In the last couple of years as I've learned what is really important to me and learned to let go of what isn't, how to say no to things and how to check in with myself about what I am doing and how I am doing it. Moreover, I've learned how to identify for myself what is important to me, how to turn off all the voices of what I "should" be doing or who I "should" become, what my body "should" look like or how much I "should" love myself even when it's hard. I got tired of shoulding and wanted to instead be living and enjoying my life. Thus, I have created a practice whereby I check in with myself about my priorities. I try to do this every week, but basically it comes up for me when I feel off balance.
Moving is hands-down one of the most stressful things you can do. It’s right up there on the list of life stressors with losing a job, divorce and death. Disrupting routine is really draining, so is the discomfort of living amidst boxes on an air mattress.
There’s a lot I did to mitigate the stress of moving before we left Brooklyn for LA that did not work. For example, only moving things that spark joy was a great idea, but I ended up having to replace things I got rid of with stuff from the dollar store that would not have made a dent in our moving inventory.
I am really happy to report that the work that Dara and I employed to mitigate the stress on our relationship has been wildly successful. Every step of the way we have been having fun together and able to feel completely supported. Even when we both have mini-breakdowns under the stress of the transition. Even when we sometimes get snippy with each other.
Dara and I have a history of hard communication and fights. We have gone to couple’s therapy and read relationship books to work on our communication and managing conflict.
These strategies help us recenter and refocus on what is important (our relationship, supporting our love) and what we can let go of (pretty much everything else). I also think these strategies are totally relevant for relationships regardless of whether or not you have an impending move!
Here are the five best strategies we used:
1. Generosity of Spirit
This is something that is a choice to make that influences everything in your relationship. In fact, I think it is the best tool for relationship success period. Having a generosity of spirit means being open to doing things to make your partner feel good, even when they’re a hassle or they are grumpy. It’s giving more than is expected and being compassionate and kind as a resting state.
It’s like applying mindfulness to a new level, how can I be generous in this moment to my partner?
Ways in which we are generous in spirit: Making tea for one another (Dara and I do this all day long, since we both work from home). When someone is crying from being so tired, helping them get what they need to get into bed as fast as possible is really nice. Thinking of them and doing nice things, and letting annoyances and frustrations go really quickly.
It also means assuming best intentions and working hard not to hold grudges. (I know Dara did not mean to interrupt my meditation by playing basketball just outside the meditation room today.)
2. Three Step Daily Relationship Makeover Tool
This tool I got from my friend Christine, the Lesbian Love Guru and fabulous relationship coach for folks of all genders, sexualities in couples, singles, triads+. It’s SO SIMPLE. It is a daily check-in that takes less than a minute and allows you to recenter and cleanse from the day, week or month prior. Here’s Christine sharing the tool on a video:
If you can’t watch a video, here’s the idea: Look each other in the eye. Each take turns saying the following: 1. I’m sorry for anything I did that hurt you or made you feel less than awesome. 2. I forgive you for anything you did that hurt me or made me feel less than awesome. 3. I am so grateful for you for [insert reason] or just I’m so grateful for our relationship.
Dara and I sometimes do it as Christine suggests, when going to bed, but sometimes we just do it as it occurs to us. It really does make things feel better and helps us remember our generosity of spirit and our priority–a happy, healthy and fun relationship!
It felt really cheesy the first couple of times we did it, but now as we continue to do it I think the shorthand meaning for us is that we value one another and our relationship.
In Tuscon, outside of our friend Cris’ house.
3. Strengths-Based Check-Ins
We started this ramping up to our move in order to focus on the good things in our relationship and not highlight things that don’t work. The idea is rather than having check-ins that focus on areas for growth, we instead simply focus on what is working for us.
For example, our check-in this week I am going to thank Dara for being so careful with her language around our budget when she emails me. I can tell she puts a lot of thought into being as gentle as possible with a topic (money) she knows is scary and triggering for me. Acknowledging the things that we do that work helps us continue to do them.
The check-ins feel really good and help us stay in a positive mind-set, with team spirit and resilience.
4. Written Agreement
The whole reason I was able to move to California was because Dara had enough savings to finance the physical move and pay for much of our living expenses for the first few months in LA. I had worked for years to build a law practice and was going to have to leave it in order to move.
I realized about three months prior to the move we weren’t clear on which living expenses were going to be covered and what the expectations were around that. I was scared shitless of being moved out West and abandoned. I’m living off some savings, but not enough to secure me if I have to suddenly find a new home.
We decided to create a written agreement detailing what our projected budget was, what Dara was paying for, what her expectations were for me during the transition.
The process of writing it all out wasn’t smooth but it was important. It helped me feel secure knowing I wasn’t going to be abandoned, and having written agreements forces you to have tough conversations! (This is also why I HIGHLY suggest pre-nups because I think they strengthen impending marriages.)
Did I trust Dara? Absolutely. Do I trust her more now for being willing to put things in writing? Yes. We’ve decided together what happens if either of us doesn’t meet our obligations and that helps us feel more secure and happy going into a super unknown situation.
5. Safe Word Out of Arguments
Dara and I are very different people who have had to work hard to live in harmony with one another. We communicate differently and often get very frustrated with one another because we don’t feel understood. We are constantly working to improve our communication.
Sometimes we do get into fights, but when we do we have a safe word. (Waffle.) We can waffle out of an argument simply by saying it. Neither of us likes to fight, it’s often a relief to have someone else Waffle. Fighting energy is draining and hard and I don’t want to have relationship conflict on top of all the other stuff I’m dealing with.
Anytime we’ve ever waffled out of a fight, it eventually gets resolved. We are so much more productive at creating solutions when we are in a positive space and fighting doesn’t solve things for us.
Do you have a creative tool you’ve used to mitigate relationship stress? I would love to hear it, please leave it in the comments!