Sunday, December 29, 2013

Conditional Love.

I work with quite a few couples in therapy. I also see my friends navigating the often tumultuous waters of their relationships, and of course I have my own relationship history to draw from. As such, my current conclusion is that the best recipe for a healthy, happy, loving relationship is to make sure that, every day, you're actively choosing that person as your partner.

To me, 'actively choosing' means making a decision every day to be fully present and committed to the relationship. It means noticing your partner, appreciating small things, using kind words, and not assuming you can just do those things tomorrow. It means you can't waste today being bitter or crabby or angry, because you only know that you have chosen each other *today*. That's not to say you haven't made a long-term commitment; perhaps you have. But the commitment to be together needs to be revisited daily, in whatever small ways keep it fresh.

Here is why: aside from (maybe) parent/child/sibling relationships, I don't think it is reasonable to expect that love be unconditional. In truth, the love we choose to share within the context of an intimate relationship is entirely conditional. It is based on the agreement -the condition- that you will be kind and respectful to me and meet my relationship needs to the best of your abilities. Similarly, I have agreed to be kind and respectful to you and reciprocate your efforts. These are the conditions of our continuing relationship. 
When you have actively chosen to love someone, you have agreed to the conditions of the relationship. And in making this agreement,  it also means you are obliged to avoid all of those mean and selfish things we do when we are hurt or feeling neglected (both words and actions) that feel so good right when you are doing them, but which over time erode the quality of the agreement and make it more difficult to actively choose one another.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Art of Apology.

There are two skills that, if mastered, are guaranteed to enhance your life. The first is the art of sincere apology. The sort where you take full responsibility for your actions in an honest and non-defensive way, and you humbly commit to not doing that thing again. The second is true forgiveness (i.e., not the 'oh, it's okay' version when it's not actually okay). True forgiveness means accepting the apology- or even harder, accepting the facts of the matter without an apology- and letting go of a need to hold it over the head and heart of the person who has wronged you. These two things take practice and diligence and a commitment to rising above the petty, selfish satisfaction we take in holding grudges and avoiding apologizing. It takes courage to apologize and to forgive and leave the space for the relationship to heal and regrow at its own pace.