Happy older couple
Relationships & Love

Five Ways to Maintain a Grateful Harmony in Your Relationship

“What If…”  We’ve asked this question many times, sometimes in our heads and sometimes to each other. As college sweethearts, we separated because of a lack of maturity and communication skills, not because anything was wrong between us. Since we reunited six years ago, we’ve both wondered what would’ve happened had we stayed together.

Don’t get us wrong. We wouldn’t change one thing about our lives. Each blessed with children and life experiences that have shaped who we’ve become, we’re certain that we’ve grown into our relationship today, even more connected than we might have been if together the whole time. In our recently released book, 1 Billion Seconds, we explore the implicit understanding of what makes relationships work and what can lead to their downfall; and the short answer is to embrace vulnerability. We wouldn’t have turned tragedy into triumph, gotten back together, or written a book, without having the courage to be 100% vulnerable.

Because we were apart for thirty-two years, and because we experienced other relationships, marriages and divorces, we’re even more grateful, appreciative and mindful of the immense importance of a healthy relationship. We go out of our way to preserve the soulmate stuff we share.

Here are five daily things we do to maintain a grateful harmony:

  1. When there is a disconnect—and it happens—we address the disparity ASAP. If there are other obligations to which we’ve committed, we pause and set up the first available time to share our thoughts. Sometimes, it takes a while to sort them out; sometimes we can’t pinpoint exactly what it is. We brainstorm and problem-solve together.
  2. We recognize when outside influences have broken through the wall of our synchronized existence. When this occurs, we first identify that it has occurred, and work together to detach from the conflict. We resolve that which is in our power and let go of the things that we cannot control. Repeat: let go of that which we cannot control.
  3. Take time for one another. It doesn’t have to include money spent on entertainment. Some of the loveliest and most cherished moments have been just sitting and talking. Many times one or both of us retrieve memories to share of many years ago: a first date or the ageless smile.
  4. Express love and gratitude to one another at least three times in the day: first thing upon waking, and at night before we sleep. The middle of the day might find one of us spontaneously turning to the other to say, “I love you.” Sometimes, and even more meaningful, the I love you comes in the form of action. Geoff, without being asked, hangs up Poppy’s Lulu Lemon clothes that cannot possibly ever go in the dryer or something really bad will happen, like the dryer will blow up.
  5. Be an open book. Be willing to shed scary thoughts and feelings. Embrace vulnerability. Being exposed is one of the bravest things we can offer the significant people in our lives. When we are vulnerable with our loved one, we honor the person with a gift of trust and respect.

In her research, the-12-ties-bind-long-term-relationships, Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., advocates for reflection on the positive qualities of our mate. She suggests that our relationships involve “sentiment override;” that we recall the encouraging experiences we share. And dopamine, the brain neurotransmitter, signals a reward in the brain when we experience strong feelings of love. The physiological results of touch cannot be understated.

What if you tried this simple vulnerability exercise: whether you’ve been together five years or twenty-five years, when you see your partner at the end of the day, look at each other in the eye and greet one another with a 10-second grouping of lip-to-lip kisses. It will most likely make you smile by replacing a perfunctory greeting, and instead, give you a deeper feeling of connection and intimacy.

After receiving her Master of Science degree in Art Therapy and working as a Registered Art Therapist for twelve years, Poppy Spencer transitioned her private Art Therapy practice into coaching. A psychology professor at Ringling College of Art and Design for seven years, and as a certified Myers Briggs facilitator, she continues to implement psychology into her coaching relationships and has been a Certified Professional Coach for nearly a decade.

Geoff Spencer is a certified coach having transitioned from a twenty-five-year career in sales and marketing where he specialized in technology deployed in higher education institutions. He is also a speaker, singer, and performer, having spoken in many professional venues, sung in churches and theaters, and performed in multiple community theater productions.

The Spencers live in Sarasota, FL., and can be found online at http://1billionseconds.com. Connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.