The Powerful Key to a Happy Relationship

Stop dissecting the drama, and instead look forward and get playful about the future you want to create.


photo courtesy of Lauren Naefe

filed under Advice, Fun, True Stories

There we were at our engagement party, one of the happiest days of our lives. When a close friend took us aside, we were touched and thought he was going to give us a gift. Instead, he looked at us quite seriously and said, “I don’t think you should do this. It looks pretty messy from here.”

Can you saw awkward? But, sadly, in some ways, our friend was right. Raj and I were very different (introvert/extrovert, morning person/night owl, East Coast/West Coast), and we argued. A lot. Volatile doesn’t really describe it since the arguments were too common and predictable to be considered volatile.

Our friend had no idea how close we were to throwing in the towel and completely calling it quits. We had our own doubts about whether we were doing the right thing. Yet we shared a deep knowing that we felt right together. The drama was thick and sticky, but the intuition was stronger and comforting.

We were deeply unsettled by all the uncertainty in our relationship. We knew if we didn’t do something about the doubts and the fights, they would likely do us in. We knew we needed to find a forward-focused solution that would allow us to grow as individuals and as a couple—day after day, year after year.

So Raj and I decided to “make our mess our message” and use all that pain and frustration we were going through to learn everything we could about navigating conflict, about what made relationships soar rather than sink.

We discovered we’d been doing everything wrong. We’d been dissecting our problems and complaints trying to “figure it out” and “fix it.” We were assigning blame, trying to trace the source of our problems to our childhood wounds, and over-analyzing, and it just wasn’t working.

So we flipped our focus from trying to fix problems by translating our “Friction Factors” (our most common hurdles to happiness) into “Peace Practices” (habits that led us to the types of interactions we really wanted).

We stopped waiting for the friction and fights to come to us. Instead, we went towards what we actually wanted. We stopped blaming, shaming and complaining about all we did not like and started getting creative about painting a picture for our future that inspired and motivated both of us.

Fast forward five years after that engagement party and the extensive study of all things relationship, and our marriage was thriving. We received an invitation to speak at a relationship seminar about devotion—a far cry from the drama of our past. Not only did the audience love the practical and playful advice we had to share—someone said her only complaint was that people were laughing so hard it was hard to hear everything—the very friend who at our engagement party told us to call it off rushed up to us and insisted we start doing relationship education with others.

“You must do this,” he said. “Couples need you. Start a show!”

Now, when strangers stop us on the street and tell us, “I want what you two have,” Raj and I look at each other and laugh. We’ve come a long way through some pretty dark days. And so can you. Whether you’re struggling in your relationship, or on the proactive path from good to great relationship, or even if you’re getting ready for your next one, the secret is to stay forward-focused rather than chasing your tail and dissecting drama. Let your mess be your message, not your sentence.

Gaby Sundra, the co-founder of Relationship Fun & Games, lives with her husband in Santa Barbara, California.  

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