Partnership in need of an infusion of healing? These five tips can help you foster more positive interactions with your beloved.
Working on your relationship isn’t something you only need to do in times of strain and tension. In fact, it’s the everyday conscious effort and maintenance that make all the difference. As marital stability expert John Gottman writes, “Successful long-term relationships are created through small words, small gestures, and small acts.”
Not all of us intuitively know what those small acts should be, especially if we are trying to take our relationship to a new level and are exploring uncharted territory. If you’re left wondering what these small steps look like in practice, there’s a helpful framework you can draw support from: the five A’s.
What Are the Five A’s?
Renowned relationship expert and teacher David Richo is a psychotherapist who approaches love and relationships through the lens of mindfulness. He is also the man behind the five A’s, which are five elements that contribute to successful, fulfilling relationships.
As laid out by Richo, the five A’s are attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing. If successful relationships are built through small acts and gestures, the five A’s are the categories in which these gestures should belong.
Some of the five A’s may come naturally to us, while others may be harder for us to access due to blocks or wounds that we picked up in our family of origin or past romantic relationships. However, one of the best things about the five A’s is that they can always be cultivated.
How Do the Five A’s Work?
Like all good tools we utilize on the spiritual path, the five A’s work in more ways than one. Richo writes in his seminal book How to Be an Adult in Relationships, “We stand to gain so much when we show the five A’s. They are given to others, but all of them make us more loving when we give them. They are, therefore, the components of building the virtue of love in ourselves. To love is to become loving.”
Building the virtue of love in ourselves builds compassion by way of extension. It allows us to see beyond our own needs and neuroses and develop greater respect and care for our partner as an individual. Practiced with commitment over time, this brings about a great sense of prosperity and trust in relationships.
Putting the Five A’s Into Action
There’s nothing deficient about us if we can’t give our partners attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowing every minute of every day. We can practice the five A’s the same way we practice meditation and mindfulness. Just as we return to the breath to ground ourselves in our bodies, we can return to the five A’s in moments of pause to ground ourselves in our loving nature.
Here are practices for each key element:
One of the surest ways to develop our capacity for giving attention is through a seated meditation practice. Set aside five minutes a day to meditate, either on your own or with your partner. Doing this will help you recognize how much control you have over who and what you give your attention to. When you spend time with your partner, you can put what you’ve learned on the meditation cushion into action by attuning to what they are saying and doing rather than getting swept up in your own storylines, assumptions, and narratives about them.
The opposite of acceptance is rejection—a fear that so many of us carry around, even when we know our partners are committed to us. It’s what propels us to diminish or hide certain parts of ourselves, or even pressure our partners to do the same for themselves. When we choose to live from a place of acceptance, we show up as our authentic selves and encourage our partners to do the same thing.
Spend time journaling about the parts of you that you try to hide from others. Then, make it a daily practice to tell yourself, “I accept you just as you are.” This will help you become more secure in yourself. Once you can give yourself unconditional acceptance, you can give it to others.
Not all of the five A’s require setting aside dedicated time to work through new exercises and practices. Some, like appreciation, can be woven into our everyday conversations. A simple “I appreciate you” is enough.
The old cliché “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” has stuck around for so long because, as tired as it is, it’s true. Don’t keep your appreciation for your partner to yourself. Share it with them verbally whenever the feeling strikes you.
Affection is where we see emotional and physical needs converge. Naturally, this includes sex. Richo, however, encourages us to think of affection beyond sexuality to help us foster greater intimacy in all areas of our relationship. He says, “Affection is also a quality of feeling. In this respect, it includes kindliness, considerateness, thoughtfulness, playfulness, and romantic gestures like giving flowers or remembering a special anniversary.”
Consider Richo’s list. Then, take out a sheet of paper and write your own list of what affection looks like for you. Encourage your partner to do the same. You can use your lists to jumpstart a new conversation around intimacy and affection in your relationship.
Of the five A’s, allowing may be the element that is most new to us. This is because our conventional understanding of romantic relationships is based on security, togetherness, and the cultivation of a “we.” However, even the most committed relationships still need room for freedom and individuality, which are the needs Richo highlights when he talks about the importance of allowing.
To practice allowing, we must first relinquish control. This means letting go of all the little things we wish we could change about our partners and loving them just as they are. Instead of wishing your partner’s quirks away, make a concerted effort to allow them to be just as they are. This becomes a lot easier if we develop a parallel gratitude practice. When we’re habitually expressing our gratitude for our partner, the tight fist of control loosens.
Putting the five A’s into practice can be a lifetime’s work. Little by little, we can feel our transformation unfold.