“In the world of existence there is indeed no greater power than the power of love.”
(Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 179)
Over the years that we have been working and living together, we have come to realise through intense study, trial and error, and by reflecting on our hardships and crises together what a healthy marital relationship is. It gives both partners security, friendship, companionship, support, comfort and deep love.
In order to experience these, we need to learn the art of loving, sharing, communicating, cooperating, adjusting and recovering. We need to develop patience and forbearance in response to each other’s imperfections, difficult times, crises and loss, which all relationships have to face.
There are some important points to remember and to practice:
* Get to know each other well before you commit to a relationship, to find out whether you are suited to each other. Talk about your marriage and child rearing ideas and ideals, your moral and spiritual worldviews, why you want and what you want in a committed relationship. Talk about your likes and dislikes. Notice each other’s habits, manner of doing things and each other’s temperamental and cultural differences. Pay attention to each other’s way of relating to others. Meet each other’s parents and siblings to get to know the family cultures you are both raised in.
* A long term relationship is a commitment, this means loyalty and faithfulness to each other at all times. We break the bond of trust and damage our ability to develop trustworthiness with each other when we are unfaithful. Unfaithfulness leads often to separation. Separation is tragic and painful for all involved, especially children.
* Take a genuine interest in each other, with the intention to understand each other. Make time to communicate daily. Share honestly what is on your mind and in your heart. Include your deepest thoughts and most vulnerable feelings. When differences arise – as they always do – tell each other how you feel. Look at each other, be willing to listen carefully and patiently, and communicate with tenderness.
* It is helpful to expect difficulties and view them as opportunities for growth rather than as a threat to the relationship. That helps us to face difficulties in a creative and cooperative manner. We work on our problems together.
* Expect to discover each other’s imperfections. After the “romance stage”, where we tend to idealise each other, we will begin to notice what we don’t like about each other and can be disappointed. The danger is that we long to go back to the bliss of the “romance stage” and end the relationship. At this point, our task is to learn to be patient and compassionate with ourselves and each other. A main purpose of intimate relationships is to learn and grow.
* Remain courteous towards each other. We can easily lose courtesy in the day-to-day living, yet saying “I am sorry”, “I made a mistake”, “thank you”, “please”, and “excuse me” increase mutual respect.
* When we have hurt each other, we need to strive to forgive each other, as anger, hostility and resentment undermine our love. Saying “I was wrong”, “please accept my apology”, does a lot to repair a tear in the fabric of the relationship.
* We are all imperfect and searching for perfection in each other can become a problem. Couples often struggle to forgive each other for past wrong-doings. It might help to consider Lesley Hazelton’s quote: “Forgiveness is abandoning all hope of a perfect past.”
* Avoid being negative. Nagging, complaining, critizising, demanding and giving orders create disharmony, tension and grief. Make positive requests, “would you be willing to …”, and learn to consult with each other, “do you think it is a good idea?”
* We build each other’s self-esteem and confidence when we encourage and assist each other. Never tear each other down. We are all imperfect and need each other’s support to develop our good qualities.
* Express appreciation to increase the positive energy. Remember, love thrives on appreciation.
* Long-term relationships require us to sacrifice some of our independence to establish love and unity. Often that means letting go of being right at all cost, selfish and egotistical. Make space for your partner’s opinion, share the responsibilities fairly, be of service to each other.
* Plan exclusive “together times” of rest, relaxation and fun. Plan at least some kind of recreation each week: walk together, read, sing, cook, garden, swim, talk, meditate, create, do service together. Celebrate your love to break routine and create meaning, e.g. anniversaries.
* Make sure you don’t take each other for granted. Take good care of yourself and your physical appearance. We are all sensual beings. Initiate surprises, learn each other’s love languages. (See: https://waiorahealingwaters.com/2012/12/03/some-thoughts-on-love-languages/)
* Talk about your sexual relationship openly. Find out and communicate about what each other likes. Become aware of and comfortable with your bodies. Remember that being sexual is primarily about giving and receiving.
* View each other as equal. Cooperate by considering the other’s viewpoint, however strong you may feel about your own. Become aware of your own assumptions and prejudices of each other. It’s easy to put each other in a box. Make decisions together that feel just and fair for all concerned.
* Strong emotional reactions of fear, anger, anxiety and sadness are indicators of the state of your love in your relationship. When they dominate the relationship, ask yourselves: how can I bring more love into the relationship?
* Practice self-discipline. Learn to be in control of your emotions and desires. If your emotions and desires control you, you lose your freedom. Make sure you are in charge of them.
* Learn to see yourself more objectively through the eyes of others. They can often see your qualities when you don’t. A prayer to help with this: “Dear God. Show me the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is.” (Robert Holden)
* Remember that you have been created with love by God, and will always be loved by him.
* Choose a spiritual path that enriches and deepens your love and a strong moral, mutually agreed upon, framework to guide your actions through turbulent times.
* Express affection and care for each other on a daily basis, to help establish a home of love, warmth and hospitality.