring healing to each other through active listening. Practice generosity: breathe life into another by sharing your time, talents and gifts with your loved ones. Build your relationship into a safe haven for each other.

3.    Take down your radar.

Our radar finds incidents, attitudes, voice tones, omitted information and confirms or denies our attachment fears. If you want something done and delegated it, and if it is not done then take it on yourself to do it as an act of love not of resentment. The inner vows we believe about another like they will leave, disappoint, not care, or be unreliable need to be exposed to the light. Don’t get so busy or defensive or withdraw when you see negative signs – talk it out! In the safety of empathy and acceptance, sharing vulnerable stories with each other corrects inner vows you made with yourself and lies you believed about love like “I am unlovable” or “I will never get the love I deserve.” Trust and understanding will create emotionally corrective experiences to learn to love and receive love.

Take down your radar by backing off, quieting your heart, allowing your intellect to surpass your instinct and remember that feelings are temporary. Open your heart – remember to love is to be vulnerable. Ask yourself: Are my fears based on assumption or fact?

4.    It's not IF you both fight but HOW you fight.

If you can still be emotionally connected through the argument then it is a healthy dispute. Try to retain the secure bond and be emotionally responsive and available even through disagreements because you are then saying that you are not against the person you love but you are against the situation.

Practice giving the benefit of the doubt. React positively. Discuss arguments right away and seek solutions and compromise.  Do not belittle another’s concerns. Regulate your thoughts and emotions and control what and how you say it to protect the other’s feelings. Work on your defense mechanisms: when we feel threatened or are afraid of being unlovable, disrespected, abandoned or unworthy that fear is underlying in our anger and in how we fight with others. Avoid attacking the other with harshness, accusation and jabs at their character to make yourself feel less vulnerable.

Remember your partner is a beloved child of God. He or she is worthy of love and respect because of that identity. Be like Jesus and choose grace. Forgive, give up the right to retaliate and return the hurt. Don't emotionally shut down. Cancel your partner's debt with love and don't withdraw when you fight.

Let us pray: Father, You are the God who sees me. I long to see the One who sees me. Help me to love as you love. Amen.