Keeping the Love Alive

Can you believe it? It’s February already!

February – one of my favorite months of the year.  For me, it’s a time of personal celebration because it’s the month that my wife Kathy and I got engaged—a reason to celebrate in itself.  More than that, I think February is an opportunity to clean up our relationships: evaluate where we are, assess and reassess the challenges that exist in our relationships, celebrate the successes we are enjoying and set goals for the future. This way, we continue to intentionally find success with the ones we love.

The fact is that every relationship has its ups and downs.  Even seemingly perfect relationships have flaws in them.  Life happens – and relationships get tugged and pulled from time to time. Relationships are not always blissful – sometimes they are down right messy.  We’d all be fools if we didn’t acknowledge the fact that relationships take work if we want them to be vibrant and successful long term.

I’ve replayed the 20 plus years Kathy and I have been together in my head many times. I have to say—I always land on that February 15th night when I excitedly asked her to marry me—an amazing evening to share with her and her family.  At that point in our lives everything seemed shiny, new, good, and romantic.  However, I don’t think either one of us could have ever imagined how many times our love for one another would be tested by life’s events in the years to come.  In preparation for writing this article I decided to jot down some of the challenges Kathy and I have faced since I asked her to be my wife on that 15th day of February all those years ago.  In short, here are some of the things I came up with:

  • We’ve moved 5 times over the years. Stressful in itself.
  • We’ve raised 3 sons together. And although there has been many great joys—anyone who knows anything about raising children will tell you being a mom and a dad does not necessarily bring you closer together as a couple. In fact, it tends to have its stressful moments and at times it can tear at a couple’s relationship.
  • We’ve endured the loss of loved ones. my sister Faye who died too soon, my parents.
  • We’ve faced financial struggles early on in our relationship.  I remember all to well barely making ends meet.  To this day I never forget the embarrassment of having to take groceries OUT of our shopping cart because we had exceeded the money we had on hand to pay for them.  We’d literally stand at the teller’s counter and anxiously hope we had not over shopped.  A time or two we had and had to embarrassingly ask that a few items be taken out of our cart.
  • We’ve had business and career challenges.
  • We’ve had health challenges to deal with. Both of us, our children, and other family members as well.

And of course there have been many other challenges in all the nooks and crannies of our lives along the way.

The point is… that my and Kathy’s lives—very much like your lives—have not always been easy.  There have been many stressful moments to endure.  Moments that we could not possibly foresee on that romantic February 15th we got engaged, moments that have tested our resolve to stay together.

With that said… life has not all been about the challenges we have faced. Kathy and I have grown and found great success in our careers, businesses and personal lives.  We’ve enjoyed and celebrated our time together more often than not and we’ve become quite successful in all aspects of life together.  That success did not come easy. After looking back at the significant challenges we’ve had to face as a couple, I realize that there were key aspects and components to our relationship that helped us get down the road together even when life seemed like it was doing its best to rip us apart.

So, let me share some of the key aspects to the relationship Kathy and I have been able to build together over the years and hopefully some of the tips that have worked for us will inspire you in this romantic month of February.

1. Communication – First and foremost, be committed to discussing the events that are causing the challenges in your life. (Note the word DISCUSS—not argue, blame or get angry about. DISCUSS…together).  Talk about what can be done to improve the situation.  Don’t focus on the things that can’t be done – focus on what CAN be done.  Identify the pros and cons to the solutions you have each suggested and pick the solutions that work the best for your individual relationship. Keep the lines of communication open for one another and remember communication is more about LISTENING and HEARING than it is about TALKING.  So take the time to listen to your partner, hear their hearts, put your ego aside and don’t get defensive. Relationships are not about being right in regards to an issue—they are about being right together.  Find solutions that work for you both (those solutions usually always do exist if we put our egos aside) and put the effort into being right together.

2. Honesty – Always be honest about your feelings. When you buffer a situation with dishonesty just to get through it without too much confrontation or emotional hurt, neither you nor your partner will benefit.  The challenges within your relationship will continue to linger and eventually they will eat away at your relationship and make it less than it can be.

3. Trust – Trust in your partner and trust in yourself. Without trust – all is lost.  Work hard to build trust.  Work harder to maintain trust!  Make trust the foundation of your relationship and all other good things in your relationship will grow bigger than you expected.

4. Acceptance – It is very important to accept each other’s differences. I believe one of the greatest mistakes couples can make is to try and change one another. The fact is, none of us can change the other partner in our relationship.  Real change comes from within a person—it comes from maturity, self-assessment, and from loving someone more than you love yourself.

5. Compromise – As stated above, no two minds work the same; however, compromise is the most powerful tool a couple can use to keep their relationship strong and functional. Working together to find middle ground will lead both of you to the solutions to the problems you face quicker than if you do not work together.

6. Step Back – If things get hot and friction begins to effect your communication, step back and give each other a breather.  Sometimes the best things you say are the things you don’t say! Take a break to rethink what needs to be said. Because once it’s said, it’s said and it sticks!  Good or bad, it sticks!  Hind-sight is 20/20. So when you feel anger welling up inside of you, force yourself to take a break. You may be able to re-organize your thoughts and get back to communicating with a clearer mind. Do not get to the point where you both begin to say things you are probably going regret later.

7. Give In – Sometimes you just have to ask yourself: is this issue something I would die for or not?  In other words, is the issue so important that you can’t let it go?  If it isn’t—then maybe you just need to let it go and accept that no one is perfect… including you.  And, as a side note, if you can somehow find some joy or a sense of humor in regards to the issue you are letting go of, your partner may actually thank you for not only accepting them and their quirkiness – but love you more for letting them be who they are.

8. Creativeness – Stay creative with your suggestions and solutions. There are several ways to approach most challenges in life.  Remember, “the definition of insanity is to approach a problem the same way every time while expecting a different result.” So, be creative finding solutions together.

9. Humor – Always find the right moment to keep the atmosphere light.  Kathy and I have learned to perfect the art of cutting through the thickness of negativity with a spurt of humor. Sometimes life just sucks for a bit. That’s when you have to find some humor in the challenges you are facing.  Work at helping one another see the lighter side of life which will help you get through the dark periods faster together.  A positive attitude is the key to making it through the challenges life puts in your path.

10. Take some “together” time – Find some time to just let it all go and enjoy each other’s company. Whether you have found a solution to the problems you are dealing with or not, you need to put it all aside and spend some quality, problem-free time together. Take a walk, go for a ride, watch a movie or just cuddle. Remember why you chose to spend your life with the person beside you in the first place and go back to that feeling of contentment without all the reality that goes along with every relationship. Love each other completely.

And so… off you go now into the romantic month of February.  My hope is that not a year goes by for any of you where you don’t take the month of February to reset your relationships with your partners.  Our greatest success in life will be achieved if we are partnered with a person who makes us better.  So take the time this month to really reset your lives together.

All the best,

Tom Watson
Your Better Life

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