Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Quality Relationships cultivates personal growth

by Russ Hardesty, PhD

Most of us enter a committed relationship for both known and unknown reasons. Those known or conscious reasons are most frequently associated with physical attraction and desire for a partner or companion. The unknown often presents itself in subtle ways that are disguised as challenges, misunderstandings or disappointment. When confronted with these unknown or unconscious situations our first response may be to seek to blame ourselves, our partner or both for the challenges. Consciously, we seek to understand the cause and effects of the situation. At times, this seeking takes us in a downward spiral into what I have called “stink’n think’n” and drains passion and intimacy from the relationship.

Interestingly, when the relationship began, each partner was living a life of direction. Attraction to each other often creates redirection and often a significant change of the former life pattern and focus. The demands and expectations of this new relationship begin to take on a direction never imagined and the new relationship has many surprises.

The Perfect Classmate!
Commitment to building a quality relationship will allow acceptance of each new and unexpected challenge as an invitation to both personal and relationship growth. Personal growth is essential to building and maintaining the relationship of your dream. The relationship can be your classroom for personal growth. Your partner is the ‘perfect’ classmate and teacher for the lessons that assures personal expansion and ‘unfoldment’ of your potential. Personal growth is the energy that propels the relationship to greater possibilities and realizations. Personal and relational growth is interdependent – each promoting the other. Growth causes both partners to learn more about themselves and each other. This greater awareness will manifest as a widening or expansion of awareness which is projected into every life area. As a result both individuals become increasingly engaged with each other and the world outside their relationship.

Eager to explore...

Life always moves toward expansion and greater forms of expression. Couples in a committed relationship access the curiosity and wonder of their ‘inner child’ by asking why they behave in certain ways They explore the reasons for their feelings. This quest for knowing is fueled by the pleasure and power that comes with expanding knowledge and wisdom – not seeking to fault or blame. Faulting and blaming brings atrophy and decay to the vitality of the individual and the relationship. These life draining behaviors either focus on the past in the form of guilt/guilting and shame/ shaming, or the on the future as anxiety, dread and worry. As in any adventure, setbacks and obstacles occur when least expected. The couple actively engaged in expanding their relationship will discover what didn’t work and make changes that help move them toward a deeper and fulfilling connection.

Conflict …

Two autonomous adults will inevitably discover differences that create conflict. Conflict is the time for examining one’s own values, motivation and behaviors. In relationships that seek to maintain status quo, conflict is personalized and interpreted as some kind of rejection. For this reason many couples have prided themselves for never ‘fighting’ or ‘arguing’, but never grow beyond a limiting idea of relationship. In such situations one partner may experience a sense of being less or losing while it seems as if their partner wins. Winning and losing in a growing and expanding relationship doesn’t exist. In a growing relationship conflict is greeted as an opportunity for growth for one or both. The quality relationship constantly strives toward the ‘win – win’ and knows there isn’t a ‘win – loose’. In an equal relationship, if one partner loses both lose. There isn’t a place for a ‘loser’ in a loving and equal partnership.

Action Steps:

1) In a quiet place, spend some time reflecting on some of the great challenges you have had in your present or a past relationship.

Write the description of each challenge. Describe the outcome of the choices made regarding the challenge. Identify the key lesson you gained from the challenge – even if the outcome wasn’t pleasant. How is that lesson applied in your life today?

2) Share these reflections and lessons with your partner in such a way to create value for both.


  1. Thanks for this one Russ!One challenge I see is our moving away from family and friends. This challenge presents being "alone" together. It has taken me 2 years to get in touch with the "alone together-ness"! We have leaned on each other more, we have discovered new things together, and just last night talked about our never being read to as a child. We sat silently after that discovery. My husband said, Mom would say, kids go to bed!. I said, Mom would say, Say your prayers and go to bed! So today, I went to the library and checked out Dr Seuss Oh the Places We Go, and The Thinks we Think.. and also Disney's Alice in Wonderland. And guess what? We read to each other! Good night!!Pam Fitz

  2. Pam, Thank you for such a beautiful and simple action that is such a gift for our life partner. Just today, I was privileged to read two books to a grandson as he sat on my lap. The longer I read, the more he seemed to press closer and become relaxed. Such a gift we shared with one another. Too often, we fail to make or take opportunities to do such 'soulful' actions for one another.


Reader Comments

"...My spouse and I have been married for 32 years and I've experienced our relationship from giggly in bed, to passionate in bed, to mad in bed to "sleeping" in bed...As we grow older the intimacy definition changes for me. Intimacy also for me is just sitting quietly, or driving for miles quietly or walking just hearing our footsteps crunch the leaves, holding hands. My usual struggle in intimacy is in my head - I have to intentionally stop my daily to do list, my past and future stuff and live in the present moment..." Pam

it's ... smaller things to celebrate that create the real passion

“We have found that passion ebbs and flows but we set a goal for our relationship a number of years ago that is working for us. At least every six months we do something that will create a lifetime memory. For us, we love to travel, so it's been pretty easy to find something big to do that will create that lifetime memory, but sometimes it's the finding of smaller things to celebrate that create the real passion.” Steve Rae

What'll arouse passion more than the feeling of being forgiven?

“The "typical beliefs that people have when the “fire” seems to have gone out of a relationship" I believe are a) that you feel your partner should have changed or should not have changed and b) that you feel you should change or that you should not have changed.

Acceptance of yourself and your partner leads to forgiveness. What'll arouse passion more than the feeling of being forgiven?” Brian Massey

A word from Russ Hardesty

The realm of relationship is mysterious; filled with magic, surprise, excitement, passion, intimacy, loss, disappointment and creativity. I am fortunate to have a life partner who is at once a mirror, teacher, lover, nurturer, student and companion. In this place of mystery, I continue to grow into a mature, loving and free man. I welcome feedback, suggestions, and comments – which is a gift to me! Thanks for joining the expedition! Russ