Excerpt from 'Fit for Love' by Olga Sheean
The best marriages are built on flexibility and 'muscle' and nowhere more so than in the heart. Without emotional flexibility and strength, even the most loving couples can grow apart. Building and maintaining this 'muscle' involves:
- Enriching the relationship by continuing to grow and learn as an individual. In this way, you stay dynamic within yourself and keep your relationship alive. Without growth, you stagnate, and no meaningful marriage can withstand chronic stagnation. Boredom, routine and predictability are the biggest killers of relationships. Promoting and taking responsibility for your own growth is crucial to sustaining creativity and passion.
- Staying healthy and fit. Your body is your means of expression–your sensual, creative, individual expression. Keeping it healthy means that energy flows and organs are kept vital. And a healthy body is far more emotionally stable than an unhealthy one. It is a mark of respect for your partner to take care of yourself. Likewise, neglecting your body is a sign that love is lacking somewhere along the line, and that you no longer care enough to make an effort. It can be the first sign that you–and therefore your relationship–are on shaky ground.
- Maintaining friendships outside the marriage. This is vital to the life force of your marriage. Making your partner the center of your universe puts a huge strain on the relationship and ultimately leads to isolation, an unhealthy focus on small things, and an ever-decreasing range of expression. No meaningful marriage can sustain itself in a universe of two.
- Seeking greater awareness of one's self and of one's partner. Understanding how you tick, what makes you reactive, and how to distinguish between your own issues and those of your partner is key to keeping your marriage healthy and clean. A 'clean' relationship is one that has no clutter–no buildup of resentments, no things left unsaid, no holding on to hurts, no grudges borne. Tackling issues in the moment is the only way to ensure that your marriage stays clean and your love strong.
- Creating surprises. Like any longstanding arrangement–be it marriage or a job–things can become lackluster after a while. By going out of your way to create surprises for your loved one, you can avoid the deadly erosion of daily routine. Break from routine. Try something new. Surprise your partner with a gift, an outing, two tickets for a cruise. Use your imagination, be creative and you will probably find that it brings you even more pleasure than it does your partner.
- Maintaining sexual 'tension'. When a couple's sex life is alive and well, there is an 'elastic band' that naturally exists between them, connecting them and dynamically pulling them back to each other after healthy periods of separation. Going away on a course, regularly visiting family or taking a trip alone can help to maintain this sexual tension. Time spent alone can be all the richer for knowing that you will be returning to your partner. And spending time with your partner is all the more enjoyable after time spent alone. This is a natural cycle that conscious couples enjoy. If you experience distress or unhappiness when spending time away from your partner, this may indicate an unresolved need within yourself, or a missing element in your marriage that should probably be addressed.
- Encouraging each other to take emotional risks and to go for what you want. Supporting and encouraging your partner to take healthy risks is part of helping them to realize their fuller potential. You may feel threatened by your partner's growth, or by a move that could shift the dynamic between you, but (as a conscious partner) you will recognize the danger of trying to maintain the status quo and to remain within your comfort zone. Change is to be welcomed, because it helps to keep your marriage, and each of you, alive and dynamic. Staying small or stuck, or trying to keep your partner small, will ultimately suffocate your relationship.
- Always expressing feelings in the moment. This is especially important if something hurtful has been said or done. There is nothing that will cause a meaningful marriage to deteriorate faster than unspoken hurts or disappointments. Resentments build up and the heart shuts down. Love cannot flourish in these and intimacy loses its depth. Conversely, there is nothing that creates greater intimacy between two individuals than the heartfelt expression of their emotions.
- Being able to say sorry. Saying you're sorry often feels like an admission of failure or weakness. But being able to apologize to someone–sincerely, from the heart–is one of the most powerful things you can do in a relationship. It means that you are more interested in being happy than in being right, and that you are willing to rise above the need to make someone else wrong. And saying sorry does not mean that you are wrong. It may simply mean that you regret how you handled something or how your words or actions inadvertently hurt someone. It may mean that, even though you consider yourself to be right in what you say, you regret having made it an issue and are willing to look at another way of resolving it. Whether you are in the 'wrong' or not, saying sorry, when it is genuine, can make everything 'right'.
- Saying "I love you" in novel ways. The words "I love you" can cease to feel meaningful when they are repeated countless times over the years. Changing the context or the way in which you express your love helps to keep it meaningful. It may be through a poem, a painting, a special gift. It may be in a letter, sent in the mail to your partner, even if he/she lives with you. It may be in the way you caress or sensually appreciate your partner. It may be in the way you make love–without any words, or by focusing exclusively on your partner, not allowing him/her to touch you. Taking exceptional trouble over a birthday gift–such as organizing a treasure hunt, having a taxi arrive unexpectedly to take your partner to a secret venue–can be an exciting way of expressing your love. If you find yourself running out of ideas, look at your own life and see where you can inject new passion and sparkle. In a conscious marriage, where the embers of love are regularly stoked, the radiance of one partner illuminates the other.
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