I usually write about climate-adaptation investing and startups. But this idea came to me in a recent meditation and I thought I’d share it.
Relationships require work. Marriage, business partnerships, long-term friendships, and even our relationships with ourselves require work.viagra
But what is the work?
Doing actions and saying words that have a nurturing, healing, affirming, and affection-building effect are the work. Offering these to our partner without expecting something in return is the work. Doing so even if it feels unnatural or contrived, is the work. And like any work, it must be done day in and day out, consistently.
It’s called work precisely because offering these words and actions does not come automatically. Consider these examples:
She wants her feelings validated. She wants to be heard, but also to be reassured. She needs constant reassurance that her partner is on her side, accepting her emotions, and there to support her. Her partner wants to offer solutions and fix the problem. Her partner doesn’t want to talk about feelings. So she’s left feeling unloved and her partner doesn’t understand why their efforts to help are met with frustration.
He wants constant validation of his worth and competence. He needs recognition and appreciation for contributions of any size, and he thrives on compliments. He does not want to be made to talk about his feelings. His partner thinks offering these compliments is patronizing and unnecessary and maybe even un-earned. So he feels unappreciated, unseen, and unimportant, and his partner is wondering why he’s emotionally unavailable, and often unwilling to do his part.
The only way to break out of these common cycles is to give our partners what they need, even if doing so feels forced. It’s ok if this forced nurturing feels uncomfortable, so long as what is said is true. If we don’t agree with our partners’ view, or don’t think they deserve the compliment, then we can still be positive by sticking to the facts.
“The garage looks a lot cleaner now. I see you put two hours into organizing it. Thank you.”
“Oh wow. Sounds like you’re really frustrated by your boss.”
As with any work, the longer we do it, the better we get at it. Those who excel in their field consciously practice by seeking mentors, books, and useful content to enrich their daily practice. At some point, they become experts.
Wouldn’t it be incredible to be an expert at making the people around us feel good? How much better would our partners’ lives be? How much better would ours be?
We might worry that giving compliments and validating the other’s complaints will come at our own expense. We’ll be taken advantage of. Our own needs won’t be met in return.
We can sidestep this trap by reframing how we see relationships. Instead of seeing relationships as competitive, zero-sum games where the victor is whoever holds the brightest torch of victimhood or martyrdom, we recognize that we are one another’s gardeners. And like any garden, the more effort the gardener puts in, the more bountiful the harvest.
We have a hand in shaping our partners. In a garden, what gets sunlight, water and nutrients thrives. In relationships, we see more of those behaviors we actively appreciate.
Even though we might intellectually know we should be nurturing our partners, we often don’t have the time or energy to do it well. We can’t think fast enough on our feet to say or do the right thing. Accepting and working around this limitation is also part of the work.
Just as we wouldn’t want to give a big presentation hung over, we also wouldn’t want to try to help our partners when we’re not mentally ready. We can’t garden if we have a bad back. We often need to pause to repair ourselves. That usually means eating some food, exercising, and getting sleep, and we actually need to repair ourselves along these lines every day.
Saying the right thing at the right time takes practice. Which is why we will need to get started right this moment and just keep at it.
Maybe we’ve been trampling our garden for a long time. Maybe we’ve paved it over into a parking lot. We feel like it’s way too far gone to start planting seeds again.
The good news is that it’s never too late. Like plants emerging through concrete, our partners are forever searching for our sunlight and water. Repair begins by saying our own version of this statement to our partner:
You know, I was thinking about it, and I realized that I’ve been bad at recognizing all the things you do, and I’m going to start complimenting you when you do good things. Is that ok with you?
Sometimes, though, even the best gardeners are thwarted by weather, pests, or bad luck.
That doesn’t mean we should stop gardening.