Being partners in life & business for 8+ years, we’ve successfully made it through a long-distance relationship, speaking a different language, full-time traveling, doing business together, and overcoming traumas after a near-death experience and six years of infertility that didn’t result in a baby…
We’ve had our fair share of challenges, and now using our stories to inspire others..
PART 1 | Build Strong Relationships
Key Element 1: Contribute vs Responsible
Back in 2011 I left The Netherlands and I never turned back (read more here). After living and working in Paris, Shanghai, Madrid and traveling all over Asia I crossed paths with my future husband on a tiny island in Indonesia. From the moment we started talking it was clear that we both knew what we wanted: I wanted to live in Nepal, he wanted to travel the world. After 1.5 years of long distance relationship we decided to continue my nomadic lifestyle together. For more than 8 years we’re living and working together and one of the secrets that this has been working out so well for us, is that we aren’t expecting the other person to make us happy. We contribute to each other’s happiness, but don’t feel responsible for it. Might be challenging to hear, but the only person who is responsible for your happiness is you. To be able to live in such a state, you need to know what makes you happy.
Suggestion: Create a happy list, write down a minimum of 10 things that make you happy. This can be as small as feeling the sand on the beach between your toes, or as big as traveling around the world.
Key Element 2: Expectations vs Agreements
Stepping into a relationship with a person coming from a different culture and speaking a different language is challenging. Both having expectations about how things should go, but not communicating your needs leads to trouble. For example, during our long-distance relationship.. when François was at a party with his friends, he would leave the room to call and text me. He wanted me to know that I was on his mind. But when I was with friends, my phone was in my pocket, because I wanted to be present with my friends. And then sending my first text immediately after the party was my way of saying that I cared. There’s a thin line between expecting someone to do a certain thing or together making an agreement how things are going.
Change your expectations in agreements. Trust me, that will make all the difference.
Key Element 3: What you vs They want
Every time (once every 1-2 years) I come back to The Netherlands and my mom is overloading me with gifts. First of all, I don’t care about stuff, second of all that photo list of the family doesn’t fit in my backpack mom.. 😉 What I figured out, after reading the 5 love languages (no affiliate!) is that my mom’s love language is giving/receiving gifts, while mine is giving/receiving physical touch.
There’s this expression that says: ‘treat others the way you want to be treated.’ But that’s not true! Treat others the way they want to be treated. Since reading that book I make sure that every once in a while I’ll send them a gift. This is the perfect way to make them feel loved, even though it’s not my love language.
What’s your love language? And what’s the love language of your loved one? How can you make sure you treat them the way they like to be treated?
Part 2 | Maintain Strong Relationships
Key Element 4: Change yourself vs the Other
Back in 2016, I found myself a job in Costa Rica as the school director and François quit his job in the Belgian army and we moved in together for the first time. He was studying Spanish in the university and made sure the whole house was clean and there was always food on the table for me (how lucky I am!).
After a long day of working at the school, I came home and was so much looking forward to a hug (remember my love language), but I would come and he would be running back and forward between the kitchen and the dining table making sure everything would be ready (guess what his love language is). And there I stood with my arms wide open waiting for a hug.
Since that day we made the agreement that whenever I wanted to have a hug I would ask for it (even though he loves me to the moon, this is just not the way for him to show me love).
If you know how hard it is to change yourself, don’t try to change the other, change yourself instead!
Key Element 5: Emotional vs Rational
In the book Just Listen (no affiliate!), Mark Goulston describes how our brains evolved over time. Our first brain (reptile brain) is part of fight-flight. Our second brain (mammal brain) is our inner drama queen, the emotional part. Our third brain (primal brain) is the part we use to make logical and rational decisions.
Whenever we are in a stressful situation, this can be as big as your house on fire – or as small as sending a text to the wrong person, our amygdala highjacks our brain and we work from our first or second brain, which means we can’t think logically.
To be able to think rationally and don’t say things you will regret later, it’s very important during a (heated) argument to slow down. Take a deep breath (or leave the room if necessary) and make sure you speak from your third brain, and not your emotional one. It still happens to us sometimes, but then we immediately apologize saying: “I’m being a jerk right now.”
Train yourself to stand in the gap between reacting (1st or 2nd brain) and responding (3rd brain)
Key Element 6: Two ears vs One mouth
Last week, this is not a joke, I went to my husband’s coaching website and booked a session with him. When he received the email he laughed about it, but also clearly understood the message. I clearly needed some undefined attention.
There is this common problem that by default we’re full of ourselves. That’s why often we’re rehearsing our answer, while the other person is still talking. This takes away the possibility to truly listen to the other person’s experiences and perspectives (without judgement!).
If you think about it: before I say something, I think something, then he hears something and thinks something. There are so many ways this communication can go wrong. Most communication problems are actually listening issues.
Who’s a person in your life that would deserve a bit more listening?
Take one person in your mind, with whom the relationship is not going the way you’d like it to be. Which of the above 6 steps could you implement to improve this relationship?
If after reading these 6 key elements and you’ve got the feeling that it won’t change a thing, maybe it’s time to quit the relationship. For a relationship to work you need 2 people: not 50-50, but 100-100! Relationships require effort, but shouldn’t be hard work.
Looking for fun, dynamic speakers? We’re always ready!
Want to read a more in-depth version of the 6 key elements?
—> Go check out my husband’s blog! <—-