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Has Your Love Boat Sailed Without You?

5 questions to ask yourself when love slips through your fingers.

I don’t have to tell you that relationships are hard. After breaking up with husband Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver said in an interview, “It’s stressful not knowing what you’re doing next.” There’s a chance you, too, have had love slip through your fingers, uncertain what the future holds, feeling as if a part of your body has been ripped off. Studies show that a heartbreaking split can have the same painful feeling in your body as getting burned. It stimulates the same part of the brain that says, “I’m hurt.”

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
Source: Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

If you feel like you’ve missed the love boat, hold on. It’s never too late when you’re willing to take a hard look at yourself and take responsibility for your part. First of all, don’t blame yourself for a breakup. Human bonds are created by two people, never just one. There are always two sides of the street, but a bird’s-eye view of your relationship can help you become more mindful of what it might be like for someone else to partner with you.

This exercise might teach you something you didn’t already know. Take a breath, step back, and imagine holding your relationship at arm’s length. Get curious and observe with an impartial eye how you usually show up with your partner, much as you might notice a blemish on your hand. Then without judgment and with self-compassion, ask yourself 5 questions and give honest answers.

1. Do I invest enough time, attention, and feelings into relationships?

2. Am I a good communicator?

3. Do I show appreciation, empathy, and respect for my companion?

4. Am I able to get out of my comfort zone and make myself vulnerable?

5. Can I let go, relax, and have fun in this relationship?

Do You Invest Enough Time and Attention?

Just as your favorite potted plant needs water, fertilizer, and sunlight to bloom, vital relationships need tending if they are to thrive. In today’s busy, fast-paced world, many people put daily tasks and work before the ones they care about. Bonds can’t bloom without time and attention.

It’s good economics each day to ask yourself, “Am I managing my most important investments?” and “What deposits have I made lately in my intimate relationship?” Think of your intimate connection as a bank account. Compare your recent deposits with the withdrawals. Ask yourself if you’re taking more than you’re giving. As with a bank account, relationships require periodic deposits—time, attention, support, understanding, heart-to-heart talks, encouragement, forgiveness—to stay solvent. These deposits offset withdrawals—emotional demands, stress, criticism, misunderstandings, disagreements, and blame—that naturally occur in most relationships. Consider making a special effort to keep your bond vital by creating special moments when you try to connect by e-mail, text, phone, or in the old fashioned way: face-to-face. Consider doing something special for your main squeeze for no reason at all: a card, special meal, or picking up dry cleaning. Making just one daily deposit gives you a rewarding return on your investment, and the effort you put into it is worth it in the long run.

Studies show that sharing between two people for 15 minutes a day creates bonding against outside pressures. Preparing meals together and having pleasant mealtime conversations (without the distraction of TV, cell phone, or other electronic devices) provide a platform for solidarity. It’s important to take an active interest in your partner’s life. Don’t lose yourself in the relationship, but listen to your companion’s dreams and disappointments and find out what he or she feels about life. Studies show that couples who share their daily ups and downs feel happier and more harmonious. Sharing involves your partner in your daily life and builds deeper intimate connections between the two of you.

Do You Practice Good Communication?

Gridlock occurs if you communicate feelings as facts or turn a deaf ear to another person’s thoughts and emotions because you’ve already made up your mind that you’re right. And you’re determined to force your point of view by commanding, finger pointing, criticizing, or blaming.

You can overcome gridlock by deep listening: paying attention to how you give and receive information. If you’re a good communicator, you are willing to suspend your point of view and communicate about problems and concerns. You are an active listener who engages in what your partner has to say, and you remain open to ideas that conflict with your own. You strive for a harmonious connection where neither party is interested in conflict, judging, criticism, or in interpreting each other’s actions. Overwhelming episodes of appreciation are frequent, and both parties are susceptible to receiving love and have an uncontrollable urge to extend it to the other.

Do You Consider Your Partner’s Perspective?

All of us have our own version of what happens when there’s a problem in the relationship. But our version isn’t necessarily the only version. Suppose a couple is flying for the first time. One person is listening through her earphones to Lady Gaga, excited about her first flight. Her spouse is white-knuckling the armrest terrified that the plane might crash. You have two people having the same objective experience but having a different subjective experience. Such is the nature of relationships. Even though you might think your perspective is the factual situation, it isn’t. Because there are often two different interpretations of the same event, it is important to avoid getting stuck in your own point of view.

Be willing to suspend your perspective temporarily and see the problem from your partner’s perspective. Using empathy by putting yourself in the other person’s place sharpens your listening skills. Plugging into someone’s point of view (without agreement) increases your understanding, reduces your reactivity, and softens feelings for your partner. It unearths your compassion and raises your ability to connect with your partner in a deeper, more intimate way.

Do You Stretch out of Your Comfort Zone?

Relationships can be stressful because they require a degree of vulnerability. A Harvard study, conducted over seventy-five years, found that you can have all the money you want, but without loving relationships, you can’t be happy. It’s not about the number of relationships you have, but the depth and vulnerability of a quality relationship. If you hide behind your ego’s fear of rejection and hesitate to talk about how you feel, you’re headed down the wrong path. You’ve heard the old saying, “You have to go out on a limb to get to the fruit of the tree.” The key is to get out of your comfort zone, stick your neck out, and be honest with the possibility of rejection.

Another way of saying it is you must welcome the opposite of your desires. You can’t have an up without a down, a right without a left, a back without a front. And you won’t find the person of your dreams without the willingness to be rejected—where you speak your truth, not just from your head but also from your heart: “You’re fun to be with” or “I really enjoy your company.” When you’re honest about your feelings, you’ve made it clear where you stand. No matter how many times you hear, “Play hard to get,” such a strategy of game playing builds a superficial relationship, which eventually reveals itself. And the foundation built on pretense will crumble like a house of cards.

Can You Let Go and Have Fun in Your Relationship?

Relationships are not meant to be all work and no play. In fact, lightheartedness and fun are the ingredients that spice up an otherwise dull, drab twosome. Too much intensity can dry up a coupleship and cause it to wither on the vine. Studies show that couples are happier when they play together, and they stay together longer.

Couples who get stuck in ruts and routines tend to associate the humdrum quality of their relationship with the boredom they have created. The mainstay to a sustainable relationship includes creating adventures, sharing in new and exciting activities, and breaking with routines and doing something different. It can be as simple as a regular date night where you try a different restaurant each week. It could be fun pastimes that you share as a couple such as tennis, golf, or hiking. Or it could be as simple as telling jokes, acting goofy, and laughing.

So ask yourself if you’re an uptight closed book, resistant to novel experiences, afraid to venture outside predictability. Or are you open to new situations, able let go and be spontaneous and flexible? Regardless of your style, establish an agreement with your companion that you won’t allow conflict to bleed into your fun times, so it doesn’t dilute the positive experiences.

Vintage love evolves when two people are willing to invest time and attention, be good communicators, show appreciation for each other’s perspective, open up with vulnerability, and make it a priority to play, be positive, and put fun at the top of the to-do list. Take a few minutes to contemplate what you could say yes to if you brought your A-game to your current or next love interest to co-create a vital, enduring relationship. If you can wholeheartedly say that you’re bringing your best self and nothing needs changing, then get ready to sail on the next scheduled departure.

Best of luck and bon voyage.