They say "you get what you focus on."
Time and again, we'll hear coaches and peak performance experts speaking about the power of focus. This is often presented within a context of goal setting and personal achievement, as well it should be. But how does the power of focus help us get more out of our romantic relationships?
Whether we'd generally deem our relationship "good" or not, one thing is clear: successful relationships take consistent energy and a concerted effort. I hesitate to call it "work" because of the associations with that word! However, it can and should be that type of fun, fulfilling and challenging-in-a-good-way work that people who love their vocations speak of.
In this way, relationships are indeed work--and they can be that best kind of work that makes us feel as if we're living our truth, that we couldn't imagine our lives any other way.
Relationships are a living thing.
Any human being of course has an essence they carry and inhabit their whole lives--some would call it their soul. And yet, that individual also changes and learns immense amounts over the years and decades.
An individual is the same and yet vastly different at twenty years of age as opposed to eighty years of age.
In much the same way, a happy eighty year old couple who met when they were twenty will tell you that the heart of their relationship has always remained, and yet the relationship has also changed and grown immensely over the years.
Clearly, what can be applied to individual growth can also be applied to growing a relationship.
For an individual, maintenance is not as inspiring as growth and achievement. Also, focusing on what you want, or the ways around a challenge, produce fulfillment and results.
It's the same with relationships.
So, if you've identified that your relationship needs some rekindling, that there's either a rut or maybe even pain and misunderstanding--you both need to ask yourselves what you're focusing on.
An old story sheds light on the subject.
According to legend, there is a Native American parable called Two Wolves. You may have heard of it. If not, in summary, a grandfather is telling his grandchildren that there are two "wolves" that live inside your head. One wolf stands for benevolent qualities such as trust, kindness, compassion, and honesty. The other wolf stands for hurtful qualities such as jealousy, arrogance, dishonesty and anger. The wolves constantly vie for your attention.
The grandchildren ask the grandfather, "which wolf wins?" and he replies, "the one you feed."
This story perfectly correlates to many couples who have hit some speed bumps.
One common complaint amongst romantic partners is that they get very irritated with one another. Suddenly, a seemingly insignificant comment, action, or even a glance sets off an argument. Almost everyone has been there.
What is this?
In many cases, it's a matter of focus. It actually could be called a de-evolution of focus.
After being exposed to something for long enough, it becomes, of course, familiar.
How do we continue to appreciate that which has become familiar?
This conundrum has prompted much thought from philosophers and spiritual teachers over the millennia.
There are several ways to approach this. For now we're going to stay focused on, well, focus.
Scientists have identified something in the human brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). It plays a large role in what gets your attention and is a basic survival mechanism. After all, our ancestors who lived in the wild often had to narrow their attention very specifically in order to stay alive.
The Reticular Activating System still functions prominently in our brains today. With so much going on, especially in modern life, no person can give full attention to all things equally.
The RAS is the reason that once you buy a new car, you magically start seeing that same model of car "everywhere." Your brain has gotten into a groove, a habit of noticing. This system of attention does not just apply to the car you recently bought, or your primitive ancestors focusing on avoiding saber toothed tigers. What we must realize is that it also applies to emotions.
No matter how automatic your emotional response is to your partner's idiosyncrasies, you must realize that you have a choice in your reaction.
Bear in mind, we're not talking about things that your partner is doing to intentionally belittle or harm you.
That's a different story for another post.
We're talking about personality quirks. The cycle usually begins with you noticing something about your partner that is different. Different from what you prefer. Different from the way you were raised. If you're not careful, you assign it a meaning and start to notice it more and more (thanks to the good old RAS). The attendant emotional response grows with each time you notice it. This is the classic Pavlovian response.
Often, by the time you realize what's going on, it's become a cycle, a habit. And this is where all of your other personal development tools come into play. For any habit can be broken, and replaced with a new one.
Simple and oft-quoted as it is, this is a good time to reflect on the Golden Rule. We're sure that you feel much better when others notice your strengths, and are forgiving of and compassionate about your weaknesses.
How do you want to be treated?
How would it feel to be celebrated like a king or queen for the positive things you inhabit? And how would it feel to have a gentle, supportive partner who can help you realize, grow from, and get past your less-than-perfect traits? We're guessing pretty good, right? This is how you rekindle a relationship.
It's up to both of you to make a commitment to having integrity with what you focus on/notice about your partner. The great thing is that yes, there is something in it for you. This is not to sound selfish. It's to realistically address the mutual benefit.
You see, as you change your focus, not only will your partner feel alleviated, you'll start to amplify the wonderful things you notice in your partner. In turn, your partner will literally become more attractive to you. You'll use the RAS to your advantage.
We all know how new couples go through that honeymoon phase where the strengths in each other are seen and felt powerfully, while the less-than-desirable traits are minimized.
Or how new parents see their little infant as a perfect bundle of love.
Or, to stretch some of our cultural references, even how there has been much documentation of success and growing into love reported by those who had an arranged marriage.
Focus works any way you want it to. You just have to exercise the discipline to change the downward spiral into an upward one. That initial momentum shift takes the most energy, but changing the direction of your focus pays off dividends.
Make lists if that's your thing. Commit to telling each other something positive that you love about the other regularly. Celebrate even the smallest "victories" of the other. And soften your criticisms with a constructive mindset and an eye for the silver linings. There are plenty of techniques and ideas on this site, but to use them, it all begins with the commitment to change your focus.
Sydney Coulier is an avid student and practitioner of personal development, interpersonal communication skills, and spirituality. Discover more about breathing new life into your relationships. on the How To Rekindle A Relationship blog.