In Part 1, I talked about the importance of self-awareness and being honest to who you are as key to building a healthy long-term relationship. If you missed that one, I encourage you to start by reading it here. In this segment, we’ll discuss how to bring greater depth to your relationship in healthy, gradual ways.
Know the impact of your past on your present
Think about your family of origin, your cultural / religious upbringing, any past traumas, significant moments, and past intimate relationships. (If this feels overwhelming, working with a therapist can be a great place to start). We all carry with us “familial and cultural norms” that will show up in an intimate relationship. What topics are sensitive for you to discuss? What are some things that trigger you? (If you’re unsure, pause and reflect on family/friend/dating relationships you’ve had in the past). To move towards emotional intimacy, aim to learn this about each other gradually over time. Aim to begin being able to describe how your past differed from your partner’s in sensitive or triggering areas. Don’t let the differences stress you, though – difference does not mean you cannot have a healthy relationship. Rather, awareness of how you differ and having compassion towards one another in those differences will strengthen your ability to remain connected when you have conflict.
Take your time and don’t compare
Meeting someone and then getting to know them deeply is a long, slow, process that can’t be forced or rushed. If it feels like things are moving too fast, they probably are. Don’t compare where you are to where others are. There is no magical “right” age or stage of life to pursue marriage. Choosing to marry someone is one of – if not the most – significant decisions you will make. Honor that and take your time. Accept where you are. Each of our lives unfolds at a different pace and in different ways.
Spend time together in a variety of social contexts
Once you move past the early stages of dating, this is important in getting to know each other more authentically. Do you ever notice how different people and social situations bring out different parts of your personality? The same is true of the one you’re dating. In the time of COVID-19, this might be challenging, but with a little creativity, you can still do something. Meet one another’s friends, families, coworkers, faith community, etc. Spend time one-on-one, in small groups, and in large groups. Attend one another’s work events, religious or spiritual meetings, or recreational events (sports games, arts events, etc). Meet some of the people that influence them. These varied experiences will either further confirm – or negate – the perceived idea you’ve started developing about the nature and character of the person you’ve been getting to know. Like I said before, avoiding it or pretending it’s not what you were hoping for is only going to lead to deeper issues later. Pretending now only leads to pain later.
Experience one another in the mundane and the unpleasant events
What’s the other person like when they’ve had a typical, uneventful day? A really rough day? What are they like after a stressful day of work or after conflict with a family member? After someone cuts them off in traffic? After losing their job? What are you like? How do you deal with stress and annoyances? What about serious hardships? In the rhythm of marriage, this is a part of real life. It’s vital to get to know your partner not just when they’re at their best, but also when life is just not that exciting, or extremely difficult. It’s here that you discover the deeper character, level of hope, and resilience (or lack thereof) that you each bring to the relationship.
Stay tuned for Part 3, “Hot Button Topics & the Strength of Community”, where I will dive deeper into building a strong committed relationship. I will talk more about community, healthy boundaries, and discussing sensitive topics like sex, money, religion, and family.
If you’d like support in taking your relationship to greater depths of maturity and intimacy, give us a call. Our individual and couple therapists would love to journey with you (and your partner) towards building a stronger relationship.
Written by therapist Jessica Olson
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