Relationship Artistry: The Path to State-of-the-Art Loving

As an artist, author, and performer, my orientation to art is to devote many contemplative hours to build something beautiful. I realized I could invest the same amount of love and creativity to my relationships. In other words, to not just have “good enough” relationships but have fantastic relationships.

Relationship artistry is the ability to think creatively about building relationships that are based on consent, equality, and respect.  It is not a set of skills, though it requires a set of skills to hone it. Relationship artistry is a mindset and quality. It is the opposite of ownership mentality, which is based on a power dynamic, such as in a master-slave relationship.

Like any art form, relationship artistry requires flexibility, self-knowledge, an ability to be present, humor, imagination, curiosity, vulnerability, and an appreciation of the beauty and ridiculousness in any relationship challenge.   Most of all, relationship artistry must be consistently honed and practiced—because one’s relationship is always evolving—which means that you are constantly working on your craft. It is not about mastering skills to achieve an endgame, though. And honestly, it can feel elusive, just like being a master potter or master pianist is elusive because…what does being a “master” really mean? No matter how skilled the artist, there is always work to be done, new creations to make, new directions to explore, practice, failure, success. But again, keep in mind that relationship artistry not a process. It’s a mentality that involves bringing an artistic (open, creative) approach to relationships.

Relationship artistry involves several skills that take practice over and over again on a daily basis to become truly proficient.  State-of-the-art communication, understanding boundaries, empathy,  healing, and understanding the parts of ourselves that are wounded or traumatized are all aspects of excellent relationship skills. When these skills are regularly practiced (like a singer practicing scales, or ice skater practicing spins) we gain some facility in ourselves along with the capacity to create fulfilling, thrilling relationships.

Relationship artistry is not about perfection. One of my theater teachers worked as a thespian with the improvisational comedy troupe The Second City in Chicago. She said that when they had a bad night onstage in which they were “off” and the audience seemed completely bored or even comatose—afterward they would run down to the lake and jump in! The cold water would both startle and refresh them—and they’d laugh at themselves and how rough the night had been. Then they’d be back at it—with enthusiasm and devotion to making art together. That was the mindset that allowed them to blow it—but also be vulnerable enough to apply themselves again to achieve new levels of mastery.

That is how I endeavor to live in my relationships. I want to be vulnerable—sometimes I’ll blow it—but I am still in the game, responsive to all the information I am receiving from (as actors call them) my fellow players and willing to evolve to create more artistry in my relationships.

How does relationship artistry relate to parenting?

Children are educated in a multitude of different subjects at school. Math, science, history are all worthy endeavors. But they don’t get educated on basic relationship skills. Think of the magnitude of importance that relationships with other people play in our lives. Peer groups that can lead children astray, marriages that end in divorce and devastate us for years. Raising children that have the emotional intelligence and capacity to not only pick but maintain good relations with peers and life mates must be one of our fundamental objectives as parents. The people and relationships in a person’s life have a huge impact on the quality and even trajectory that that person’s life can take.

Relationship artistry with kids means modeling excellent relationship skills while teaching them. Most parents want their children to thrive—it is the most fundamental wish for our children. But what if instead of trying to control our children, we focused on keeping our children safe and healthy while helping them thrive? Helping children illuminate their authentic self and unique path forward is the most essential way to support them. Artistry in the parent/child paradigm involves keen observation of who your child is, what he or she needs, then helping him or her have the self-awareness in both areas so the child can thrive.

Sometimes people ask me if manners fall under the health and safety guidelines—I think they do. Good manners, at their most basic, are about treating people respectfully, and this is smart people skills. It can open doors in a variety of ways—we all enjoy being around people who are kind and respectful.

How does relationship artistry work in intimate relationships or marriage?

Relationships are not static, we do not simply get married and live “happily ever after.” Yet this fantasy is pervasive and ultimately inhibits positive growth in our marriages. Too often the only time couples roll up their sleeves and devote time and energy to shaping their relationship together is in a couples therapy office when things are not going well. This is commendable—it is good to work through difficult times together! My point—and this is important—is that the time, effort, compassion, and curiosity you exert to motivate you to see a therapist can also be brought to all interactions with your life partner. Relationship artistry can be an exciting way to keep a long-term connection spontaneous, exciting, and vital. It does require that both of you be willing to learn to “dance” well together—alternating who leads–while being responsive and attuned to each other.

Guidelines for Practicing Relationship Artistry

  1. Speaking in “I” statements
  2. Learn  state-of-the-art communication skills
  3. Practice impeccable boundaries
  4. Cultivate  curiosity
  5. Engage in active listening
  6. When parenting, focus on health and safety as opposed to control

(Stay tuned for articles explaining all of the above)