What is your most important relationship? For many of us, it might be our marriage; to others, it might be to a sibling, parent or close friend. Relationships are a crucial ingredient to our human experience, and learning how to improve those important relationships is essential in helping them grow and flourish.
As humans, one of our greatest desires is to love and be loved, to be needed and cherished — to feel connected. We are a tribal people. Early on our survival was dependent on living in groups.
Today we are surrounded by others, and our relationships are still a big part of how we define our life. Experience has taught us life is just better when we share it with someone else.
My most important relationship is my marriage and how I connect with my husband. For simplicity, I’m going to talk about marriage, but these principles apply to any relationship in your life.
Do you want to have a more loving and rewarding relationship? What if I told you all you needed to do to have a more loving relationship was change one thing? And what if I told you it had nothing to do with your husband and everything to do with you?
Too often, when we have problems in our relationships, we tend to think the other person needs to change. The problem is, you can’t change your spouse. The only person you can change is you. You hold the key to a more loving relationship.
And that key is all about getting the right perspective.
Getting the Right Perspective
I’m not a believer in soul mates, and I don’t think there is just one right person to make your marriage magically easy. It takes perspective to realize the lessons we learn in marriage are building a stronger relationship.
It’s not about second guessing if you married the right person. It’s about remembering our most significant challenges are where we have the greatest opportunities to grow.
We get married to have somebody to love — not to be dependent on someone else to make us happy. As an emotional adult, you get to decide if you feel loved, content and supported. Those feelings should come from you, not the person you love. It’s not about discussing your needs and how your partner may or may not be meeting them.
How do you want to feel about your spouse?
Whatever your spouse is going through is for them. We can choose how we want to support them and how we can stay healthiest while they go through difficult things, but we don’t have to drown in the pool with them. I know it sounds heartless and extreme, but think about it like this.
When your two-year-old is throwing a tantrum, does it make sense to get down and throw one with them? (I’ve done this, and it actually stopped the tantrum) When working to improve your relationship, it’s good to remember there are times when boundaries are appropriate.
Here are some ideas I try to remember and work on in our relationship.
1 | Drop Expectations
We have expectations when it comes to our spouse. Our number one expectation could be the infamous line in the movie Jerry Maguire — “You complete me.”
We not only want them to complete us, but make us happy, solve our every problem, and be the model of a perfected life. The expectations we put on our spouse are ridiculous.
I still catch myself thinking: I want him to solve everything before I even think about it. I would like him to provide me with all the happiness in the world, and when he falls short, (because it’s an impossible task for him to provide me with one drop of joy — that’s my job), I will blame him.
The truth is, it’s not about him. The source of my happiness comes from my feelings or thoughts — Me. I’m the only thing that can make me happy. So the first thing to do is drop all expectations and accept his only job is to be there for you to love.
Read more about happiness here: 7 Habits of the Happy
2 | Choose the Story You Tell
Our story is what we decide to think about our spouse. It is the thoughts circulating in our head. And once our story is formulated, we most often share it with others. The more we hear the story, the more it becomes truth.
We can think: My husband is the best person I know. He is kind and loving. I love how he supports me and encourages me to try new things.
And that is the person we see because it’s the story we tell. Focus on positive evidence. Focus on the good and look at what believable thoughts you can find. The story you think, the ideas you believe will determine how you feel about a person. So choose to tell yourself a good story, and then work to make it even better. Owning our own story is empowering!
3 | Stop Trying to Change Them
Stop because it won’t work. I tried to change my husband. I’m still trying to change my kids, and it’s not working. Here’s what I’ve noticed. They don’t like it when we try to change them, and I certainly don’t like it when someone tries to change me.
You know what? They want us to love and accept them for who they are.
We get stuck thinking if they would change, or be different we might be happier. Not only can you not change someone, but if you did, you wouldn’t be happier.
The only thing that would make you happier would be to change your thinking. Stop trying to make them different, and decide to love them exactly as they are.
4 | Take Responsibility for Your Feelings
Create your happiness and meet your own needs, they are your responsibility. Just like you can’t change your spouse, he will never be able to make you happy unless you want to feel happy.
It goes back to our expectations and change. We cannot change our husband, and he surely can’t make us happy. It’s our choice, and we need to decide how we want to feel.
Remember circumstances are neutral. A big house, new car, or trip to Europe is NOT what brings happiness. Happiness comes from deep within and is the result of how we think or feel about something. And can he control what you think or feel? Nope. So stop with the expectations of how other people should behave to make you happy. Take responsibility for your feelings and choose how you want to feel.
5 | Decide Who You Want to Be
What kind of spouse do you want to be? Decide to be that person. Do you want to be more affectionate? Maybe you wish you could be nicer, more giving, more loving? Figure out what the best version of you might be. How would you show up each day in your marriage? Whatever it is — decide and then do it.
6 | Let it Go!
When our kids were teenagers, I can’t tell you how many times we received the great advice “pick your battles.” Picking your battles, whether with your kids or your spouse, lends to the idea of holding on to something.
What if we just decided not to have any battles? What if we just let it go? Who cares about whatever the source of contention is? When you look at the big picture, some pretty stupid things get us all tied up in a tissy.
When we get stuck holding on to how we think things should be it keeps us from being able to see how to get what we need. Letting go helps us change our perspective and understand our lives in a new way.
Why not loosen your grip to let go of what you think life should be so you can figure out how to do things differently and maybe make your life a little better. Stop missing out on opportunities to love and discover a new way of enjoying your relationship.
7 | Keep Loving Your Choice
Too many people look outside their relationship when things get a little challenging. You remember the old boyfriend from college and wonder how things might have been different if you’d married him instead. These thoughts stir up old feelings, and then you start to wonder. Just because you have feelings for someone else doesn’t mean you don’t love our spouse. We have control over who we choose to love.
Don’t let a rough patch give you an excuse to be unfaithful.
“Choose your love and love your choice.”
Thomas S. Monson
Remember your vows, remember who you fell in love with in the beginning, and remember the best version of who he is. That person is still in there somewhere and just needs a little love and encouragement to reappear in your marriage.
As humans we need connection, we are drawn to feelings that help us feel valued and loved. While relationships are meaningful because of how they fill our need to be connected, the happiness we feel from our relationships is not based on how the other person acts or feels about us.
The best way to improve your most important relationship is to change the way you think about it. We associate someone’s actions as love when love comes from within us. It’s about our capacity and ability to love other people. You hold the key to improving your most important relationship.
How do you work to improve your relationship?
Originally published at www.choosingwisdom.org.