The Most Important Ingredient In A Successful Relationship
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3 years ago
“We need to talk.”
When you’re in a relationship, there are few four-word sentences you dread more. Yet, this was the sentence I heard coming through my phone one evening while I was talking to my girlfriend.
A couple of days later, we met up for “the talk.” Was this the end? Had Renée finally had enough of my unbridled passion for fantasy literature? Was the last trip to the board game café one trip too many?
It turned out that what Renée wanted to talk about was a lack of intentionality in our relationship. She felt that we had started to just go through the motions. Instead of making a consistent effort to show our love for one another, we were on “autopilot.”
She was right. We talked about a number of ways that intentionality was lacking in our relationship that day, but I want to share with you one in particular: saying good night.
Now, at the start of our relationship, Renée and I had made a commitment to always say good morning and good night to one another. This could take many forms – sometimes we would record little audio messages and send them to each other, sometimes we would send little video clips, but quite often, it would just be a text message.
Over the last couple of months, to say goodnight, we had gotten into the habit of just sending a quick “sleep well x”, before heading off to bed. We wouldn’t share anything about our day. We wouldn’t write anything that showed the other person we cared about them. We would just send “sleep well x.”
While this might not strike you as the beginning of a relationship meltdown, it was the symptom of a much bigger problem. Over the last few months, we had started to put less effort into our time spent together, less effort into loving one another and less effort into growing our relationship.
In forming this bad habit of sending “sleep wells,” we had lost something important from our relationship: intentionality.
If you get your relationship inspiration from Instagram, it’s easy to believe that a successful relationship is one that exists in a carefree or easy manner. As soon as things get hard, as soon as there’s struggle, that’s a sign the relationship isn’t working. You should probably call it quits.
The reality is that no healthy relationship happens on accident. If you want successful relationships – with family, friends, or your significant other – you have to intentionally cultivate them.
This probably isn’t something you’ll think about at the start of a dating relationship. I sure didn’t. When Renée and I started dating, planning exciting dates, constantly affirming her, and having long conversations where we shared more about ourselves felt like the most natural things in the world.
But as you get more comfortable in a relationship, it’s easy to become less intentional. Maybe, instead of going on new, interesting dates, you just get together to watch Netflix for the third date in a row. Maybe you stop going deeper in your relationship and gradually lose that feeling of connection you share. Maybe you start to take each other for granted and, consequently, the way you treat each other gets worse.
No one wants this to happen in a relationship. As Jake and Melissa Kircher observe “people want to be in love and to stay in love.” We want successful relationships.
That means we have to be intentional.
The word “intentional” is defined as “to be done on purpose; deliberate.” To be intentional in a relationship is to approach the relationship with purpose. It starts with asking yourself “what does this relationship need to be successful?”
In each relationship, a couple’s strengths and weaknesses are going to be different. However, chances are that at least one of the following will need some extra effort and attention:
Once you’ve identified the factor or factors you need to work on, intentionality means consciously devoting time and energy to improving these things. This takes place on two levels (1) Big Picture and (2) Everyday.
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Big picture intentionality means being intentional about where your relationship is going. If you’re a Christian, chances are you’ve been told at some point that you shouldn’t date unless you’re ready to move in the direction of marriage.
It’s not terrible advice – having marriage in the back of your mind can go a long way to helping you date with authenticity, respect and purpose.
But issues arise when you adopt a “marriage mentality” right from Date 1. When you’re grabbing coffee for the first time, you shouldn’t silently be questioning whether your date will support you on the long and arduous journey to becoming a fantasy fiction author (no, just me?).
At the beginning of a dating relationship, big picture intentionality should just be intending to get to know someone better by going on a few dates with them.
However, as the relationship continues to progress, big picture intentionality means discerning whether you want to be in a committed romantic relationship with this person, and eventually, discerning whether you should marry him/her.
If you’re being intentional, your relationship should be directed towards these aims – you should be trying to get to know each other better, gradually going deeper in your relationship, and sharing more of your life with this person.
Everyday intentionality is about how you’re being intentional in your relationship… every day. What are you doing to show your affection to the other person? Are you putting effort into planning for your dates? Are you looking for ways to get to know each other better?
The way you live out everyday intentionality will differ depending on what stage of relationship you are in.
At the start of a dating relationship, one way to be intentional is to invest time and energy into coming up with creative dates that are going to prompt conversation. If you’re stuck for ideas, check out my recent post on What To Do On Your First 5 Dates With Someone.
Once you’ve been in a relationship for a while, I think intentionality takes two forms, (1) going above and beyond the ordinary, and (2) doing the ordinary, but in a very deliberate way.
Let me give you a couple of examples. If Renée and I are having a date night, I might stop by her favourite donut shop and bring her a treat. This would be one way of showing my love that is out of the ordinary.
During date night, I’ll try to be deliberate about our conversations with each other. I’ll ask a bunch of questions, I’ll put my phone away, and I’ll try not to get distracted by the thought of donuts. This is one way of being intentional about an ordinary, but incredibly important, part of our relationship.
Every day, both you and your significant other will be presented with dozens of little opportunities to be intentional in your relationship. If you’re not looking for them, they’re easy to miss.
The biggest challenge with intentionality is keeping it alive. You need to find ways to constantly be asking yourself the question “Am I being intentional in this relationship?”
This can take many forms. Each evening, as part of an examination of conscience, you could take stock of the relationship and how it’s going.
Each week, you could make a habit of asking your significant other certain questions geared towards intentionality, such as “How can I love you better this week?”
Every now and again, you might need to sit down with your significant other and have a difficult but (hopefully) gentle conversation about areas of your relationship where you feel like intentionality could be improved.
Keeping intentionality alive requires conscious effort. It’s as simple and as difficult as that. While intentionality is often far from easy, it’s at the core of what makes a relationship successful. Relationships are made to grow; to deepen in love and intimacy. That doesn’t happen on accident.
If you want your relationship to succeed, you’ve got to be intentional.