3 Spiritual Pillars That Support The World's Happiest Relationships

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couple backlit, woman wearing hat and glasses

You're healthy and you do everything "right". You sleep well, you exercise, you enjoy your work and you may even engage in a spiritual practice and fun hobbies. 

But you're not happy because your relationship isn't what you wish it could be.

Is your relationship suffering from complaint, criticism, or control? Is there yelling and disrespect in your relationship when things get heated? Is your partner disregardful, inattentive, or persistently interrupting?

These are insidious problems that result not only in unhappiness but also in isolation, separation, or estrangement.

The role of relational wellness in happiness

In 40 years as a counselor and psychotherapist, I've met thousands of individuals, couples, and parents who seem to be healthy and happy on the surface, but that one key factor is still missing.

While there's plenty of information and opinion about mental health, the topic of relational wellness is largely missing.

Most people who are unhappy with their primary relationship are not living with verbal, physical, or substance abuse — the relationship is suffering from more subtle trouble.

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Something is missing in your relationship

I believe that we are missing the need for and benefits of a different set of mental wellness aspects especially important in relationships: Self-awareness, decisive internal and behavioral action, and committed follow-through. 

There are 3 pillars of mental and relational wellness: mindfulness, intentionality, and determination. 

When a person lives with these ways of being they are living consciously, and continually growing, no matter age, medical condition, socio-economic standing (when basic needs are met and when the environment of life is safe), or level of education.

Following these 3 pillars can increase your relational wellness — and your happiness

1. Mindfulness

By mindfulness, I'm talking about ongoing and active attention to our thoughts, feelings, and sensations in a manner that answers the question, "What’s going on with me right now?" 

Because the brain is "wired" for time, that question will usually lead to other self-aware thoughts such as what, why, who, when, how, where.

This self-awareness is different from the mindfulness discipline of clearing the brain, which is a method of de-stressing and grounding oneself.

Both processes of mindfulness are healthy, not antithetical to one another, and as you will see, one may lead to the other.

2. Intentionality 

Intentionality is the process of self-direction, decision-making, and evaluation of consequences. While mindfulness is present-centered, intentionality is future-oriented.

By engaging yourself with questions of wants, needs, relational connections, and goals, you create a future narrative that, with ongoing evaluation of its consistency with your personal values, gives a purposeful path forward.

When the formation of intent is consistently informed by mindfulness as described above it becomes flexible, open to adaptation, and to re-evaluation.

3. Determination

Determination is the set of actions that enliven mindfulness and intentionality, transforming them from internal experience to tangible behavior.

To be fully empowered and empowering, determination must be a daily practice: "Today, I will..." 

Intention without determination is idle and passive or capricious and fickle. To be determined, one must be focused and demanding of oneself. 

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Mental and relational wellness requires all three pillars.

Mental health and mental illness are conditions defined by the present mind/body interaction.

Mental wellness, however, is an active fluctuating process and is upheld and transformative when the three pillars interact dynamically.

They are not a sequence but each affects the others and, like a roof, all three are necessary for protecting the self from negative influence and for allowing the self to grow and thrive. 

Mindfulness (active self-awareness) without intention or discipline is mere self-absorption. With intention but without determination mindfulness is idle or capricious; with determination but without (ethical) intention, it's controlling or criminal. 

Intentionality without value-driven self-awareness (mindfulness) but with determination is also controlling or obsessive. Intentionality with neither mindfulness nor determination is an accident waiting to happen.

In relationships, it's captured by, "Oops! I didn’t know or I didn’t mean it!" Or, it's offending from the victim-position as in retaliation.

Determination in the absence of both mindfulness and intentionality is disregardful or mean. Mindful determination without intentionality is purposeless and mindful intentionality without determination is momentary, a flash in the pan.

When one or more of the three pillars are missing, there's trouble in your relationship.

People are capable of being self-aware, forming intent, and following through diligently on decisions.

In healthy relationships, all three pillars are interacting. In a relationship that's in trouble, at least one pillar is absent in one or both partners.

For example, when your relationship is suffering from complaint, criticism, or control, your mate is intentional but not mindful of self or other (you).

If yelling and bullying are all too common, your partner is determined but not mindful and possibly without intentionality. 

When your mate is disregardful, inattentive, or persistently interrupting then mindfulness is absent. They might be intentional but are also without determination (to be relational). 

Each pillar functions independently.

When your mate listens to and attends to you and seeks clarification for understanding your experience without defensiveness they are being mindful. 

When they make a promise to be responsive to your needs or wishes, they are being intentional. When they're actively responsive and non-defensive, they're determined. 

And they interact together to support and protect a great relationship. I am describing the relationship and the partner you probably want. To get that partner, you must be that partner. 

A couple who takes a few minutes throughout their day to check-in with themselves and their partner, create daily relational intention, and speak and act congruently with that intention is wrapping their relationship in love and regard.

Engaging with each other, dreaming together, and correcting inevitable relational errors by active use of the three pillars of relational wellness will make you a terrific team.

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William "Bill" Meleney is a Washington state-licensed mental health counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist. For more information, visit his website.