Building Blocks to a Healthy Relationship

This issue of The Drop is a part of a three-part series on intimacy and relationships from contemplative guide Kirat Randhawa

Being in a relationship - any relationship - is hard. It requires the continual willingness to choose safety and trust over defense and abandonment. When faced with rocky periods, or even a trigger here and there, many of us have adopted coping mechanisms that compel us to turn away from the discomfort and move toward what is easy and will result in the least amount of conflict. The unfortunate side of this truth is that our relationships may never get the chance to flourish if we are unable to cultivate the tolerance to look beneath the surface, inquire with kindness, and actively strive for growth. Despite how challenging this can be, the depth of intimacy, connection, and evolution that we experience by approaching relationships in this way is worth the exploration. Focusing on the core building blocks of a healthy relationship can provide a roadmap for what may need extra attention in any given period. These building blocks also make the exploration more digestible and less overwhelming as they highlight specific qualities that one can strengthen through a series of practices. 

1. Gratitude: Developing gratitude (even without actively communicating it to another person) has been shown to shift one’s attention away from painful and uncomfortable experiences and toward feelings of joy. From this place, it can be easier to highlight the positive qualities of oneself/another and feel appreciative of the ways in which we all try to do our best.

To strengthen this quality, try using a gratitude journal. Spend some time (set aside a specific time of the day that works for you) to reflect on the ways in which you experience both seen and unseen acts of kindness.

2. Compassion: Compassion has been shown to reduce rumination around the shortcomings of oneself or another and highlight the innate worthiness that we all have in deserving joy, safety, health, and ease. Expressing compassion can create room to adopt a spirit of tenderness toward one another and create a space of refuge that one can find security in.

One way to increase compassion is to practice loving-kindness, or metta. Simply bring a loved one, a neutral person (barista, coworker, etc.), a difficult relation (not the most traumatic relation in your life), and oneself to mind and silently wish each respective person to be safe, healthy, joyful, and free from suffering.

3. Honesty: Focusing on expressing honesty is a natural way to show respect toward your partner (or toward anyone, including yourself) and create space for open discussion where fears and needs can be discussed with kindness. In turn, both parties have the opportunity to contribute to finding meaningful solutions in order to create more balance and harmony.

Expressing honesty is best served once one is clear within themselves what they need and desire. Spending ten minutes a day engaging in mindfulness meditation can foster clarity by decluttering the mind and developing greater spacious awareness. To do this, find a comfortable seat where you can focus on the breath and how it travels throughout the body. Each time the mind wanders, gently bring back to the feeling of the breath and continue to rest in those sensations (on the nostrils, in the chest, in the belly).

4. Curiosity: Developing curiosity can promote a feeling of ease within any relationship. By taking the focus off seeking a particular answer or outcome, the practice of inquiry naturally allows for a more regulated presence. This occurs through the relaxation of our psychological rollercoaster while we learn to find contentment in the act of questioning itself. In this way, we can discover something new about ourselves and others.

A helpful tool to invite more curiosity is by openly investigating our own moment-to-moment experience. Take a moment to find a grounded position and begin asking yourself:

"What am I noticing?"
"What is present?"
"Where do I feel it?"
"How does it change from moment to moment?"
"How does my mind respond" / "How is my mind responding"

5. Patience: Becoming comfortable with our reality not aligning perfectly with our expectations and desires can invite softness into our relationships while providing relief and understanding. Learning the art of friendliness asks us to embody tremendous patience when relating to ourselves and others due to the complexity of interpersonal relationships. In turn, this can foster a closer bond where both parties feel safe to express their needs and remain flexible with expectations. 

Practice: Completing a body-scan meditation can support being with the uncomfortable emotions that arise when our reality misaligns with our expectations. By bringing compassionate awareness to the body (starting with the toes and working up toward the head), we can learn to self-soothe and accept difficult emotions as they arise without reacting or projecting.

6. Novelty: Introducing more novelty into any relationship can increase feelings of inspiration, excitement, and satisfaction, especially for relationships that have fallen into routine or lack the spontaneity that we all need to thrive. Incorporating more surprises, being playful throughout the day, and changing the order in which things are done can result in rejuvenation in a simple way.

Choosing to watch a new movie, creating a playlist for cooking dinner, ordering from a new restaurant, trying new intimacy rituals, and changing daily walk patterns are some of the many accessible ways to add more excitement into the relationship.

7. Intentionality: When a relationship feels comfortable, it becomes easy for thoughtful acts and intentional presence to dwindle, especially if both parties see each other often or reside in the same place. Making an effort to impress one another or show up with the same kind of awareness as is typically done at the beginning of any relationship (friendship included) can enhance connection, create more joy, and offer space to deepen the bond. 

Creating a journal entry in which you identify the ways that you previously showed up at the beginning of any relationship can inspire us to reintroduce behaviors that we have already done in the past. Choose 1-2 of these things to do per week, whether it is asking an open-ended question (i.e. “what’s inspiring you lately?”) or dressing up at home.