In order to stay together through as many stages of life as Jamie and Mikey have it has definitely been necessary for them to learn the relationship skill of resilience. We're not always going to be on the same page as our partner, and that's okay! Learning to be resilient helps us through those times without damaging our relationship.
Also, all relationships are two-way streets. Each person has their own unique experiences to add. Just as Jamie and Mikey learned from each other's families, we all need to learn from the positive aspects our partner brings to the table.
The key to emotional self-sufficiency (Dr. David Schnarch calls it “standing on your own two feet”) is calming yourself down enough to make deliberate choices. Choosing resilience is basically a matter of practice. Standing up each time we fall is less about circumstances and more about strength and will. We build emotional and personal strength by being as emotionally and personally strong as we can. Just like strengthening physical muscles, consistent work at the edge of our capability makes us more and more capable. This work looks like having the courage to be yourself even when nobody will praise you for it. This work looks like acting on your values even when others don’t agree. This work looks like expressing yourself creatively or intellectually not knowing whether anyone will like what you say or make or do. This work looks like working hard for something you value even though there is no reward. Every time we act with personal integrity, choosing to be more like the person we want to become, we increase our ability to act with integrity. That is true strength of self. The stronger we are, the more choices we have and the more easily we can stand on our own and get up when we fall.
Building a resilient sense of self might not seem like a relationship skill, but it is actually an important key to focusing outside of ourselves. When we develop a strong sense of self, when our sense of being a good and worthy person comes from within us and we see ourselves as powerful in our own lives, we gain the ability to be a kind and supportive partner. If I can stand on my own two feet emotionally, then seeing my partner struggle isn’t as scary and rather than being overwhelmed by their struggle and having to turn my attention to my own needs, I can focus on supporting them.
According to Dr. John Gottman, equal power is essential to strong, long-lasting relationships. When just one person wins, the relationship loses. That power balance shows itself in both partners influencing each other and being influenced by each other. Receiving influence means listening to someone’s point of view and seeing their wants and needs as just as important as our own. It is easy to see influence as threatening, but receiving influence isn’t the same as giving up control or doing things that conflict with our values. Receiving influence is all about being open to ideas and valuing our partners’ contribution. When we do this, nobody has to fight to be heard and instead of winning battles we can all focus on getting things done.
Relationship Challenge of the Week
Write down 5 things that you can do to become more emotionally self-sufficient. These should be completely independent from your partner. After you write them down, pick one and do it. It doesn’t have to be time consuming or complicated, but it should be specifically tailored to you. So pay attention to your own physical and emotional responses and do what actually works.
Let us know in the comments section how the relationship challenge worked out for you!
Personal Resilience is supported by a whole family of skills that have to do with emotional regulation or “The weather in your head”. Resilience increases the more we master all of these Elements. So if you are struggling to feel very resilient and your sense of self is a bit lost, it will probably get easier if you work on things like:
Personal health - the mind-body connection is real. A strong, healthy body makes having a strong, healthy mind much easier. What are some small ways you can shift your routines to be just a bit more healthy? Are there things you already do that make both your mind and body stronger? Can you do them in a way that makes them an expression of who you are?
Self-care - isn’t about making yourself the center of the universe and neglecting all of your other values so you can be self-indulgent. Self-care is about taking on the task of fulfilling our own needs and setting ourselves up to grow and succeed. We can’t be strong if we are constantly depleted. Take some time to think about what your needs (vs. wants) actually are. Everyone is different, and we all change over time, what do you need in order to thrive?
Sometimes we get stuck thinking “I need a vacation” or “I need a [expensive or difficult thing]” but there are lots of ways to meet needs. Are there easier, more simple ways to meet those needs that can be built into your everyday life?
Self-soothing - big emotions narrow focus. We literally can’t see any kind of big picture when overwhelmed by emotions. Soothing or calming ourselves allows us to feel emotions in healthy ways and actually move through them. How do you respond to big emotions? Do you have ways of calming down that work for you? It’s always nice to add some tools to your calming down tool box. Think of some ways of calming down that you can try different versions of until you figure out what works best. Practice, practice, practice.
Self-validation - affirming our own worth. Every human is worthy of respect and dignity. Self-validation is getting in touch with our inherent worth and feeling it strongly enough to move ourselves through circumstances and messages that tell us we are unworthy, worthless, broken, or unlovable. Inherent worth is different than self-esteem. Esteem, even our own, is earned. We cannot demand the admiration of others or esteem ourselves when we act in ways that contradict values. We can choose what values we want for ourselves. When we act counter to those values, our self-esteem lessens. When we act according to our values we can respect and admire ourselves for it. How we compare to the values of others, and what they think of us is beyond our control. If we spend our time hustling for their approval rather than seeing ourselves through the lens of our own values we rely on them to tell us our worth. This sets us up for all kinds of problems.
When you find yourself wanting to hear someone tell you how well you did, or be grateful for something, or say how wonderful you are, rather than asking or hinting or getting mad, take a minute to think of what you value and tell yourself good job. Even trying and failing can be something you value and are proud of. Celebrate in some small way. Write it down. Actually pat yourself on the back.
Self-mastery - making deliberate choices and following through. Dr. David Schnarch put it this way, “Like heroes and heroines on mythic quests, we have to master ourselves in situations that frighten us.” He points out that our struggles against the “dragons” of our lives actually require us to change ourselves, become more than we are, in order to prevail. This kind of change won’t happen if we aren’t willing to make the hard choices, choosing healthy over fun or growth instead of ease, over and over in our daily lives. Self-mastery is the foundation of trust, and trust opens many doors, especially in relationships.
When you find yourself doing something that makes your life worse instead of better, make a deliberate choice instead of going with what seems easiest.