OK, truthfully, my husband and I lasted four days with our experiment instead of our proposed seven, but it was the best four days of our 10-year relationship. Throughout our decade together, we've experienced what I would assume to be your typical relationship evolution - from nauseating PDA to butterflies in my stomach in anticipation of his proposal; from the honeymoon phase that carries all blissful(ly naive) newlyweds through their first year of matrimony to welcoming our daughter into the world. For the most part, it is safe to say that we had it pretty good.
I would smile and nod when older (and wiser) women would haunt me with their unsolicited marriage advice on the inevitable moment when I would look at my husband with regret. I usually shrugged it off and chalked it up to their being unlucky in love. Not me. Not my husband. Not us.
Until it was. Life threw up on us and suddenly we were living in an emotional landmine. In one year, we went from feeling blessed to stressed. From job losses and financial burdens, breaches of trust and intimate betrayals, our relationship had hit rock bottom. Our once peaceful home became a battleground for verbal assaults and physical isolation that began to take its toll on my well-being. Something had to change. If not for salvaging any remaining bit of frayed rope that was holding our relationship together, for my own happiness.
Nothing was quite as magical as simply speaking kindly to each other.
We've spent the past year and a half under the guidance of our therapists - reading every self-help book we could and trying every intimacy-building exercise we could think of. I'm sure in bits and pieces they provided the shifts necessary to help restore our relationship, but nothing was quite as magical as simply speaking kindly to each other.
I got the idea from the concept that if you speak to your plants, they will grow. Personally, I've never participated in much plant talk myself, but I am hippy-dippy enough to believe in the powers of universal energies. I assumed that if I spoke to my husband in affirmations, he would respond positively, and in return, our energetic space would grow more positive. And what do you know, like most women in most marriages, I was right.
Maybe your relationship isn't as gloom and doom as mine was. Maybe you just want to spice things up. Wherever you fall on the relationship evolution spectrum, we can probably all use a dose of kindness. Here are my tips.
Bring it back to basics.
We kicked off our (what was meant to be) seven-day exercise during date night, after I got a fresh cut and color and downed a flight of frozen margaritas. I was feeling my new look and felt inspired to turn the relationship page, in hopes that this would be the best chapter of our relationship yet. By the time the check came, I felt like we had time traveled 10 years earlier. We were appreciating one another like new couples do in the early stages of a relationship.
"You look really beautiful" . . .
"Tell me more about that" . . .
"That is a really great idea" . . .
"Thank you so much for dinner, I really enjoyed talking to you" . . .
We brought it back to basics by simply listening, respecting, and admiring one another. I went to bed that night feeling really good about myself. Maybe it was the hair, or maybe I had a really amazing "first date."
Between dinner the previous night and the butterflies that followed me home, I woke up at 5 a.m. hot and bothered. Truthfully, it was the quesadilla, but I felt inspired to keep the night's spark alive. Since the baby was staying at my parents' house (pro tip: babysitters make talking nicely to each other so much easier), I suggested that we chase the sunrise in our favorite neighborhood spot on the water. In 10 whole years, we had never seen the sunrise together - sunsets, yes; sunrises, no. As the sun peeked through the morning sky and the birds flew freely overhead, we sat in awe of the stillness that the early morning brings. For the first time in a long time we felt at peace - individually and together. Maybe all it took was to watch darkness turn to light to illuminate our gratitude for our circumstances and for one another.
Affirm, affirm, affirm.
"Thank you for watching the sunrise with me."
"You're welcome. Thank you for suggesting such a fun and spontaneous activity."
From one "thank you" to the next, we were stacking up the affirmations like pennies in a piggy bank, saving for that rainy day (or future fight). Affirming one another is like taking medicine. It strengthens your self-esteem and builds trust, so when your relationship does get sick, it doesn't knock the positive wind out of you. Each affirmation snowballed into the next, and eventually it became more status quo to be kind to each other. It felt more natural to give each other the benefit of the doubt, to trust in each other's good intentions, and to come from a place of "we," rather than "me, me, me." When typically triggering conversations began to brew, I felt confident in our ability to navigate them with more sensitivity and respect. Our positive interactions made me trust that I was emotionally safe again, and that had some unanticipated sweaty results.
"Men need sex to feel loved. Women need to feel loved to have sex." - Anonymous, Wise Man
If day three equated to the number of dates, then I was eagerly anticipating our third date "first time." It wasn't just the affirmations that had me feeling myself (and my husband) but the effort that we consciously put forth to make each other feel good. If speaking kindly can produce such positive emotional results, what results would it produce in the bedroom? Turns out, our slight yet intentional shift in communication yielded a kind of vulnerability that just wasn't present before; vulnerability yielded a type of intimacy that we just didn't have before. And the combination of the two produced the best sex we've had since our actual third date 10 years earlier. We even cuddled afterward! Now, intimacy is our new foreplay. When my husband wink-winks, hint-hints that he wants sex, we redirect our physical energy to building emotional intimacy. When emotional intimacy is reached (aka when I feel loved), sex is not only inevitable but also incredible!
Treat others like you treat yourself, with love.
Turns out, when you are kind to yourself, it is much harder to allow others to treat you unkindly. Yet, it will happen and we will continue to allow it. My husband and I were a controlled experiment - both subjects were consciously working toward the most optimal result. But life is unpredictable - people and circumstances can't be controlled. Negativity seeps in by way of people, places, thoughts, and mantras. Ultimately, it is up to you to keep your side of the street clear of hostility and full of positivity - self-love, validation, affirmation, and respect. You can only be as kind to others as you are kind to yourself.
I anticipated that this experiment would resuscitate my relationship. And I'm grateful that it did. What I didn't expect was how the relationship with myself would grow. Treat yourself kindly; you are the most important relationship you've got. Treat yourself kindly and watch your other relationships blossom.