I’ve spent a fair amount of time and energy (and sweat and tears) reflecting on what makes relationships work. Some of this has been through observation of couples (like my parents – 45 years together!), through first-hand experience in my own relationships, through dissecting patterns and trends with my therapist, and through geeking out at the couples counselling brilliance of the Gottmans, Sue Johnson, Ester Perel, and Brené Brown.
Several themes have emerged for what can take a relationship from ordinary to extraordinary, and here I share a few of my favourite Three Cs: connection, communication, and kindness. Okay, it’s actually two C’s and a K, but that’s not as fun of a title… Stick with me.
You know that feeling of hope, giddiness, and excitement you feel when you first click with someone? Mmm, that’s such a great feeling, and it’s one that doesn’t have to go away! Staying connected with your partner (or partners) takes intention, and the rewards of this are bountiful. Connection with your partner includes the little moments AND the big ones.
If you’re spending quality time together, try putting the phones away. Stay present with one another. Your emails, work, and Instagram feed will all still be there for you to return to later.
Connection looks different amongst all relationships. Have you been spending time together with friends? Family? The kids? The pets? On your own? (Your self-relationship is just as important).
Connection in relationships deserves a balance of alone time as well as time with others. Fill this time with rich conversation, hearty laughter, play, moments of silence, cuddles, mutual hobbies… whatever tickles you and your partner. Whatever has you thinking and saying, “I feel so connected to you right now”.
If you know me, you know that I am a big nerd about communication. There are SO many beautiful, intricate bits and pieces to notice in how we communicate with each other and how we get our messages across. Communication issues are also wildly common in relationships and can be a source of real conflict. When adjusted, however, healthy communication has the potential to preserve the love and respect in relationships.
Communication can be as simple as assertively stating what you’d like to have for dinner, and it can be as complex as sharing your deepest feelings, desires and values. Take it a step further and communication means setting boundaries with one another based on those feelings, desires, and values.
Here’s another example: Do you know your partner’s love language? This can be a total game-changer in showing your partner how much you love them. Furthermore, do you know your own love language? Understanding yourself is a great first step in helping your partner to understand you – and it all requires communication!
If you’re new to practicing communication with intention, or don’t know how to start, try some simple conversation such as asking about each other’s days (“how was work/school/jury duty?”). Inquire about your partner’s hobbies and interests or if they had any cool dreams last night, or the classic ‘here-and-now’ approach: “Hey, what are you thinking about right now?”
Be patient with yourselves, as this can be tricky at first. Conscious communication can bring up anxiety and stir up old trauma. When you are feeling triggered or overwhelmed, extra support can go a long way and you may consider relationship counselling. Individual counselling can also help a great deal when personal distress is very high.
This one is probably my favourite. Three years ago (to the day, as I write this!), my best friend got married. It was a beautiful and inspiring celebration of love and one thing in particular from the ceremony has resonated deeply with me. The officiant shared his insights about marriage and encouraged the newlyweds to treat one another with infinite kindness. Read that again: Infinite kindness.
Generosity. Consideration. Patience. Friendliness. It is so easy to slip into complacency and get ‘relation-lazy,’ as a friend of mine once put it. We sometimes get so used to having our partner around that we can take them for granted, treat them like a roommate, lose patience, get snippy or even be mean to them. When this happens, ongoing stress around your partner can lead to feeling numb and detached, or even lead to depression.
Fortunately that doesn’t need to be the case, as kindness in relationships is a key ingredient for love and romance, and all the benefits to wellbeing that come with that. To speak and act in a way that shows we cherish and value our partner is of utmost importance in a lasting, happy, healthy relationship. The excitement of connection doesn’t ever have to go away if we implement infinite kindness in our relationships. It’s quite simple, but it is a powerful force that can strengthen and solidify your bond more than ever.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of how to make a relationship work, but these Three Cs can have a tremendously positive impact on your relationships and life in general. These are some of the themes that come up in couples counselling most regularly. Does any of it resonate with you and your partner? Is it time for some tune-up therapy together, or perhaps the right time to resolve a larger conflict? Couples, relationship and marriage counselling are all areas I take joy in, so please feel free to reach out to me with questions or to book a session. It is my pleasure to help you and your relationship however I can.
Serena Slatten is a relationships specialist and counsellor at Thrive Downtown.