“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” ~ Moulin Rouge
We’ve all had to find our way when it comes to intimate relationships. There were no classes in school that taught us how to successfully “do” them. Granted, there have been thousands of books and articles written on the subject.
Committed to navigating my intimate relationship as well as possible, I’ve read many of those books and articles, yet I still feel quite challenged in this area at times. I’m sure life-long learning on this topic is in the cards for me, because there are as many ways to brilliantly make relationships work as there are people in them.
My preferred relationship learning mode is the experiential one. Through many relationship moments, and the trials and errors they’ve gifted, I’ve managed to concoct a little recipe — my secret sauce, if you will — to help me maintain a healthy, rich, and juicy intimate relationship.
There are three key ingredients I regularly reach for. When I toss them into the mix of my marital dynamics, our connection invariably assumes a more positive charge. The recipe that deliciously spices up our relationship includes slowing down, leaning in, and listening. And I mix them into the relationship soup in exactly that order. I’ll unpack each a bit for you here.
A powerful mantra that I created for myself some time ago goes like this: “Do less, feel more.” I carry this principle into every aspect of my life, yet it has proven most powerful in my intimate relationship. This is because when one is in constant “doing” mode, you risk becoming disconnected from yourself and others.
In order to do less and feel more, one must slow way down. Slowing down allows you, first and foremost, to meaningfully connect with yourself. Moving at a slower pace allows you to rest and replenish yourself. Doing so, you are more likely to become aware of what is happening internally. You can notice what you’re feeling.
In the spaciousness that slowing down offers, you can more easily self-reflect and tap into your intuitive knowing. From this place of self-awareness, you’re then much better prepared to connect and interact with your partner. And, perhaps most importantly, you’ll have more to give coming from a rejuvenated and authentically present state. One can’t serve from an empty vessel.
Slowing down additionally allows you a better likelihood of responding rather than reacting when emotionally triggered in your intimate relationship. In a less rushed state, you’re able to thoughtfully process events and feelings. Things between you and your beloved will register more specifically and meaningfully in all realms — emotionally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually — when you give yourself the time and space to chill. To simply be. To take in. To breathe.
Next, I discovered that once slowed down, I’m invariably more inspired to gently lean in. By this I mean feeling inclined to cross from my side of the relationship bridge — with all of my feelings, opinions, and perspectives — to reflect on and consider my partner’s side of things. Leaning in, to me, refers to the notion of deep empathetic engagement. It’s about being kind, compassionate, and truly committed to trying to understand your partner, especially when his or her ways seem foreign or very different from your own. Much easier, however, said than done.
What happens to my commitment to “leaning in,” for instance, when we’re at odds, strongly disagreeing or arguing? What happens when the angst of discord nudges you in the direction of wanting to lean way out? This is when I remind myself to remember how much I love and admire my husband, even though I may be angry with him at a given moment. For it’s always just that —a moment. And really, what is a relationship but a string of moments, one after another, threaded together through time?
So, you know what? Remembering and appreciating your love for you intimate partner, even when you’re upset with them, can help you keep leaning in. A generous heart helps you cross the divide. Love lifts us. It keeps us in the game. And from my experience, it serves us well to call love up and keep our hearts open, especially during times of relationship stress and strain. In relationship mode, we are ever-challenged to continually grow and cultivate our heart space.
Once we’ve slowed down and leaned in, we’re often feeling the fire of fondness, and ready to add the third ingredient to our secret sauce. Becoming an extraordinary listener adds a powerful punch to any intimate relationship. To me, listening is the ability to stay curious inside and out.
Interfacing well with your partner demands that we practice really hearing them, while also attending to what is happening internally for ourselves. Yet, our own internal dialogue and musings need to take a momentary backseat. Ideally, I believe the best relationship communication outcomes result from giving a full and interested ear, first and foremost, to your partner’s sharing. Intentional listening is essential to fostering meaningful, successful, evolving intimacy.
When we can put our own stuff aside — intensely listening to our partner without focusing for even one hot minute on our next response — we hear many levels of information we might otherwise miss. Listening, in my book at least, involves receiving information on all sensory fronts. It’s about observing tone, expression, cadence, posture, and energy, as well as noting actual words spoken. There is great richness here!
You can learn so much when you fine-tune your listening and attention. When you’re committed to practicing and mastering the skill of deep listening, magical things happen in the partnership. This is because your person, your beloved, will feel powerfully seen and cared about under the glow of your attentive presence. They will invariably experience being with you as profoundly different, and much more special, than what they are used to with others.
Lastly, a wonderful, direct offshoot of being lovingly and exquisitely listened to, is that trust deepens. And as trust grows, a person feels more secure and safe. Feeling emotionally safe is a precursor to one’s partner wanting to further self-reveal. And, as they share more, intimacy can’t help but deepen. So, challenge yourself to become an intimate listener.
And there you have it, the three key ingredients in my secret relationship sauce. Mix ‘em all together and magic starts to happen. Put forth the effort and watch your relationship grow ever more yummy and delicious!
This article was also published in The Brick Magazine