If the COVID-19 pandemic taught us anything, it is how very precious our relationships are. Many of us spent months or longer in virtual seclusion. We experienced the helplessness of knowing that not only did the unseen enemy threaten our own lives, but it also put those we love most at risk. And, for all too many of us, the virus took from us precious friends and family members we never could have imagined saying goodbye to.
But now we are entering a new year and the shadow of the pandemic is beginning to recede. We are looking ahead to healthier, happier tomorrows with the ones we love.
And yet, despite all of the difficulties we have endured and regardless of the many hard lessons the pandemic era has taught us, it’s not always easy to know how to love and be loved. Indeed, finding joy and fulfillment in your relationships doesn’t just happen.
It requires effort, to be sure, but it also requires intention. This article explores the importance of intention in relationships. It also describes strategies that you can use to cultivate the right intentions for all the important relationships in your life.
What Is Intention?
Intention in relationships is about more than the desire to build a harmonious and long-lasting partnership with the one you love, whether it be a romantic partner, a friend, or a family member. Pretty much all of us want to get along as best as we possibly can with the people we care about.
But intention refers to something deeper, more profound, and more, well, intentional. It moves you from desire to action, from wanting joy in your relationships to engaging in tangible strategies to achieve that desire.
This means that intention in relationships both empowers you and makes you accountable. In other words, you’re not just hoping for happiness and longevity in your relationship: you and your partner are taking proactive steps to make it happen.
Intention in relationships, simply put, means that you and your partner, friend, or relative are rowing in the same direction when it comes to your relationship. You’re not simply letting life happen but instead, you are working as active agents in building the kind of relationship both parties want and need.
Better You, Better Partner
When it comes to setting the right intentions for your relationships, there’s perhaps nothing more important than learning how to be the best version of yourself that you can be. The simple reality is that you can’t hope to build a strong relationship if you aren’t strong, confident, and complete within yourself.
So one of the first things to focus on when you are establishing the intention to build a healthy relationship is your relationship with yourself. Take an inventory of your own physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
This can help you determine the steps you need to take to build a healthy, enduring, and mutually fulfilling relationship. Consider, for example, the things in your life that give you peace, joy, and a sense of purpose.
If you have trouble articulating what exactly those things are, that’s a pretty significant red flag that something is missing in your life. The same is true if you find that everything that gives you joy and peace is wrapped up in your partner.
To be sure, relationships, both platonic and romantic, are meant to provide happiness and serenity. Love is the greatest gift we humans can give or receive. But if you find that your interests, your passions, and your very identity seem always to be wrapped up in another person, that’s unhealthy and unfair.
Not only does this place a tremendous burden on your loved one, but it also deprives you of your ability to love them properly. At the same time, such a dysfunctional, codependent arrangement inevitably means you’re giving away your power. Your happiness and well-being become dependent on someone else, contingent on their behaviors and their feelings.
That’s not just no way to live, it’s also no way to manage a relationship. Healthy, happy, and long-enduring relationships are based on equality, the give and take of equal partners. It’s about the coming together of individuals who can, indeed, stand on their own and so choose to nurture the relationship because they want to, not because they have to.
To help nurture your relationship as a partnership of empowered, independent individuals, it’s critical that each partner take the time to work on themselves as well as on the relationship. This includes addressing the life challenges that may have undermined your self-esteem, such as mental or physical health issues or a history of toxic relationships.
Dealing with unresolved traumas that may have contributed to a negative self-image is often a critical first step in building a strong relationship. You will be better equipped, for example, to relate to your partner not from a position of fear, anxiety, or dependency, but from a position of strength. And that is going to make you less defensive, less hyperreactive, and more confident in your relationship.
Doing the critical work of developing a healthier sense of self is essential to formulating the right relationship intentions, but that’s just the beginning. To be sure, to build a strong relationship, you have to first be strong within yourself.
Nevertheless, whether platonic or romantic, relationships are all about partnership and reciprocity. It’s about learning how to engage with another individual in such a way that you both benefit. A healthy relationship is one that helps both parties become better versions of themselves. And that requires each to grow, to evolve, to become wiser, more mature, and more empathetic.
At the heart of this transformative process is communication. You simply can’t expect to understand one another, let alone meet one another’s emotional needs, if you don’t know how to communicate productively.
The reality, though, is that few of us ever really learn how to do this. For many of us, conversation is less about listening than it is about waiting to speak. Likewise, disputes and disagreements are generally seen less as occasions to collaborate on a solution and more as an opportunity to “win.”
But when your communications with your partner turn into a battleground, both parties lose and it’s ultimately going to be your relationship that suffers. That’s why it’s imperative to establish the intention when communicating with your partner that you will listen and learn and avoid defensiveness.
This can be tough, of course. Self-protection is a fundamental human instinct. And when we feel threatened, even if that threat is simply to our ego, it’s human nature to want to fight back. But when that impulse arises, you must ask yourself what is more important: your pride or your partner.
Once you’ve learned to take a beat and resist the knee-jerk impulse to make excuses, rationalize, or deflect, you’ve already made a profound leap in your ability to communicate. Resisting defensiveness enables you to open your heart and your mind to what your partner is trying to tell you.
That doesn’t mean that you will always or even often wholly agree, nor should you. Perfect accord between partners isn’t just an impossibility but it’s also a harm. Who wants to be in a relationship where you end up stuck and stagnant?
Learning One Another’s Love Language
As we’ve seen, growth, both as individuals and as partners, comes when you learn to truly hear, understand, and respect the other’s perspective, even if and when you don’t share it. This is also part and parcel of learning your partner’s love language, which is vital both to good communication and to a strong and long-lasting relationship.
Everyone has their own unique love language. The concept refers not only to spoken or written communication, but also and perhaps even more importantly, to the ways we communicate without words.
A love language refers to the myriad ways in which partners make one another feel safe, valued, and cared for. The failure to understand one another’s love language can be a critical source of conflict in a relationship. Over time, indeed, the consequences can be catastrophic, as partners begin to feel neglected, unappreciated, or, worse, unloved.
However, when partners learn to recognize and to “speak” in one another’s love language, the results can be both immediate and profound. This is because you and your partner are behaving intentionally to fulfill one another’s emotional needs, though what exactly that will look like will vary from one relationship to another.
For example, your partner may feel most loved and appreciated when you surprise them with little gifts for no reason at all, such as by sending flowers to their workplace. That is their love language.
For others, though, such gestures may have less meaning and may even be embarrassing or uncomfortable for them. Instead, what may move them most are small acts of kindness and helpful gestures that show you’re thinking of them. Warming up the car on a cold winter morning without being asked or waking them with a hot cup of coffee prepared just the way they like it can mean the world to your partner.
Learning your partner’s unique love language, really, is all about making the effort to truly know and understand them. It takes time and, above all, it takes effort to understand what makes your partner feel loved. You have to have been paying attention. And with every word and deed “spoken” in your partner’s love language, you’re showing you have, indeed, taken that time, made that effort, and paid attention. There is no more powerful way to show them you care than that!
There’s an old adage that says that no one ever goes to their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at the office. That’s all too true. Love is the most precious and powerful force in the universe. There is nothing more meaningful than the time we spend with those we love.
But that does not mean that there should be no boundaries. Boundaries are critical for every healthy relationship. Even the closest and most loving of relationships require a framework to keep them stable and safe. Without these guardrails, you risk codependency, at best, and exploitation and abuse at worst.
Every human being brings to their relationships certain vulnerabilities, often rooted in past traumas and other difficult circumstances. Those are boundaries that a loving and respectful partner will not exploit or abuse, no matter how angry or frustrated they may be at any given time. Hurtful words that cross the lines into these forbidden and particularly painful areas of your partner’s life may be forgiven, but they can never be entirely forgotten. Their corrosive effects can be destructive to your relationship.
Maintaining healthy boundaries is not just about refusing to intentionally cause your partner pain, whether physical or emotional. It’s also about respecting your partner’s needs, even if doing so causes you some discomfort. For instance, your partner may be introverted by nature and may require more alone time than you wish. Expecting your partner to be someone they are not, to change the fundamental nature of their character, is a gross and unfair violation of boundaries.
And, of course, what is true for your partner is also true for you. Anyone you build a relationship with, whether a friend, colleague, or romantic partner must be willing and able to respect your boundaries as well.
Let’s face it: relationships, whether platonic or romantic, can be tough. But they also provide some of life’s most rewarding experiences and greatest blessings. The secret to a healthy and long-lasting relationship, though, lies in setting the right intentions. This includes creating the intention to work on yourself in order to be the best and healthiest person and partner you can be in your relationship. It also means establishing the intention to cultivate healthy communication patterns and to learn to speak one another’s love language. And, finally, it means knowing how to maintain healthy boundaries as a means of ensuring that your relationship is a safe haven and not an emotional minefield.