Getting Good at Relationships is Hard

So here we have purposeful practice in a nutshell: Get outside your comfort zone but do it in a focused way, with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals, and a way to monitor your progress. Oh, and figure out a way to maintain your motivation.
— Anders Ericsson

Intimate relationships are hard to maintain! We talk about how we sometimes feel like it can take months to build our healthy habits, but just one heated interaction to feel like we’ve fallen backwards.

It’s easy to let bad habits creep in, to let conflict take over, and to fall out of love, etc.

That said, practice makes consistent! But not just any kind of practice… We’re talking about deliberate practice, which is very purposeful and systematic… almost to the point of feeling hyper-focused.

We were introduced to the concept of deliberate practice from Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool’s research, popularized in their book, Peak: Secrets From The New Science Of Expertise. It’s essentially about a specific learning method that anyone can use to achieve superior performance. This type of practice is supposed to help change your brain, so you can actually improve more efficiently and effectively. Perfect for Relationship Zen!

So what’s the relationship hack for hard work? Sorry, there’s no quick fix that we’ve found (yet!).

That said, we can breakdown deliberate practice into manageable parts so that you can work smarter, not necessarily harder, on your relationship.

Here are the steps, friends:

  1. Make a commitment: It's counter intuitive to begin working on a self-improvement goal or to practice if you don't really want it. So the first step is to look inside and decide if relationship improvement is actually important to you and your partner at this time, and to be clear about your motivation.

  2. Set a specific and realistic goal and break it down: Once you've identified your WHY, you get to pick a specific and realistic target improvement to make together. Don’t stop at a having a big scary goal because that might be too much at once. In general, the more you can break down your target, the better. For example, if your long-term goal is to communicate more mindfully (big), then break it down to a short-term goal like: practice non-judgmental listening with your partner for 21 days - that’s more specific.

  3. Get uncomfortable: Learning occurs beyond your comfort zone. In this sense, we're encouraged to try and do something we couldn't do before. For example, as soon as we get pretty good at non-judgmental listening, we'll want to build in the next challenge. Perhaps, it would be: to practice communicating understanding or empathy.

  4. Get expert feedback: Most of this research is pretty clear that change is hard and that having a coach (like Relationship Zen) or another expert (like a therapist) makes the game changing difference! At the very least, agree to provide each other with compassionate, frequent, and helpful feedback.

  5. Rest: Change/improvement is demanding and we need to make space for self-compassion. Every once and a while, make time for yourself outside of your relationship, to reconnect to your individual needs and just chill out. Remember, it's not a race and perfection is a myth!

  6. Appreciate your partner: You’re not alone. You’re in this together. Find moments to appreciate the micro wins and lessons along the way. For example, if you and your partner are reading this article, that’s an amazing reminder of your dedication to each other. Share appreciation for that commitment!

  7. Make it fun: Deliberate practice can be really gruelling even though the results are often amazing. Another layer of research reminds us that in addition to the above, we should use deliberate play too. After all, practice isn't as bad when we're having fun!

That’s our breakdown of deliberate practice, as it applies to our relationship. It’s a concept that really seems to help people in any field to improve. So why not apply some of it to your relationship goals? #RelationshipGoals anyone?

Number one takeaway: recognizing that relationships don’t (typically) just work, we believe that we need to choose to make them work and follow up with actions… which takes us back to point 1 in our list.

If you’re reading this and you're thinking: “Yes, I choose to make it work! Now what?!” Then, try one of the points above. If it doesn’t work, try something else. Demonstrating to your partner that you’re trying can really make a difference... and doing it together creates even greater potential.

As always, please share your reactions, comments and questions on our Facebook group, by tagging our social media accounts, or by using the #RelationshipZen hashtag.

We hope you enjoyed our short list of ways to incorporate hard-work in your relationship. If you’d like some support with your relationship goals, feel free to schedule a consultation to see if we can support you through the process!

Sending you love and light,