Life is busy. Try this to reinvigorate any relationship. – Houston Chronicle

RawImage

We know relationships require attention and care to go the distance and thrive. But we tend to wing it.

This makes sense. We’re busy. Life can be nuts.

But few things are more important than high-quality relationships, and I’m finding that for them to really flourish, regular and intentional tending to is required. Flowers need to be watered, and weeds best not be ignored for healthy gardens to grow.

We’re knee-deep in stucco repairs at our house and it’s apparent that regular maintenance is key for preserving the best working order. And what’s more important to keep in good shape than our relationships?

This is all to say that when I came across a practice for proactively nurturing stable relationships and systematically moving toward more genuine connection, my ears perked. I want do it, and I want to share it.

So, allow me to introduce a mindfulness practice called Beginning Anew. It’s a four-part process that involves regularly setting aside time (say, once a week or twice a month) to communicate in a structured way. I’ll give you the highlights.

Part one is about expressing gratitude.

Here, one at a time, each person shares what they appreciate in the other. All the good stuff in recent memory. This is fittingly called “watering the flowers.” It’s a time for positive reinforcement, for attending to beauty.

I’ve read that habitually adopting this one practice can heal and transform a relationship. It counteracts the negativity bias—where we tend to zoom in on whatever is wrong and disregard everything else. It orients us instead to become researchers of awesome in our partner.

Seeing awesome in another person is huge. As we program ourselves to more readily see and name what’s working, what’s working tends to expand. What you appreciate appreciates, they say.

Admittedly, the whole thing does err a tinge on the side of awkward.

It feels vulnerable and a little uncomfortable to dish out compliments and offer heartfelt praise. It makes me cringe to realize I’m probably more adept at doing the opposite: “Let’s talk about this problem I’m having…”

But early returns for “appreciation Monday” in our house have been positive. I can see how this has the potential to shift a landscape and it reliably makes my husband and me feel brighter and closer. He even put down his fork as I was sharing the other day. I really broke through.

From what I understand, the entire four-part practice could actually begin and end with step one alone. It’s the most critical element and the essence of the whole dang thing. But, if you choose to go further, step two is devoted to naming regrets.

Again, taking turns and without interrupting one another, each party confesses how they may have wronged the other. We apologize for things we said, did or neglected to say or do that may have caused harm while the other simply listens.

In my experience, this exercise is equal parts humbling and connecting. Again, it’s not comfortable, but wow, it can open doors and hearts.

The remaining two steps are optional, since committing to the first step(s) is often best for newbies. They’re for addressing conflict: Let the other person know what’s preoccupying us and express hurt.

The general idea is to air whatever we may be wrestling with internally and voice our pain. The nonviolent communication framework is useful here. For example, instead of saying things like “you made me feel ___”, we can say: “when___, I felt ___.” Characteristics of these steps include taking accountability, giving each other a safe space to freely express one’s self without interruption, putting our own agendas down to purely listen and taking breaks when emotions run high.

My husband and I are sticking to just steps one and two for now, but it’s been promising. It feels good to have even just a basic framework to keep strengthening our foundation and our relationship well-maintained.

I think I’m even looking forward to Monday.

Marci Izard Sharif is an author, yoga teacher, meditation facilitator and mother. In Feeling Matters, she writes about self-love, sharing self-care tools, stories and resources to know and be kind to yourself.