5 Ways to Grow Your Relationship

February 2019 View more

By Lisa Pisha, MS, LMFT

As the creator and founder of Grow in Naperville—a private mental health practice offering therapy, coaching and groups—I focus on cultivating wholehearted individuals, couples, families, and communities. We’re all capable of growing, we all need to feel like we belong, and we all have a story to tell that defines us. It’s this kind of self-discovery and vulnerability that make magic connections happen between people. Whether you’ve been in a relationship for weeks, months, or years, there’s always room to grow together. Here are five ways to do it.


Play together

We forget so easily how to have fun and play, and unfortunately the fun things are often the first to go when we’re crunched for time. Running kids around, busy careers, and bustling lifestyles seem to leave little time for more than just the basics. And if there are tensions between the two of you, time together can sometimes be sabotaged with arguing or more serious conversations. All of that aside, couples still need to have fun together.
Playing is so incredibly important to a relationship because it gives us an awesome opportunity to connect with our partners as friends and see them in a different role, one that’s more vulnerable—but also less restrictive—and simply put, more fun. Life can be hard and relationships are hard work. Everyone needs a break, and even just a little play can deepen your connection by adding a positive shared experience together.

Playing together doesn’t have to take a lot of time, energy, or space. When I encourage couples to add play into their lives, sometimes that looks like a fun date night doing something out of the ordinary, but more often than not, it looks like finding a joke to share, playing a board game, or sending one another funny memes. Play can be simple or elaborate—just make sure it’s in there somewhere. Believe it or not, even adding a little playfulness to a heated argument has great potential to snuff it out.


Pay attention to small moments

This is the part that’s usually missing in a relationship when people talk about feeling “disconnected.” Rarely do grand gestures make people feel truly connected to one another. Really getting to know and grow together happens by taking note of the intricacies of your partner’s life. It requires time and effort, yes—but it’s so important for connection.

When I talk with clients about this, I often refer to it as whether or not you or your partner is picking up on what’s being put down. (The same thing works with friends and other family members, too.). Every moment is an opportunity for connection, whether it’s something great, but especially if it’s not. We all throw out statements—moods and body language. I call that “putting it down”—we’re literally putting something out there onto an imaginary table in front of us all the time. The connection happens when our partners pick up what we’ve put down and take note of it.

This requires great listening, intent noticing, and follow-up. Did your husband or wife tell you about a significant part of their day? Does he or she look sad? Is there something on his or her mind? Ask questions about it, touch base, and make the effort to follow up. How do you do this in real time? Listen to the inflection in your partner’s voice, pay attention to body language, and, quite simply, notice when they walk into a room. Many couples I work with have been together a long time and have forgotten how to make eye contact with their partner. It sounds simple, and it is. So start there and build up.


Figure out what’s yours, mine, and ours

We are faulty beings. None of us is perfect, yet we get so defensive when we’re called out on our imperfections. Or we use them as a mirror to reflect someone else’s not-so-great moments.

Think of a Venn diagram. The two circles that overlap in the middle—these represent ourselves, our partners, and our relationships. The parts that intersect are the “ours,” but the rest are either the “yours” or the “mine.” We all have our life experiences, expectations, and ideas that we come into relationships with, and those continue even as our relationships grow. It’s so easy to ignore our own limitations and focus on someone else’s, to throw judgment or criticism or to feel entitled. It’s much harder to look at our own personal behaviors, ideas, and shields that we might be adding. Personal reflection can be so powerful in a relationship, because it makes us aware of what’s not working for us and helps change happen. But even more so, when you share what you’ve reflected on, it’s an opportunity to be humble and vulnerable, allowing your partner to do the same.


Share your stories—the ones in your head and on your heart—with one another

Our brains are so wired for storytelling that they will spin off a lie before they sit with uncertainty. And because we all have that Venn diagram (mentioned above) between us, we always plenty of ammunition to create a story about something. Whether it’s something in our own past or based off of a previous encounter, there are so many reasons we create the stories we do. Sharing even the most outrageous assumptions with one another leaves little room for misunderstanding and hurt. Being able to say, “In my head, I was making up that you…” can take connection to a whole new level.


Feed the relationship, not the ego

This one’s a big one, and it ties in with No. 3. In order to feed your relationship, and not your own personal ego, sometimes you have to put down the thing that you’re defending for the greater good of your relationship. This is like an extended version of “choosing your battles,” but with some Zen to it. How much is “being right” really worth to you if you walk away having hurt someone else in order to win the argument? You may have won that one, but you may also have inflicted pain or dismissal of your partner’s feelings in order to do so. For the ego, that’s a win; but for the relationship, that’s a definite lose.

Almost every one of these ideas comes with the caveat of being vulnerable with your person. That vulnerability—the space between putting something down and waiting to see if it’s going to be picked up—is one of the most difficult human emotions to sit with. But it’s also the place where the magic happens, where deep connections, and intimate moments take place. You can only go so far without growing, and that’s something we’re all capable of.