Over the past decade, between the two of us, Angel and I have read hundreds of books on relationships, coached hundreds of students who were struggling to find happiness in their relationships, and interacted with over 100,000 blog subscribers (subscribe here) who continue to ask us questions and tell us stories on a daily basis about their relationships.
All of this has given us keen insight into the behaviors and habits that make relationships work well in the long run. In our course and coaching, and at our live events, Angel and I often refer to these as the “qualities of conscious, loving relationships.”
So what exactly is a conscious, loving relationship?
It’s a relationship, intimate or platonic, in which…
1. Both people are emotionally self-reliant.
If your happiness is dependent on the constant validation and approval you receive from someone else, then you are giving away far too much of your power. It’s human nature to want to be liked and admired, to want to be included, but it’s damaging to your self-esteem and emotional strength if it’s something you have to constantly fight for.
Think of a relationship as a home you live in. Whether you like your home or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged – it’s how you arrange your mind. You have to decide to love yourself in it, and then radiate this inner love outwards.
All the love and validation you need is yours to give yourself. So the next time you feel pressured to impress someone, try taking a deep breath and then remind yourself that you don’t owe anyone your constant justification. Revel in the reality that you get to choose. You have the authority to decide how to spend your time and energy. And here’s the real beauty of it: When you don’t owe anyone anything – when you’re self-reliant – you’re free to give and receive love from the heart, without baggage.
Come from this place of wholeness, of inner strength and independence, and then love others. Not because you need them to love you back, not because you’re desperate to be needed, but because loving them is a miraculous thing to do.
2. There’s a solid foundation of mutual acceptance.
Above all, acceptance means two people agree to disagree with each other on some things, and they’re perfectly OK with it.
Differences of opinion (even major ones) don’t destroy relationships – it’s how people in a relationship deal with their inevitable differences that counts.
Some friends and couples waste years trying to change each other’s mind, but this can’t always be done, because many of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences in how they see the world and how they see themselves. By fighting over these deep-seated differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and running their relationship into the ground.
So how do conscious, loving friends and couples cope with disagreements that can’t be resolved?
They accept one another as is – they understand that problems are an inevitable part of any long-term relationship, in the same way chronic physical difficulties are inevitable as we grow older and wiser. These problems are like a weak knee or a bad back – we may not want these problems, but we’re able to cope with them, to avoid situations that irritate them, and to develop strategies that help us ease the pain. Psychologist Dan Wile said it best in his book After the Honeymoon: “When choosing a long-term partner or friend, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next 10, 20 or 50 years.”
So just remember that the foundation of love is to let those we care about be unapologetically themselves, and to not distort them to fit our own egotistical ideas of who they should be. Otherwise we fall in love only with our own fantasies, and thus miss out entirely on their true beauty. Let this be your reality check. Instead of trying to change the people you care about, give them your support and grow together, as individuals. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
3. Intentional communication is devotedly practiced.
No one on this green Earth is a mind reader. Share your thoughts openly. Give those you care about the information they need, rather than expecting them to know it all. The more that remains unspoken, the greater the risk for problems. Start communicating as clearly as possible. Don’t try to read anyone’s mind, and don’t make anyone try to read yours. Most problems, big and small, within a relationship start with broken communication.
Also, don’t listen so you can reply – listen to understand. Open your ears and mind to people’s concerns and opinions without judgment. Look at things from their perspective as well as your own. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Even if you don’t understand exactly where they’re coming from, you can still respect them. You can still put your phone away, turn your body towards them, and look them square in the eyes. Doing so demonstrates that you actually want to communicate with them and hear what they have to say. This reinforces the sort of supportive environment that’s crucial for the growth of any relationship.
4. Disagreements are dealt with positively.
When disagreements in a relationship arise, the easiest thing to do is to run away, especially if you’re not a confrontational person by nature. But you have to catch yourself, because this isn’t just about YOU and whether or not you feel like dealing with your differences. It’s about what your relationship needs in order to grow and thrive in the long run. You have to put your relationship’s needs ahead of your own for a moment. Both people must be committed to dealing with disagreements openly, because running from them will only make matters more difficult to deal with down the road.
One of the most simple and effective tools people in relationships can use to ease the process of dealing with disagreements is using positive language. Relationships flourish when two people are able to share their innermost feelings and thoughts in a positive way. One effective method of doing this during a disagreement is to do your best to avoid using the word “you” and try to use the word “I” instead. This makes it much easier to express your true feelings while avoiding the possibility of verbally attacking the other person. So… Instead of saying, “You are wrong,” try saying, “I don’t understand.” Instead of telling them, “You always…” try saying “I often feel…” It’s a subtle shift that can make a dig difference. (Angel and I build conscious, loving communication rituals with our students in the “Love and Relationships” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
5. Both people are allowed to save face.
My grandmother once told me, “When somebody backs themselves into a corner, look the other way until they get themselves out, and then act as though it never happened.” Allowing someone to save face in this way, and not reminding them of what they already know is not their most intelligent behavior, is an act of great kindness. This is possible when you realize that people typically behave in such ways because they are in a place of momentary suffering. They react to their own thoughts and feelings, and their behavior often has nothing to do with you.
At some point we all inevitably have unreasonable mood swings. We all have bad days. Giving your partner and friends the space to save face, and not taking things personally when they’re occasionally upset, cranky or having a bad day is a priceless gift. Even if you are unquestionably right and they are unquestionably wrong, when emotions are flying high and you force them to lose face, you’re simply bruising their ego. You’re accomplishing nothing but diminishing their own worth in their own eyes.
Do your best to let the people in your life preserve their dignity. Give them space, let the emotions settle, and then have a rational conversation using the positive communication tactics discussed above in point #4.
6. Personal growth is habitually sought and supported.
You know how to tell if something is alive and well? You look for evidence of growth.
Conscious, loving relationships contain two people who are committed to lifelong learning and growth. They’re curious about things. They’re keen to learn from the world and from each other. And because of their love for learning, they afford each other the freedom to develop as individuals within the relationship.
Throughout a decade of coaching our students, Angel and I have seen lots of unhappy relationships that were caused primarily by one or both people being clingy. In a nutshell, these “clingy” people didn’t want their friends or partners to change.
But here’s the simple truth: Change is a part of the universe and human beings are no exception.
If you want to have a successful relationship, you’ve got to embrace personal growth with open arms, and all the changes that come with it.
Conscious, loving relationships always move in the direction of personal growth: for the relationship as a whole and for each individual in it. When you connect with a true friend or partner, this person helps you find the best in yourself. In this way, neither of you actually meet the best in each other – you both grow into your best selves by spending time together and nurturing each other’s growth.
7. Love prevails.
This final point encompasses the previous six, and then some…
In a conscious, loving relationship, two people love each other more than they need each other. Because of this, the relationship itself becomes a safe haven to practice love.
And love, ultimately, is a practice – a daily rehearsal of honesty, presence, communication, acceptance, forgiveness, and stretching the heart and mind through new and vulnerable dimensions.
Sadly, sometimes we treat love like it’s a destination. We want to arrive at that “perfect” feeling all the time, and when we don’t, we’re not satisfied with what the relationship has become. But this is missing the whole point of love – and it’s not a conscious thing to do.
Love is a daily journey. It’s showing up for all the unexpected and inconvenient nuances of a relationship, taking a deep breath, and asking yourself, “What would love do here?” The answer will be different almost every time, and because of this, you’ll be driven to think and grow beyond yourself.
A conscious, loving relationship is intensely committed to being the embodiment of love. And through the mutual devotion two people practice, a continuous stream of tenderness, affection and wisdom shows up in their lives and in their relationship in immeasurable ways they could have never imagined or planned for.
How have your relationships been affected by the points discussed above? How could you bring more consciousness and love into your relationships?
We would love to hear from YOU. Please leave a reply below.
Also, our next annual Think Better, Live Better conference is taking place February 18-19, 2017. Sign-up here to be notified when tickets go on sale, and you will also be automatically qualified for a discounted early bird ticket (while they last). Note: you can watch short clips from our 2016 event here, here and here.
Photo by: Kristina Litvjak