When NASA launches a space vehicle, it uses about 90% of its fuel getting beyond the earth’s atmosphere. After it clears the pull of this gravitational force, considerably less fuel is required, allowing it to travel great distances expending much less energy. This principle also applies to relationships. The secondary stage (after you pass the delirium of infatuation) is where the real work begins. That work is about committed listening, letting go of control, practicing vulnerability, overcoming resistance to change, being honest, even in the face of fear, and focusing on your own work rather than trying to change your partner. Like mastering any other new skill, it takes a lot to hang in there and muddle through the demanding times the 40 secrets will help you on your journey.
The effort required is often great and the challenge can be daunting, so much so that many conclude that it’s not worth it or that they don’t have the stamina and perseverance to work forever at this level.
Relationships, we think, should not have to be this hard. Well, that’s true. They shouldn’t be relentlessly difficult, at least not on a permanent basis, otherwise who, other than someone with severe masochistic tendencies, would choose to live in a state of perpetual struggle. The bad news is that some degree of effort and distress is inevitable in most relationships. The good news is that it doesn’t have to last forever, and it is generally a temporary, not a permanent condition.
As we found out in researching our book, Secrets of Great Marriages: Real Truths from Real Couples about Lasting Love, while most couples have experienced varying degrees of difficulty in their relationships, after they make it “over the hump,” the downward pull of gravity diminishes greatly and the amount of effort and energy required to sustain and nurture the relationship is greatly reduced. Furthermore, the experience of nurturing the relationship no longer feels like effort or work, but rather, literally becomes a labor of love that feels instead like a gift, a joyful opportunity for which we feel grateful and blessed.
This characterization may seem impossibly unrealistic or Pollyanna-ish to those still in the more challenging stages of the process, but from the perspective of anyone who has successfully transitioned to the more advanced stages of partnership, it is not only realistic, but absolutely attainable. In addition to the willingness to do the aforementioned work, the qualities needed to hang in there long enough to get to the “gold” that committed partnerships offer are trust and perseverance. The 40 secrets will help you on your journey.
Perseverance has to do with the willingness to continue to make the necessary effort to confront the challenges that are inherent in the process, particularly in the face of discouragement, fear, and distress, and trust has to do with the confidence that there is light at the end of the tunnel, whether we can currently see it or not, and the understanding that persevering is worth the effort.
Cultivating any new skill, such as playing a musical instrument, learning a foreign language, mastering a particular sport or game, requires knowledge, diligence and practice. Developing the skill of effective relating is no different, even though it’s easy to forget that most of us are, to varying degrees, inexperienced and unschooled in this arena.
Because we may not think of relationships as something that you need to develop skills for, it’s easy to forget that this process is no different than the development of other competencies. We tend to think that if the feeling is there, then the relationship should just “naturally” thrive. While it may be natural, most of us have developed some unskillful practices in our attempts to fulfill needs that were unmet in our relationship. Yet while loving another person isn’t enough to insure a blissful future together, what is true is that we do have the ability to participate in our relationships in ways that strongly influence the degree to which they do thrive.
The amount of time that we spend in the early stages of this process and the slope of the learning curve has to do with our willingness and ability to learn the lessons that relationships are continually providing us with. These lessons have to do with cultivating honesty, letting go, non-judgment, responsibility, commitment, compassion, risk, and vulnerability. The more dedicated we are to mastering the 40 secrets, the faster we will internalize the skills and competencies that good relationships require.
As we integrate the 40 secrets, replacing old defensive habits with new, more effective practices, the work becomes easier and more natural. We automatically begin doing the things that work and disengage from habituated responses that no longer serve us. And yes, this does take time, and the process is gradual, but if you can stick with it, the result is worth infinitely more than the effort required to bring it about. It takes a fair amount of effort to instill new patterns into our relationships, but once they are instilled the effort level of doing the work diminishes significantly. Really!
These are some of the practices that respondents told us had helped them to develop exemplary relationships. Feel free to adopt any practices that might be relevant to you.
The 40 Secrets
- Exercise vision by asking yourself, “What’s possible here?”
- Cultivate courage through responsible risk-taking.
- Show up for what’s happening.
- Accept “what is.” (Don’t argue with reality!)
- Handle in completions.
- Practice flexibility. (But don’t be too flexible.)
- Learn to distinguish truth from imagination.
- Become a gracious receiver.
- Create or join a community of mutual support.
- Practice gratitude, especially when you’re resentful or feeling self-pity.
- Cultivate compassion for yourself and others.
- Practice patience. (You’re going to need more of it than you think you should!)
- Frequently check in with yourself and your partner.
- Set and honor effective interpersonal boundaries.
- Live authentically.
- Don’t keep feelings of appreciation to yourself.
- Create work that you love. (Learn to love what you do!)
- Aim to stay current and complete with others.
- Trust yourself. (This is easier said than done, but well worth whatever it takes.)
- Practice responsibility. (See above.)
- Acknowledge and accept your “shadow.” (But don’t let it run the show.)
- Take good care of your body. (It’s the only one you’ve got!)
- Cultivate self-love and self-acceptance.
- Practice humility.
- Find out what restores you physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and provide it.
- Practice generosity of spirit.
- Practice gratitude.
- Downgrade your attachments to preferences.
- Press the edges of your comfort zone.
- Ask for help when you need it.
- Check your intention before you act.
- Practice responsible self-care.
- Only make agreements that you are committed to keeping.
- Go on a “should” fast.
- Don’t forget to play!
- Practice forgiveness. When you can’t forgive, forgive yourself for being unable to forgive until you can.
- Slow down the velocity of your life. Most of us are moving too fast.
- Resist the temptations to offer unsolicited advice.
- Utilize “time-outs” when you need to.
- Go on a “blame fast.”
Find out for yourself. Enjoy!