We’ve all heard the saying, “Relationships take work,” but how many of us know for sure which relationship work actually works?

We can keep ourselves really, really busy working on our relationships, gaining lots of self-awareness in the process, but not creating actual long-term change, so eventually our relationships backslide into the same, repetitive, frustrating patterns, and we start to wonder if change is truly possible.

It’s so disheartening.

Here’s why it tends to go this way:

In Western Medicine, the focus is on treating symptoms. When there’s a symptom, it means that something’s wrong that needs to be fixed.

And while we all know that’s necessary work, especially for acute injuries and illnesses, it’s also true that Western Medicine isn’t really about healing at a deep level.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the emphasis is on treating the terrain in which symptoms arise. Acute symptoms are treated, but more attention is placed on balancing and strengthening the underlying terrain of the body, energy, and spirit.

Chinese Medicine focuses on the terrain because it’s supremely intelligent.

When the terrain is given the resources it needs, like proper food, water, movement, and rest, it’s more than capable of resolving the symptoms on its own unless they’re very acute, like you’re bleeding out because you’ve been hit by a car, or you can’t breathe, or you’re having a heart attack, or you need a tumor removed surgically before you can access your inner resources to heal.

Love is also supremely intelligent.

When given the resources it needs, meaning, we remove the blocks to love’s expression and flow in our relationships, many of the symptoms of disharmony and disconnection resolve on their own.

In addition to removing love blocks, it’s also about making deliberate choices that nourish the relationship’s terrain, which is the field of love and connection between you and your loved ones.

Choices like:

  • getting enough rest
  • moving our bodies
  • communicating our wants, needs, and boundaries with ease and kindness
  • eating nourishing food
  • not letting our thoughts obscure the truth of what’s happening
  • making time for one another
  • clearing past resentments
  • handling things that come up in real time so they don’t fester
  • addressing childhood wounding and limiting beliefs
  • stabilizing nervous system reactivity

If there’s an acute symptom in the relationship, of course it’s important to work with it, but I find that tending to the terrain of the relationship often shifts symptoms more deeply and permanently than focusing on the symptoms alone does.

Because, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them,” as Albert Einstein so wisely said.

Focusing only on your relationship symptoms without addressing the terrain keeps you locked in repeating those symptoms because the underlying issues that cause them never get resolved.

I’ve always been a “terrain” kind of person, more than a “zap the symptoms” kind of person. It probably has something to do with starting to read Zen texts at 15 years old and getting my Master’s in Traditional Chinese Medicine over 20 years ago.

I also think this is why I had such resistance to niching myself as a relationship coach.

It took me about 3 years to finally say yes to that label, though I changed it to Relationship Alchemist to point more accurately at the depth of transformation that I’m really about facilitating for my clients.

Because I address the terrain, my work runs much deeper than typical relationship coaching.

And frankly, a lot of what relationship coaches focus on bores me if it’s the only thing someone wants from our work together.

  • You can learn how to say things in just the right way, but if your energy isn’t aligned with what you’re saying, it’s not going to work.
  • You can learn to set boundaries, but until you face the ways you abandon yourself on a daily basis, it’s not going to work.
  • You can ask for what you want from your partner, but until you cultivate alignment with your desires and start taking care of your own body, mind, and spirit, it’s not going to work.
  • You can attract the right person, but if you don’t know how to set up the relationship to allow love to expand over time, it’s not going to work.

For example, one of my married clients came to me because she was stretched so thin between parenting two small kids and working two part-time jobs that she was getting paralyzed around decision-making and discerning what felt best for her to do.

I had her begin to incorporate small pleasures into her day. Nothing too drastic, a cup of tea here, a short stretching practice or meditation there.

Just some quick ways to connect with herself in the midst of the day’s pressures, so she could start to unhook herself from the part of herself that keeps her running ragged all the time, tending to everyone’s needs but her own.

One morning, instead of blazing by her husband and kids like she usually does, she paused at the bottom of the stairs and acted on a spontaneous desire to give her husband a hug.

He was so happy to be acknowledged. Her kids were so happy to see their parents hugging.

She realized that this easy and quick gesture also nourished and felt wonderful to her, too.

Because she had her attention on doing pleasurable things and on her inner experience as she moved through her day, she was attuned enough to catch her desire in a moment when she typically was too rushed to pay attention.

And her loved ones loved it.

This is what I mean about shifting the terrain.

When she began to unhook from her relentless taskmaster by deliberately choosing to divert some of her attention to activities that felt good, it had an immediate positive effect on the terrain of her relationship:

  • Her husband began to be more honest when he was overwhelmed and they improved their teamwork
  • She asked for and got a weekend away from the family to be alone and focus on her creative work
  • She proposed to her job that she teach a segment in an upcoming conference, which she wouldn’t have had the guts to do before, and discovered that they were planning to ask her to teach anyway!

All from her willingness to attend to the inner terrain out of which her overwork and overwhelm arise and her willingness to attend to the terrain of the relationship.

So when you work on your relationship, I invite you to consider the underlying terrain and not just the symptoms. Doing so will benefit you so much more long-term rather than only working with symptoms.

Tending to the terrain, along with deliberately cultivating the skills that support you in having a loving and fulfilling relationship, allows love to more easily resolve disharmony and disconnection and blow you away with its knowing and transformational power.

The relationship you desire is possible! Click HERE to discover what missing pieces are stopping you from having the connection and passion you desire.