Keeping It Good: How to Keep Your Relationship Alive and Thriving
After I gave a series of workshops on “Keeping Your Relationship Good”, people asked me for copies of the questions that I gave to the participants.
The following are the questions (and my edited notes) from the workshop. It reads more like a workshop than an article, but I hope you find it useful:
You meet someone you like. You go out (or hang out) for a while. You get to know each other. It’s going well. Before you know it, you’re in a “relationship”. Time passes, and the relationship grows and deepens. It’s good. Hooray!
More time passes, and, uh-oh, things aren’t so perfect anymore. The glitter has worn off. You still love them, but it gets harder to keep the good stuff going. Once you’ve created a loving relationship with a terrific partner, how do you “keep” it good?
There are (literally) thousands of books already published on this topic, so let me just share some ideas with you and give you the kinds of questions I offer my clients:
How’s Your Sex Life?
Bored with your sex life? Maybe it’s time to explore other ways to turn yourself and your partner on. Organizations like Body Electric focus on helping LGBT men and women explore new aspects of their sexuality. Don’t give up on having a lively sex life, reinvent it for the two of you: keep what you enjoy and replace the rest with something new. Let go of your Tired Old Morals (what good did they ever do for you?) and get explore erotica, movies, and new ideas of sexuality and sensuality…why not get an erotic massage together or hire an escort for an interesting threesome? Free your mind and your libido will follow. Consider these questions (on your own or with a partner):
What’s great about your sex life with current/past partners?
What didn’t work so well?
After months (or years) of a relationship, many experts tell you that it’s okay if your sex life fades away. I say: no way! Sex is a crucial part of a healthy relationship. When we find ourselves too busy, stressed out and/or not emotionally connected with our partner, sex is one of the quickest and most pleasurable ways to reconnect. There’s nothing like a shared orgasm and a happy, post-coital glow to improve your outlook on life and remember why you love that woman/man you’re with. A good sex life is part of your mental health: hold it as a priority and make it happen. Consider these questions:
What are your obstacles to a great sex life?
Describe the best sex you’ve ever had: what made it so great?
Keep Your Relationship Alive and Youthful
Some people would literally rather die than change how their relationship works…and they do. For other people, their relationship just gets better as it ages. Are you flexible and easy-going or rigid and perfectionistic? The latter will age you and make your relationship tense and unpleasant. Can you both – as a couple and individually – experiment more with your life? Consider travel, trying new things, taking up new interests, going to new places and meeting new people. You want to stay young? Keep doing new things and your brain pathways will thank you for the stimulation! You want your relationship to thrive? Keep reinventing it. A friend of mine told me, “I’ve been married to the same man seven times. Each time it feels like a new relationship. “ Your relationship can grow and change and stay fresh too.
Here’s an exercise to try:
Sit comfortably, close your eyes and imagine you’re in an alive, stimulating elationship. Now think being in a stagnant, dull relationship. Open your eyes and write down what you noticed. Feeling really brave? If you are currently in a relationship, tell your partner about it. No partner? Tell a close friend what you’ve discovered. Feeling even braver? Do the exercise with your partner/close friend and compare notes.
Acceptance and Forgiveness
How good have you been at acceptance and forgiveness? Oh, well, join the club. It’s HARD. No matter who we’re with, we’re going to annoy them and vice-versa. What do we do with these feelings? It’s not useful to blame our partner for our own unhappiness. We can take responsibility for our part in a problem, even if it’s only 5% and their part is 95%. We need to discuss problems with our partner, find a mutual solution, forgive ourself and our partner for any harm we caused, and then move on. Consider these questions:
What from your past relationships is still bothering you?
Have you found it hard to forgive your exes? Your current partner? Yourself?
Comfortable with Uncertainty
The older we get, the more we see how God laughs at OUR plans, substituting Her own instead. Uncertainty is a reality, and the sooner we make peace with it, the happier we’ll be. No relationship turns out as we planned it…there’s always shit along the way that we didn’t expect. How do we make peace with all that uncertainty? Questions to consider:
What do you find most scary about your present relationship? If you’re single, what scares you most about a future relationship?
What direction do you see your life headed? If you have a partner, ask her/him the same question. If you’re really brave, compare answers.
Predictability and Excitement
We all have different needs. Some of us like our independence and don’t need much emotional support, others like to have a strong shoulder to lean on. The “experts” say, “Don’t take your partner for granted”. But doesn’t taking your partner for granted mean that you can count on and trust them? This doesn’t mean treating someone badly; it DOES mean that you can depend on each other. This is also known as “security” and “dependability”. But it’s tricky here, because many of us want Superman/Wonder Woman in bed and Clark Kent/Lois Lane at tax time. How do we negotiate that balance?
In your ideal relationship, describe the balance between predictability and excitement?
How predictable or not are you? Are you happy this way or do you want to change?
Mystery, Suffocation and Balance
In my experience, the happiest people have a close friend (or two) AND a wonderful partner. Rarely can one person fulfill all your needs. Too much time together with little room to breathe can suffocate a healthy relationship. You need a little mystery. Don’t share everything (yes, I’m talking to you codependent folks. A totally predictable relationship isn’t very interesting.
The best relationships are a balancing act: time alone, time with a partner, time with friends. In fact, it’s perfectly normal to sometimes feel closer to your friends than your partner. This is usually just a phase; it passes. Keep reconnecting to your partner AND sharing your life with other people who love you too.
How do you typically balance alone time/partner time/friend time?
Are you happy with this balance or would you like to change it?
Dare to be Eccentric
This isn’t often talked about. How do you find the courage to create the kind of relationship you and your partner want, even if your friends think you’re both weird or boring. If you live and die by the changing standards of what other people do, you’re probably very confused! You and your partner need to find out what YOU like, don’t like, and to be true to yourselves. Dare to be a happily eccentric couple. Some people may think you’re strange, but there’s nothing like the satisfaction of doing it YOUR way…whether anyone else approves of it or not.
How have your past relationships been “typical” or not?
How would you like your current (or future) relationship to be “outside the box”?
If you have any kind of relationship you wanted, e.g., two wives or husbands, what would you like? Let your mind go free…
The above ideas and questions offer a few ways to keep your relationship “Good”. A good relationship is like a precious jewel, it needs to be treasured and valued. It takes time, energy and a lot of love to stay with someone, no matter how fabulous she or he is. I hope these questions and ideas help to keep your relationship alive and thriving, long after the glitter has worn off!