Positive affirmations are a well known strategy for personal growth. They can be used to increase self-esteem, create healthy habits and increase feelings of gratitude. Just as personal affirmations can be used to create and sustain personal growth, relationship affirmations can create and sustain relationship growth. Let's start by examining the mechanics of how affirmations work.
Affirmations are statements which confirm or validate a belief we want to be true. Affirmations are always statements rather than questions. We do not need to fully believe they are true when we say them. The idea behind them is that by affirming a belief out loud it will become true. For example, a person struggling with poor self-esteem might say out loud to themselves, "I am important and valuable exactly the way I am." This person may not believe this at first, but the more the affirmation is said, the less discomfort is experienced and eventually this statement is woven into the story this person has about themselves. It becomes truth.
The process of creating affirmations involves identifying a negative message you have been telling yourself and then creating a positive message which stands against that negative message. In my work with individuals who have experienced sexual violence one negative message that is often identified is, "I am responsible for my assault." There are many different ways to stand against this, but one counter statement is, "I deserve to be safe." I have heard from people I work with that they didn't realize how much they needed to verbally affirm a desired belief until they identified the negative message, took a stand against it and spoke the affirmation out loud.
We absorb all kinds of messages about who we are as individuals as well as who we are in relationships. These messages come from the media, our families of origin, our school and workplaces, our circle of friends as well as ourselves and our partners. Through the process of creating affirmations, we can identify what messages we want to make stronger and which messages we want to counter. In our romantic attachment relationships we can use the process of creating relationship affirmations as a way to identify and discuss our shared life values and then as a support in intentionally living those values in our relationship.
The first step is to sit down with your partner and identify some of the negative messages about your relationship that you've come to believe. Perhaps busy schedules, lack of shared interests and missed bids for connection have led to a belief that the relationship is a business relationship rather than a friendship. A couple in this situation might create an affirmation such as, "Our relationship is based on a strong friendship." The partners would say this statement out loud to each other affirming their new relationship goal.
The examination of the negative belief is key to creating the positive affirmation. We need to know what it is we are fighting in order to take a sturdy position against it. Using the example above, the couple must first examine what messages and actions supported the belief that their business partnership is more important than their friendship. They must also evaluate that belief before they can move forward with creating the affirmation. What messages support the problem belief? What actions have they taken to support the problem? What values are they reinforcing when they choose to support the problem? Where did those values come from, and do they still hold those values? Taking the time to do this examination as a couple will strengthen the bond between you and create a relationship that will be strong enough to withstand the problem messages.
Creating the counter statement, or the affirmation, is a chance for partners to identify the shared values and relationship goals they have. What relationship values do they want to reinforce going forward? What messages and actions support their preferred relationship? Who in their lives supports these values and reinforces these messages? I have been fortunate to be a witness to these conversations and the renewed commitment and pride in relationship that these conversations create.
If the first two steps are thoroughly completed and processed, the act of stating the relationship affirmation becomes empowering. Partners can make these statements out loud to each other to affirm the direction their relationship is heading and each of their commitment to this new way of being together.
I recommend that partners go through this affirmation process at various stages in their relationship. Human beings are wired for growth, therefore, our relationships are destine for growth and change as well. Creating relationship affirmations can be a time to reflect on the changes in your relationship, evaluate where the relationship is now and make intentional decisions about how the relationship will grow in the future.
Kori Hennessy, MA, LAMFT