The following article is excerpted from David Simon’s bestselling book, Free to Love, Free to Heal, now available in a new, updated edition containing a special bonus chapter. You can preview Chapter One below!
Read Chapter One from Free to Love, Free to Heal here.
Most people envision an ideal intimate relationship based upon shared interests, open communication, mutual nurturing, and passion. Because many have been unable to create this level of emotional connection, they determine that they need to “work” harder to create the love they seek. People often tell me they are seeking a “serious” relationship, but it has been my experience that lighthearted ones are generally more desirable and longer lasting.
Although there is no proven formula that applies to all relationships, embracing a few key principles in your heart will reduce conflict and enhance the flow of love. These seven principles are valuable in friendships and business relationships, as well as in families, marriages, and intimate partnerships.
Relationships based upon inequality may survive but will never thrive. Love is the unity that comes from seeing yourself in another and the other in you. Despite inevitable differences in financial productivity, educational background, physical beauty, or IQ, your deep and unassailable self-talk must be, I am not above you or beneath you. We are different expressions of the same underlying being and, as such, are of equal value.
2.) My relationships are mirrors of myself.
If there is discord in a relationship, ask yourself how you may be contributing to the conflict. Before blaming the other person for what they are or are not doing, search your heart and see what you might be able to think, say, or do differently to shift the dynamics. If you are seeking more attention, can you be more attentive? If you are seeking more affection, can you be more affectionate? If you are seeking more appreciation, can you be more appreciative? If you are looking for greater acceptance, can you be more accepting?
It is much more challenging to change another person than it is to change yourself (and that’s not easy either!). Seeing others as mirrors of yourself empowers you to change someone over whom you have control (you), rather than becoming frustrated with your inability to change someone else. The real secret is that when you transform yourself, the world around you cannot help but change.
3.) My relationships have room for change.
We often are attracted to a relationship for the stability it offers, but too much stability can sow the seeds for conflict. It’s common for people to say, “You’re not the person I married,” or “You’re not the same person you were when I first met you.” Although this is usually hurled as an accusation, it is a statement of reality. Everyone is carried along by the river of change, and two people will not necessarily change in the same way at the same pace.
The door to change only opens from the inside, and evolution calls upon us to adapt to change with creativity. Look for ways your relationship can accommodate and celebrate the inevitable changes that life serves up, while seeking to maintain the connection and commitment that transcends the field of change.
4.)In my relationships, I let the past be past.
In every relationship, people experience conflicts or difficulties that leave a residue of resentment, hurt, or disappointment. These remnants of past battles are often used as armaments in the next argument. “You did this!” “You didn’t do that!”
5.)In my relationships, I choose being happy over being right.
If you engage in a win-lose orientation, there will be times when you experience the fleeting exhilaration of winning an argument, as well as the temporary frustration or embarrassment of losing. However, neither winning nor losing translates into loving. People disagree because they believe that their point of view is correct – or at least better than another perspective – and it’s rare that someone changes an entrenched position as a result of vigorous debate.
The alternative is to look beyond the obvious differences and seek common ground. People move into defensive positions when they feel that their point of view is being disparaged. See if you can take a small step in the direction of the other person’s position and ask for a similar level of compromise. Interrupt the pattern of conflict by acknowledging your differences while seeking creative solutions that can enable both of you to get your needs met.
6.) I nurture my relationships with attention, affection, and time.
Whatever we put our attention on grows stronger in our lives. Therefore, if you want a relationship to flourish, you must be willing to nurture it.
Many disagreements and emotional reactions have their roots in the unmet basic needs for attention and affection. Arguments about how much time a partner spends at work can be resolved with a loving hug and an unhurried conversation. Just listening attentively can be nurturing. This means consciously committing to not responding until the other person has completed their thought and you’ve taken at least a few moments to digest the information.
Physical affection also provides essential nourishment to relationships. Studies on the healing power of touch remind us how necessary it is for healthy human development. Premature babies who are regularly touched develop faster and leave their incubators sooner than babies who are not. Children with HIV infection show immune stabilization if they are hugged regularly. Loving touch releases a shower of natural pain-relieving and mood-elevating chemicals throughout the body. In short, loving touch is good for your body, heart, and soul, so be generous with your affection.
We demonstrate our priorities by the amount of time we are willing to invest. For relationships to flourish, they must have time allocated to them. I have repeatedly found that one of the most effective interventions I can offer for a floundering relationship is to suggest that the couple go away for a weekend together. When partners are able to re-experience each other as loving human beings rather than merely as defined roles (my husband, my wife, my business partner), the original passion that began the relationship can often be rekindled.
7.)In my relationships, I am prepared to communicate my expectations and negotiate the price.
Relationships developed millions of years ago because they provide evolutionary benefits, yet there is a price to pay for surrendering your autonomy. Committing your attention implies that there will be other areas of interest that you will not be able to explore. It means that there will be times where you don’t get all that you want in a given situation in exchange for getting more of what you want in other situations.
The more consciously you can identify and communicate your expectations, the more likely you are to create a healthy, evolving bond. If your heart is generating signals of discomfort because you are not receiving a good return on your emotional investment, ask yourself what you need that you’re not getting. Then, express your needs in ways that maximize the probability of getting them met. This includes hearing what the other person requires and being willing to negotiate win-win solutions. These principles apply whether you are seeking to heal an existing relationship or intending to create a new one.
Commit to the power of love and don’t allow the accumulation of toxic emotions that constrict your heart. Instead, keep your sights on the loving being you can and deserve to be. If you listen to the wisdom of your heart, it will guide you into higher expressions of love.