You finally meet someone you like. It’s not just attraction. The connection is mutual and air-tight. You might even find yourself using the word “perfect” a lot. Life feels brighter now, and things that used to bother you really don’t anymore — like traffic. You guys decide to be “exclusive,” and maybe eventually move in together. Then, the onions slowly start to get peeled: you get to know each other more and more. And more and more, little things about each other start annoying you both.
The word “perfect” disappears from your vocabulary and traffic once again feels like one of the worst things that’s ever happened to humans! Due to personal stories and other emotional wiring, you and your partner suddenly find yourselves stepping on each others’ toes regarding communication styles (and more). Sometimes there’s no communication at all. Expectations aren’t matched. Discomfort sets in. Resentment builds. Chemistry fades. You know how this story ends.
What if after the “honeymoon phase” and after the relationship becomes official, you changed your approach? What if you expect it to be rocky, rather than “perfect?” I’m not saying you should approach it in a “it’s not going to work” way. But more of a “you gotta earn it” way. Like Yoga. CrossFit. Martial arts.
What if you know that the relationship starts with a white belt and takes a lot of practice to get to brown or black? And what if earning those belts meant bettering yourself first? What if you approached the relationship as a daily practice? Would this change the way you maneuver in the relationship? Would you practice more patience? Would you practice more forgiveness and empathy? How would this mindset change the way you decide to love?
First: what do I mean by “practice”? I define practice as any space that promotes growth. Most people don’t realize that relationships can create that space, and that’s fair. We don’t get into a relationship because we know it will make us stronger. We choose to be with someone because they’re hot or funny or both and being with them simply feels good. Growth is rarely the reason why we decide to build something with someone.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t shift your approach. Here are three ways to approach your relationship as a practice:
1. Go into it every day with the intention of learning.
Even if it is one thing, and something small. Most people don’t see relationships as a place to learn about themselves. We resist change, become defensive, and usually blame the other person.
But if you choose to see your relationship as an opportunity to learn about yourself, your partner, relationship dynamics generally, yourself in particular relationship dynamics and life itself, you may approach conflict with more openness and wonder instead of anger and judgement.
2. Notice the gains.
So many focus solely on what their relationship is lacking that they don’t notice what is improving. Things may not be perfect or where you would like them to be. But if there’s any positive change in the relationship, acknowledge it. Be proud of it. Take some time to dwell on the good stuff, instead of overthinking things we feel guilty about, regret, or things we want to blame others for (what most of us tend to do).
Recognize that whatever you feed grows. Focus on the gains, not the pains. If you do, This is how you will be better at your relationship practice.
3. Realize the role of practice.
Every practice takes practice. Know that you, your partner, or the relationship will never be perfect. Ever. The relationship is a journey, a process, an experience that will involve highs and lows. No difficulties in the relationship will ever be solved by a quick fix.
It takes falling down, both as individuals and as a couple, and getting back up again that will make you stronger. Every conflict is an opportunity to understand each other better. There’s a lesson behind every struggle. Practice means learning from these struggles instead of running from them.
Let’s face it. Being with someone is only about being with someone for only a couple weeks or months. Then it is either about growing with someone or controlling someone. If you see your relationship as a daily practice, you are creating soil for growth.