Photo by Everton Vila on Unsplash
By Maria Sylvester, MSW, CPC
In anticipation of my wedding anniversary, it’s time for my annual deep-dive relationship reflection time. I’m still feeling the exhilaration of a second marriage — it’ll be six years with my beloved this July. I’m determined to continue bringing my best self to him — this sweet, caring husband of mine — in as many moments as possible.
With that intention in mind, I’ve made it a priority to regularly devote time to considering how to keep my marriage in tip-top form. Or, perhaps most importantly, to discovering how to keep myself in tip-top form!
The first key to nourishing a great relationship is to first nourish yourself. Concentrate, my friend, on tending to your personal garden of delights. Feed your soul exactly what it needs by way of little loving practices to support the essence of who you are and who you desire to become. Take time to lovingly feed your own spirit. Take time to grow. Know what matters to you, and focus there. This type of self-care is essential if you long to bring your best self to a partnership. We can only meet another to the degree that we have met ourselves.
For instance, if your physical health is a priority, tend to it by getting regular exercise and enjoying rich, nutrient-dense foods. Or, as another example, make it a practice to deliberately cultivate your personal interests. Devote time to things you relish, such as creative pursuits or intellectual explorations. In this way, you can be generative in your partnership, bringing to it offerings such as your wisdom, talents, or enhanced emotional awareness.
Knowing your specific personal boundaries is essential to self-nourishment as well as for a healthy relationship. Boundaries protect our values and our precious time. It’s super advantageous to know what’s important to you, and to be able to take a stand for yourself there. Boundaries link us back, time and time again, with our authentic self. There, you honor your deepest truths. Having established boundaries allows you to cherish and protect your unique interests and values. Bringing this clarity to a partnership is invaluable.
Cultivating friendships you treasure, separate from connections your share with your partner, is also a wonderful form of self-nourishment. Let your experiences in these relationships infuse your spirit with new ideas and fresh energy. When you can invest in meaningful personal friendships — connections that truly feed your inner being — you will be able to bring an even more fulfilled version of yourself to a beloved.
Pick Your Couple’s Word
A second key to fostering a rich, juicy, dynamic relationship is to organize your partnership around a chosen word. Be playful and light with this. It’s best if it’s a word you’ve picked together. Have it be a word that represents a direction you desire to grow toward as a couple. As I’m sure many of you know, individuals often pick a word they wish to embrace every new year to help them better themselves. This is a similar notion, just couple-directed. For our 2021, my husband and I made up a word that we’re organizing around: “funventure.” We are determined to bring more fun and adventure into our lives.
Having a shared word facilitates the growth of shared meaning between you two. And since you’ve both come up with it together, it’s easier to share the responsibility of bringing the intention to life. At any time, one of you can bring it into the spotlight, holding space to make it happen. Recently, for instance, my husband suggested we take a long, luxurious, country joy-ride in his little lemon yellow Austin-Healey Sprite sports car. Our afternoon delight was definitely a direct result of our “funventure” protocol!
Learn Something New
Deliberately deciding to learn something new together can have a wonderful impact on your intimate relationship. Exploring a new aspect of life, one you are both unfamiliar with yet curious about, allows you a chance to grow, learn, and share together. For me and my husband, the game of backgammon has recently become our uncharted new territory. Granted, we both played years ago in college, yet neither of us could recall specifics without reading the players’ manual. What a pleasure it’s been to share evenings learning the secrets of a great backgammon win!
This richness of connection that bonding over new experiences brings is truly priceless. And it’s a richness on multiple levels! Travel, for example, brings you to a new place with opportunities to experience and talk about individual perspectives of the land, people, and culture. At the same time, each person is emotionally moved and transformed by the journey. There’s also the opportunity to see and admire one’s partner outside of their regular routines. You’re in a new setting, doing new things without the typical day-to-day distractions. This fresh perspective can awaken new appreciations, and bring a sense of vibrancy to your connection.
Recently, a dear friend of mine shared how she and her husband were discovering the joys of bird-watching. Together they were exploring places where they could observe different species while savoring walks in nature. And as icing on the cake, my friend was able to have a woodpecker feast on food in her hand while her husband filmed the magic moment.
Practice Accepting Influence
Accepting influence simply means being open to the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of your partner. It’s a concept I first learned about through the Gottman Institute, an organization that offers a research-based approach to relationships. Interestingly, ever since I’ve started making a concerted effort to accept influence from my husband, things have felt lighter under our roof.
Accepting influence does not mean you have to necessarily agree on everything with your partner. It’s rather about simply acknowledging that your partner has a valid point. It’s a way of saying to your beloved, “What you think about matters and is important.” And, no surprise, what happens when we can remain open to another’s contribution is that relationship satisfaction goes up on both sides. Additionally, research has found that the more one is able to accept influence, the more that partner becomes themselves influential in the relationship. Win-win!
In our home, initiating this practice has meant that I’ve tried to stay really open to hearing my husband’s perspective on things. I’m then genuinely able to say, “I see your point.” Granted, this doesn’t always mean I agree with his position; but it signals that I care about it. Additionally, I’ve noticed that when consciously practicing this skill of accepting influence, I’m less defensive when discussing a topic I know, ahead of time, that we understand differently. Instead, I stay more curious about my husband’s perspective. Asking him to tell me more keeps the conversation open and on a positive plane, despite whatever challenges the content may hold for us.
Team us! This is how I love to refer to my partnership. How about you? What would happen if you devoted deliberate energy to deeply nourishing your relationship?
Recharge it. Feed and fuel it with love, acceptance, playfulness, and the glorious gift of time. Stay ever awake and aware of all the ways you can say “yes” to your beloved. In other words, make your relationship a beautiful place for both of you to land!
Maria Sylvester, MSW, CPC is a certified Life Coach in Ann Arbor, MI who loves empowering
adolescents, adults, and couples to live from the HEART of what really matters to them so that
they can bring their fully expressed, vibrant selves into the world. She has a special gift for helping
women reclaim their feminine power, and embrace their radiant, sensual, sexy spirits. Their lives
transform. They soar into their mid-life magnificence!