I was recently having lunch with a new networking acquaintance, and our conversation pivoted from business to personal. When she found out that I have been married for 30+ years (married out of kindergarten) she wanted to know—what was my secret to relationship longevity?
No pause needed. There is no secret. What does exist is a perspective. Perhaps many perspectives, as no one method will work for all.
For me, the perspective and the path I have chosen is anchored in one key element.
Don't lose yourself in the process.
Too often, we wrap ourselves up in our significant other, in our roles as a girlfriend, wife, husband or lover, friend or business associate. What we forget is that when we entered into that relationship, we entered in as a whole person, not a part of a team, not a better half, but rather a whole. Any relationship is exactly that. Relationships are two or more whole people collaborating in life, in love, in friendship, in business, and joining forces together in a common experience. Sometimes that experience is marriage, or friendship, sometimes a business partnership. Yet the common denominator is the same. In order for the relationship to thrive, the participants need to show up—everyday, fully charged at 100%.
Sounds easy, but over time, not so much so. We may begin every new long-term human interaction fully involved; but over time, we change and others may not, or we may both change in different directions. Sometimes we get too busy to notice, too caught up in being parents, in running businesses, in being busy with the details of life, to remain consistent and engaged with not only our significant others but with ourselves.
When pushed, we give up on ourselves—we make excuses for why we don't exercise, or keep up with our friends, or make friends, or travel, or get anything accomplished. Before we know it, those excuses become real and, somewhere, caught up between the anniversaries in our lives, we simply lapse in regard to our own growth and dimension as a person. That lapse is often at the core of why many of our relationships may not succeed.
Once we forget the dreams, push aside the goals, and lean into the comforts of doing what we know, we also lose the ability to meet not only our partners at full blast, but ourselves. I have had so many clients come to me overwhelmed with their lives, tolerating a day-to-day that no longer suits them, and often on the cusp of ending a marriage or a relationship that they realize no longer works for them. They are scared, really frightened; because they are ready to say goodbye to what no longer works, yet they have no clue who they, themselves, are now.
One of the best ways to stay true to yourself and others in any relationship is to come to the table of life with a full plate. You are responsible for you. Your spouse, friend, or partner is responsible for them. Your allure lies in that responsibility. Translated, this means that you both need your own space, you both need to define and redefine who you are, and what makes you tick independent of one another. You need to show up at 100% of the relationship, not just as half the equation; and, most importantly of all, you need to show up with flexibility. This flexibility will allow for you to experience your spouse, friend, or significant other for who he or she really is today…which may be quite different from who he or she once was.
Remember, the relationship you have with yourself is the single longest relationship that you will ever experience. Here are 5 tips for rekindling your connection to who you are and, by default, recharging your association with the world at large:
- Practice self-care and keep it on the front burner. Always. This includes the exercise that got away, the time alone you crave, the recharge and continued maintenance of making and keeping friendships and participating in activities that you love. Don't abandon yourself.
- Set boundaries. When we only nurture or care for others, we become the caregiver. Even caregivers need care and support. Your needs are not last or later, they are now. Don't let full schedules and life demands muddy your own definition of who you are. Lead by example in designing your own life, not by default.
- Stay curious. Define and redefine what you know. Which means, keep learning. Keep researching. What appealed to you in one chapter of life may be the polar opposite of what your goals are today.
- Experiment! Date not just people, but a possibility. Think of every opportunity as a first date; not a marriage, but rather a chance to evolve, to inspire and to be inspired by others. Let new ideas refuel and refresh old ways. Stay current and engaged.
- Choice is not only about what makes others happy, it is about the things that we do that uniquely make us happy. When we live in choice, we project high energy and a deeper ability to have clarity and perspective in our lives.
Seeking a deeper connection to yourself and others? Answer these questions for additional clarity:
- What do I want to achieve?
- What is my purpose? (Yes, we have multiples, not just one.)
- Is what I am currently doing in my life propelling me closer to or further away from the results I am seeking, and the relationships I desire?
- In this moment, what can I do?