7 Principles To Make Your Good Relationship Great
I’m unhappy to say that a lot of couples I know have good relationships…
If you’ve read Jim C. Collins’ book Good To Great then you won’t be surprised by this statement. He says, “Good is the enemy of great” and I agree…
Good marriages are the enemy of great marriages.
Many couples are settling for a far less satisfying relationship than they could have… Far too often, a good marriage is the norm.
So when couples feel that they have a good relationship, they feel like they’ve arrived… They look around at all the other couples they know who have good relationships and they fit right in.
Here are 7 foundational principles that have helped my husband and me to move from being just “okay” (if I’m being really honest… we were miserable) to now being in our second honeymoon. These principles come from the countless hours that we’ve researched (and continued research) what the top marriage and relationship gurus in the world say as well as from our own 15 years of working with couples.
1. Conflict – Use Conflict As The Doorway Into Intimacy
Conflict is often seen as a negative thing.
Some couples will proudly tell us, “Oh, we never fight!” and I’ll think, “That’s too bad”.
What they don’t realize is that by avoiding conflict, they’re actually missing out on greater intimacy. It took Melis and me over 10 years of marriage to begin to learn this principle. We started off not knowing how to fight and then avoided fighting because we were afraid to hurt each other.
Once we began to change our mindset to see conflict as a way to increase our intimacy – and we learned how to fight (that’s a whole other topic) – our relationship deepened… Intimacy is the heart of marriage.
My definition of intimacy is = Into me you see.
It means being able to see into each other’s hearts. When you keep this mindset, you become unafraid to touch a hot button because you know it will bring you closer
However, you also understand that one conversation isn’t going to fix everything. It often takes multiple conversations to hear each other’s hearts…
One thing I’ve seen often over the 15 years of working with women and couples is that partners will fight a lot
My husband and I go away on vacation usually for 2 weeks every year… Each year we would fight about what this looked like: He’d want to go to a resort to rest and play, while I’d want to visit my children. I felt like his desire to go to a resort was frivolous. It took many, many conversations until he finally expressed what was underneath that dream. He said, “I work so hard the rest of the year. I really need time away to rest and play to rejuvenate my soul.” Now, I guard our vacation time because I know that he needs that kind of a holiday.
2. Communication – Communicate On Different Levels
One of the first books I picked up about marriage was by Gary Smalley called Secrets to Lasting Love. He talked about 5 different levels of intimacy. Melis and I learned that we were communicating at a very shallow level of intimacy… cliches and information.
We weren’t very good about talking about our feelings and needs. However, until we started going to those deeper levels, we didn’t know each other very well.
Each level of intimacy is a bit deeper and a bit riskier.
Riskier because your partner has the choice to accept your feelings, needs and opinions or to reject or fight against them. And it hurts a lot more if your partner rejects your needs versus if they tell you the news article you read isn’t relevant.
The communication foundation we’ve built of flowing between the 5 levels of intimacy has made our current season of me working at home as a coach, mentor and speaker possible… because we frequently have conversations asking how we’re feeling about where things are at.
At one point, I hired someone to do some work and at first, the work wasn’t getting done on time. Melis didn’t feel like they were treating me fairly. He wanted me to do something about it to make sure the work would get done in a timely manner… He needed me to look after this because this business is my baby. And he was feeling stressed out because I wasn’t handling it. Yet, because we regularly check in, he was able to express this to me rather than allow the stress to keep building.
3. Commitment – See That Commitment Has A Long-Term End Goal
Without commitment, it’s easy to get into trading as a couple… “I’ll do the dishes for you this evening if you take out the garbage this week” kind of thing.
Trading is not necessarily bad. In the beginning, it’s actually good because you want to make sure that your relationship is mutual.
However, you want the trading to eventually stop…
Because you know that whatever you’re doing for your partner, it will eventually come back to you because you have that commitment.
I never dreamt I’d be running a business like this. For many years, I poured out into our family and into our marriage so he could focus on farming. Then when our kids grew up and we began to dream new dreams, my priorities shifted. Now Melis is going above and beyond (helping out with things I used to look after like laundry and dishes – and more!) so that I can work on the business… because in the end, the business is for both of us.
4. Connection – Remain Connected During Your Busy Days
When Dr. John Gottman looked at successful couples…
he discovered that they all had something in common that he called the “Magic 5 Hours” (which he has since revised to 6 hours).
In a nutshell, they spend time connecting in small moments throughout their days and by the end of the week all of these tiny moments added up to around 6 hours.
I love this because 6 hours is a significant amount of time during a week – that’s a little over half of a workday. But when you add up each of these moments every day, it doesn’t take long to reach the 6 hours.
Our 6 magical hours look something like this: Melis and I get up and eat breakfast together (which is a sacrifice for me because he gets up at a farmer’s hour), we say goodbye in the morning… then we greet each other at the end of the day… say goodnight… and my favourite is that we have a high/low appreciation exercise we do every night. Even when we’re tired, we can still do that exercise. I love this because I hear things about his day that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.
5. Courage – Build Courage And Resilience To Overcome Challenges
Going through hard times together can build up strength and courage to press in when things get hard.
Facing challenges together as a team can help you to work through hard times and come out stronger. Eventually, you’ll be able
This builds even more courage and resilience to keep going.
In every challenge we’ve faced, Melis has always been there. I have never felt like I was walking alone in those hard things.
Sometimes in the day-to-day
One mindset that I’ve found helpful to develop so we can face things together came from something I read in Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, where he talked about beginning with the end in mind. I practice thinking: will this little habit I’m doing with Melis… will this take me closer to him down the road or further apart? This helps me figure out if I should keep doing a habit or not. Developing everyday habits that build up your relationship is an important part of strengthening your relationship so you have a good foundation when hard times come.
6. Certainty – Develop Faith and Confidence
Certainty, which for me is my faith, is a bit like commitment in that it gives you a longer perspective
I understand that you may not share this faith perspective, which I respect. If you’d prefer, feel free to skip down to #7.
Faith gives me a higher purpose and reason to be all that I can be…
And ultimately, I know that my life is in someone else’s hands. So when Melis fails (because we all do at times), I know there’s someone else there who has His eye on me.
I believe that God has a plan for us (and for you!) and that every day we get to keep unpacking it to see what it is. This makes life a grand adventure that my husband and I are on together.
It’s also given me confidence in spite of my self-doubt (that I’m not good enough, smart enough, etc) because God is directing our life together. And though we don’t always know where it’s going to go, I know we’ll go there together.
I picture God as a guest in my house, so he hears everything I’m saying to my husband. So I watch what I say to Melis and how I treat him because I answer to God for that. For me, God is right there in my living room.
7. Compassion – Practice Caring Curiousity To Know Your Partner
Compassion makes us more of a “we” than an “I” or “me”. Developing this mindset helps me to listen to Melis even when I don’t understand him because it makes me curious about who he is instead of being frustrated or angry.
Compassion means valuing what he says for face value and caring about his heart even when it doesn’t make sense to me.
This takes the competitiveness out of marriage and helps it to be a cooperative marriage. In a competitive marriage there’s always a winner and a loser and it’s hell on earth. A cooperative marriage faces the ups and downs of life together as a team.
Because men and women are so different, compassion requires that kind of curiousity. Melis has told me so often little things about what it means to be a man, but as long as I live I’ll never quite understand it… I just don’t get it. However, as long as I’m curious, we can still be on the same page. If I dismiss, undermine or belittle his manliness, then I’ll undermine our relationship – and that’s not compassion.
Where To Start
Depending on where your relationship is, this might feel like an overwhelming list… So if that happens, keep this in mind: How do you plant a garden? One seed at a time.
Start with something small and work toward the kind of relationship you desire.
Start with one small habit…
It could be starting with the end in mind…
Or maybe start with high/low appreciation exercise. Simple things are easier to start with.
Enjoy some small successes and build on those. Anything that you do that moves you toward having a cooperative marriage is good. Over time, all the small things you do will add up to create a big change in your relationship… moving your relationship from good to great.
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