By Keli N. Dean, LMFT
“It’s extremely difficult to admit that we don’t already have everything it takes to make a relationship last or that our relationship has some weak spots. Removing this stigma is an important step.”
Being in a serious, long-term relationship can be challenging. As a society, we are not given the types of tools needed to navigate the relationships of life, and we find out that we must learn our lessons along the way. There are so many skills for relating that we can get better at. Even I must consciously put these skills into practice every day and I am an expert in the field of relationships and sex therapy! What can I share from my own experience? This stuff isn’t easy, but it’s absolutely worth it! …and knowing is different from doing.
The skills I am referring to are self-inquiry, self-awareness, openness, vulnerability, taking responsibility, empathy, compassion, curiosity, and listening to understand.
People don’t typically come to my office to learn these skills. They come to my office to “communicate better” or “have a better sex life” or to “fix” something in their relationship. All are worthwhile endeavors but I’m here to tell you that they all need to be approached from a deeper vantage point.
Helping my clients to recognize this and incorporating the aforementioned skills is what my work and my passion are all about.
Now, imagine for a moment how hard it would be going into a marriage without the tools to keep it running smoothly for an extended time. It’s extremely difficult to admit that we don’t already have everything it takes to make a relationship last or that our relationship has some weak spots. Removing this stigma is an important step. You wouldn’t expect to start a successful company
without a solid plan and the skills to execute that plan, would you? Well, relationships are no different. Better planning = better results. What you appreciate, appreciates! I am always thrilled when a couple reaches out early in their relationship for guidance because I am confident that with the right
skills, their partnership has much higher odds of long-term success.
A brief, personal story: I was married earlier on in my life. It was a marriage destined for doom, as neither of us were invested enough to learn the
necessary “repair” techniques in order to get through the hard times. Needless to say, that marriage ended in divorce when I was 31 years old. Now, fifteen years later, at the age of 46 I am destined to marry again…this time, to the man of my dreams. Being newly engaged makes me so grateful for the work he and I have already done over the past three years. We aren’t taking our partnership
for granted and are truly committed to the process. And believe me, it takes two to Tango!
I will admit, it’s super fun to pick out the dress, the venue, the wedding invitations, etcetera, but it’s the repair techniques I mentioned a moment ago that are the most valuable of all!! Without them, there may not be a relationship or a wedding. The old-timers and leaders in the field of relationship therapy have found out through research and personal experience that there will always be problems, it’s how a couple “repairs” their connection after a disagreement or argument that really makes the biggest difference. I can attest to that, as well.
When I work with a couple as they are leaning into their commitment and premarital work, I start with a full assessment of the relationship. This assessment is to find any blind spots and bring out any points of contention that can be explored in new and different ways to bring understanding, acceptance, kindness, and offerings to collaboratively compromise on the
subject(s). There are true gifts and gems within conflict, but we have to go looking for them by digging down deep in the mud and muck sometimes. That’s okay. The effort pays off in the end.
Two other pieces I want to share with you are: the importance of self-awareness, and how imperative it is to practice new relationship skills…
I believe that self-awareness is a key to healthy-functioning, secure relationships. Notice I said “a key” not “the key” because there is never one way of doing something or getting somewhere. It’s about finding what works for you and then doing that. Okay, back to self-awareness…it starts with “self-inquiry.” We’ve got to know what’s going on inside of ourselves in order to share it with someone else. This is a learning process for most people, whether we are gay, straight, cisgender, transgender, monogamous, non-monogamous, Democrat, Rebublican, or anything else we want to label ourselves with. What makes it most difficult is when we don’t know ourselves well enough, when we are denying or keeping parts of ourselves hidden for whatever reason. So the journey to authenticity can be a long, often difficult one, but it’s a journey that helps us to attract the right-for-us partner, then trust them enough to share our most vulnerable selves. And the practice of self-inquiry never ends because it continuously provides the self-awareness we need to live life to its fullest and allows us to create the deepest of bonds with our beloved.
Now, the concept of “practicing,” which should be on the forefront of your mind by now. Practicing is not about perfection, however, it is about refining our skills, our approach, and our attitude towards partnership. Practicing can seem rudimentary, silly, and even ridiculous at times, but we must focus on doing the new thing over and over again (just like we would in sports or acting or dance), never giving up on ourselves, and asking for gentle, loving, kind feedback from a teacher, coach, therapist, friend, or partner. All of this, so that we can show up the way we want to in the kind of relationship we desire. Plus, we can’t change another person! What we can do is use these skills to positively influence others by the words, actions, and behaviors we choose.
Finally, I want to give you some recommendations to make your relationship, partnership, or marriage stronger, help you prepare yourself while making
your dreams come true, and give you some Soulful Relationship tools:
● Getting The Love You Want ~ Couple’s Workshop
(27th Aug, 2021 – 29th Aug, 2021 in Boulder)
● Conscious Loving: The Journey to Co-Commitment
● We Do: Saying Yes to a Relationship of Depth, True Connection, and Enduring Love
● Sacred Relationship: Heart Work for Couples–Daily Practices and Inspirations for a Deeper Connection
● Before You Say “I Do”: A Marriage Preparation Guide for Couples
● I Do!: A Marriage Workbook for Engaged Couples
● Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples: Third Edition
● The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Know to Make Love Work
● The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert
● The Conscious Wedding Handbook: How to Create Authentic Ceremonies That Express Your Love
● Conscious Bride’s Wedding Planner
● I Do Podcast
● The Endless Honeymoon
● Dear Sugars
● Black Love Matters
● Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel
● Modern Love
● Dating Straight with two of your funniest gay friends
● Love Letters
● Multiamory covers all facets of non-monogamy, from open marriage to polyamory