Getting what we want, what we feel we deserve, and what we hope for often feels out of reach and inconceivable. This is can be particularly daunting when we consider intimate and loving relationships. In my years working as a sex and relationship therapist, people have shared with me how they struggle to find the right relationship, or if they are in a good relationship, how to dig deeper and get their needs met. I hear people talk about changing needs over the course of a relationship and not having the skills or path to connect with their partner about how the relationship should continue to develop. They want to avoid becoming stagnant. The work of relationship is often not something that has been modeled for us. We are not often given lessons in how to develop, maintain, and grow a great relationship.
A great relationship is not a Disneyesque or Hallmark experience. It is a lot of work and investment. We want a return on our investment. We engage and want our partner to engage back. We want to know that all the energy, time, vulnerability, and attention we give will result in a meaningful and valuable response from our partner. We also want to believe that our partner is returning the energy and focus to us, not because they are obligated or feel that they must pay a debt to us, but because they also have a perceived value for their investment. Thus, a sense of reciprocity is created. And, if we are lucky, over time those investments become deeper and more meaningful. However, there are often potholes in this road to intimacy and we must figure out how to travel down rocky paths.
The three words I often share with people when discussing such rocky paths are Consistent, Persistent, and Insistent. Let’s break these down…
Consistent means to have regularity. A regular drum beat. Now, the rhythm may change but there must be a regular beat. When we stop having a sense of consistency, we never know when the next beat of the drum will be. We cannot predict it. It can cause anxiety, confusion, and a lack of investment. Regularity breeds investment. The work of relationship must consistent.
Persistent means not giving up. To be persistent means climbing mountains, doing hard work, holding onto perceived value. The harder the work, the greater the investment, the greater the return on investment. There must be a belief that the work is worth the risk and challenge. If there is a sense of value in the relationship, a focus on maintaining the work/investment is critical. (It is also important to understand when there is no value remaining and it is time to end…but make that an intentional decision.)
Insistent means to communicate your expectations of others’ investment. It is how we compel action from our partners. The work of relationship cannot be done by one person. Relationship by its core definition is an engagement with another. This is the quality where we let our partner know what we are looking for from them. This can also include the negotiating and maintaining of boundaries, creating new shared relationship structures, and assessing each other’s needs.
So, when the road gets rocky – and it will from time to time – it is important that we can focus on the tools in our toolbox to create change. Consistent, Persistent, Insistent are tools we can use to approach such challenges and open communication. Be curious about your partner and explore how they invest and what return they are looking to receive. Showing them you are committed in a way that correlates to a return on their investment can bring new energy. Learning how to talk to your partner so they will know what your investment, expectations, and hopeful return looks like is key. Do not assume that you or your partner know any of these things. These qualities change subtly over time and it is important to always go back in to explore!