“Love does not obey our expectations; it obeys our intentions.” ~Lloyd Strom
There are many books, articles and research on how to have a great relationship and how to keep your relationship strong. Of all I sifted through, three suggestions have held. They are a great start on how to love with intention and how to build a sound foundation so the relationship doesn’t crumble at the first fight. Single? Definitely a great starting point for identifying how you would like to approach your next relationship and what it is you are looking for.
Relationship Mission Statements
Despite having a business, it never occurred to me that mission statements could be for more than businesses and non-profits. Guess what? You can write one for a relationship too.
When you write a relationship mission statement, you're forced to think what you want to gain from the relationship and what you're willing to put in. When two people do them together, they can be powerful.
These are great to do at the beginning of a relationship. These are great to do before there are any fights or hurt feelings, both people know what they want and where they want to go. It can also help you identify your own direction and be more intentional in your relationship.
How Do You Write a Relationship Mission Statement? I believe they shouldn’t be too rigidly defined. They should be natural and truthful, and the structure they take on should vary with your own values.
You should include key things: what you will do, what you won’t do, things you might need help with, and what you want the relationship to be. Beyond that, put in whatever feels right.
Here are some examples:
What will you do in your relationship?
I will be available to you.
I will respect you, empathize with you, and care for you.
What bad habits do you acknowledge that you may need to be called out on?
I will apologize when I’m wrong, although sometimes you may have to drag it out of me, and sometimes it may take me a week before I come to it on my own. And: I will undoubtedly get moody every now and then, but I will try not to take it out on you. If I do, I will not get moodier when you call me out on it.
What do you promise not to do in your relationship?
I will not be petty. I will not be spiteful. I will never speak to you with contempt, dismiss your ideas or opinions, or give you the silent treatment when I’m mad at you.
What do you expect from your relationship?
I will help you grow, and watch you grow through your own efforts. I will stand next to you when you need me there, and stand back when you need to do it yourself. I will be my own person and allow you to be yours.
And I sum it all up with what matters most:
I will not give up when things get difficult, but I will let you go if it ever comes to be what you need to be happy. I will help you find what makes you happy, and help you achieve it. I will do everything with intention.
I promise you, so long as I’m with you, we will be greater together than the sum of us apart.
Weekly Check-Ins: Weekly check-ins are great to do starting in the beginning. Be totally honest and share the things you felt good about that week and the things that upset you, along with a rating of how you currently feel about your relationship (1-10). It is a great metric to do at the beginning.
Why? Because choosing a number is easy starting point for explaining “Why.”
It’s easy to assume everything’s great because you think it’s great, but when you’re hit with an unexpected “I give us a 5 this week,” you’re forced to remember the other person’s feelings.
It can help you from falling into that trap of getting angry, not saying anything, and then blowing up about it months later. These chats need to be a set date, every week—not a “whenever” chat. If you don’t set the date and stick to it every week, then you won’t get comfortable being so open with one another. Then, when you have a major grievance to air, you’ll be more likely to sit on it or get passive-aggressive about it.
Developing strong communication habits early is key. Not only does it help your partner, but it also helps you. Constant, honest communication builds trust and reduces the urge to be defensive. If your relationship’s already in progress, then it’s not too late to start, but the earlier, the better.
It makes your relationship stronger when you’re both able to confidently give and receive feedback. Without it, confidence is hard to come by. Be sure to give feedback with intention; don’t be passive aggressive, don’t be nasty.
Beware of the Four HorsemenDr. John Gottman, a pioneer in relationship work, found that there were four habits in couples that predicted divorce: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. He called these the Four Horsemen.
Criticism:This is when you make it personal. If you have a grievance, make it known directly. Instead of “You never listen to me,” try “This is important to me, and it upsets me when it looks like you’re not listening. Can you set your phone aside for a few minutes while we talk?” (Talking this way gets easier and less awkward.)
Defensiveness: It’s not easy to admit you’re wrong. Learning not to get defensive when the other person brought up a legitimate concern (not criticism) was so beneficial.
We are rarely 100% innocent in fights. Take a deep breath and listen to the other person. When you’re busy trying to defend yourself, you can’t listen. If you can’t listen, you can’t solve the problem.
Contempt: This often shows up in relationships that have had a history of criticism and defensiveness. Mocking, sarcasm, rolling your eyes, and scoffing doesn’t make you the better person. They make you someone who wants to destroy your own relationship. Because that’s what contempt will do. I promise you: Rolling your eyes will not make your partner suddenly see that you’re right.
Stonewalling: You may find yourself tempted to give in to the silent treatment. Do yourself a favor and don’t. Be honest: Does it really make you happier to stonewall your partner? Does it show that you value the other person? Or does it just drag the fight out longer? Stonewalling can also include picking up your cell phone to text while the other person is talking, walking out of the room, and saying things like “Forget it.”
I believe knowing and avoiding these four habits can save many relationships. Being conscious of all of them can encourage you to pause when you get angry or annoyed. You can ask yourself if what you're tempted to say is intentional or lashing out. If it doesn’t benefit your relationship, don’t say it. This has to go both ways, so get your partner on board with communication early and often.
You Get What You Create, Not What You Expect. My relationship isn’t your relationship and each relationship is different, but I hope even one of these suggestions can help you. So many other couples suffer from the Four Horsemen, but it i is possible not to fall into these relationship traps.
You just need to be intentional and respectful to yourself and the other person. Create the relationship you want with your partner with intention. Be mindful and choose a mindful partner. It’s okay if you both have to learn as you go along.
It’s okay if you stumble; acknowledge it, correct it, and move on. Don’t hold grudges. Improving my skill with relationships has helped me in other areas, too. The 4 horseman are also applicable to friends and family.
When you’re not fighting through a toxic relationship (romantic or otherwise), you have the time and energy to grow. You can have passions. You can create legacies.
Don’t forget that you’re one-half of every relationship you’re in. Don’t forget the other person is the other half. It takes both of you to make the whole. Create the whole with intention.