I was home for the holidays with my family and, like most traditional families, we exchange gifts. After a certain point it gets tough because we are all fortunate to have so much of what we need that giving gifts can require a lot more thought and attention, which can be an advanced practice in itself, and even more so during this crazy time of year.
My sister was particularly excited about the gifts she got for me, and when I opened them, they all turned out to be incredibly kind and thoughtful. I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have to do the old “grin and bear it”, pretending to like them. She went on to say, “I had so much fun shopping for you. I decided to look for things that I like. Things that I have really enjoyed having. I found gifts that brought me joy and happiness so I figured there would be a good chance they would do that for you too.” This surprising exchange with my sister got me to thinking about relationships in general, and that’s when it hit me! I was reminded of something an old teacher used to say. “Be in it for your own pleasure!” Now on the surface I know this sounds insanely selfish, but when you strip it down it actually makes total sense. It’s a broad metaphor for all of life really. Who says we should have to do things that we don’t want to do? In fact, why put yourself through any experience you find unbearable?
What if you asked your partner about their day because you really cared about the answer? What if you were focused on them because you were truly curious about them again? What if you were being thoughtful because you genuinely cared about their happiness? Too often I see couples staying together out of fear, not wanting to hurt the others feelings, because they are afraid to be alone, “because of the kids,” for financial reasons, or any other reason than the only one that you ever want to hear yourself saying, because I want to be alone! I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s best to opt into your relationship, and your life for that matter, because it is where you want to be right now. Fear truly is the great deceiver! We fail, at times, to see what is so painfully obvious. Being with someone when you don’t want to be is not an act of kindness. I mean come on! Do you really think this person you’ve been with daily for God knows how long doesn’t sense how disinterested in them you really are? You think they can’t feel your perpetual resentment? Worse still, what do you think that elicits from them in how they feel about you or about themselves? Being in a relationship out of need is not doing anything good for anyone. Not only is it likely prolonging the inevitable, it’s making each and every day together more and more painful for you both.
I once knew a couple who made revisiting their marriage vows every year part of their marriage vows. They agreed that the worst thing they could imagine was someone being with them because they felt stuck! It’s important to keep in mind that the human brain is programmed for efficiency. That means that we look to automate – or create habits – in our lives as much as possible. This is largely why when we are in long term relationships, we can so easily fall victim to a routine way of interacting with one another. To ask the same questions, eat at the same places, have sex in the same positions, etc. We fall into the roles that we’ve unknowingly established a long time ago. This is why things feel so stale as time goes on!
You’re probably thinking, sure Molly, that all sounds very enlightened. But inevitably all relationships fizzle out over time. How can you be excited about your partner’s job after the four millionth complaint? How can you be interested in their stories after hearing them one thousand times? After things have gotten boring and comfortable? If you feel like you’ve lost touch and can’t remember a time when your relationship felt fun or exciting, I’m here to tell you it is possible to get the fire back, so you may want to reconsider throwing in the towel!
We’ll be teaching this a lot more in depth during our Myndful Communication Relationship Course when the new MYND MVMT fitness & lifestyle studio opens next month. But until then, here are some ways to stay engaged in your relationship, have it be enjoyable again, and not feel like the relationship is a chore.
(1) Make them a priority again
Remember how thoughtful you once were about your partners needs and wants? You wanted to surprise them, make them excited, make them feel good. The most selfish thing you can do in any relationship is make their happiness your desire! Why you ask? Because when someone feels good, happy, excited because of you they then will shower feel good thoughts and feelings back onto you! That then makes you feel good and want to shower those thoughts and feelings back onto them! Remember those butterfly feelings you used to get from being with them way back when? If you keep this up, you will find that those butterfly feelings come back! Begin to break the habits and patterns you’ve established long ago that you are not even aware of! Tune into what it is you like about them, instead of what you don’t! Make lists of their positive attributes! Before reacting to something they say or do, pause and think about what you are saying and doing! How youare being! Let them know that your bad mood isn’t because of them! Acknowledge them more. Understand that in love relationships the details matter most!
(2) Infuse play, humor, fun
I had a friend text me this weekend, “What’s a good second date idea?” I know enough now that listing a bunch of NYC hot spots wouldn’t actually be doing her a favor. I asked her, “What do you genuinely want to do on a second date? How do you want to spend the time?” My own coach gave me great advice about dating. He said, “Find joy and enjoyment in the process!” It doesn’t have to be a long list of to-dos and tasks that make you want to pull your hair out. In relationships, it can be easy to forget to let go, to play with each other and have fun. When your partner is being wishy washy and indecisive about where to go for dinner, tap into what you want, what do you want to eat? Feel for what excites you in your body. Have fun with each other! After all, what’s the point of being alive if we can’t enjoy it while we’re here. Humor and jokes can go a long way too and are good for our mental health.
(3) Create different containers to try out
What’s a container? A Tupperware microwave dish? No, it has a different meaning in the context of relationships. A container is another way of saying a “contained” experience with specific rules, boundaries, and communication. It’s something to try without making a huge commitment. They can be incredibly useful in relationships as a way to flex different muscles of communication or experimentation. For example, you may create a container around sex and intimacy. It would look something like: For two weeks, every day, no matter what, even if we don’t feel like it, we’ll have sex. What would that experience be like? You may realize that you both have larger sexual appetites than you were aware of. It just maybe that you weren’t channeling the energy in a way that benefits you both. With this new knowledge, things can quickly become a lot more exciting. As part of this “experiment” maybe you agree to be come up with a list of “demands” that you agree to honor, no matter what! You learn more about each other than you imagined! The possibilities are endless.
Another example of a container could be: For the next week, we are going to set a timer and kiss for 15 minutes before we have sex, or if you want to be a little more fluid, kiss until it is absolutely unbearable and neither of you can take it any longer. What is it like to experience that yearning? Does it create more electricity or sensation? Do you usually rush into the act of sex without first creating dynamic tension?
Experiment with this- just make sure there are clear parameters, that you both agree to explicitly, and that you have a plan to adjust if it just isn’t working. One thing to look out for is letting life interfere with the commitment you’ve made to one another. Make sure that you go into this willing to give it your all! No matter what really means no matter what!
(4) Make your partner the most interesting person in the world
I’m in the process of creating a workshop with a fellow coach and one of the components we are teaching is how to cultivate perfect attention. Attention in the present moment is where all of our power lies. Not in the past, not in the future. In yoga there is a saying, all we really have is 24 hours! In this technological age attention is the great commodity and billions are spent by corporate America to try to get it from you! In fact most of our attention is so split (how many times have you been out at dinner and spent half of it writing texts or emails), if you are among the few who give others undivided quality attention this gives you a super power! An example of one of the exercises we’re planning on having in our workshop is to have partners sit and face each other. One person then describes in detail all of the features of their partner’s face. “I notice the hair on your eyebrows slants up and then curves back down. There are thicker and thinner parts. The downward slant has thinner amounts of hair.” Sounds weird, right? In the past when we asked the couples to report back the experience they were having, they said they felt a lot of sensation in their bodies and had a lot of fun as they tried to focus such intense attention on someone. This can be your experience in your relationship all the time. You can make a practice out of it like you would meditation or do yoga. Decide that your partner is the most interesting person in your life – make it into a game.
Be on the journey together and become a person that they want to find interesting too. Develop your character, get to know yourself, and know that the most interesting place is not in your head but in the people and the life around you.