All healthy relationships take time and effort. You may be thinking, “I’ve heard that before,” but the truth is we may be exerting energy into counterproductive avenues instead of doing what makes the relationship stronger.
Common energy wasting traps may include:
- Trying to fix your partner’s problems
- Staying up all night to resolve an issue
- Trying to read your partner’s mind (or expecting them to read yours).
Although these actions may come with great intention, the truth is it may not be furthering the growth of your relationship.
Listening to your partner, planning a time to meet and resolve conflict that is good for both individuals in the relationship, and asking questions to learn what your partner wants verses assume what they want, are just a few adjustments we can make to have a productive outcome in bettering our relationship.
To grow in a relationship one needs to be open to feedback, learn new ways to communicate, and learn to balance the needs of each person in the relationship as it changes over time.
Having a realistic expectation of the relationship is another area that people commonly need to evaluate. By listing your wants verses your needs (in a relationship) can be a great place to start. Even if you are not in a relationship this exercise may prove to be helpful in identifying what you are looking for in a relationship, what you are willing to tolerate (ie. want), and what you are not willing to live without (ie. need).
For instance, someone may want their significant other to go to ordinary social events with them, even if they are not interested, but they need someone that will attend important holidays in their life. The overall difference here is that wants are areas where one may compromise, but needs are a must in a relationship. I suggest that you write specific behaviors under each of these categories to better illustrate what you are looking for verses global labels such as “be respectful.” This can help you open up the communication about what is important to you in a relationship and learn what your partner needs in turn. If discussing your list with a partner, I suggest only looking at one topic at a time and focusing on that.
Remember to always use “I statements,” (I feel …, I need…., I think…) as they will lead to less defensiveness when discussing areas of growth.
Learning From the Masters: Advice for a Healthy Relationship
To create a healthy relationship involves learning from those that have mastered the skills to keep a relationship vibrant. Research has found that long-term happy couples commonly commit to these behaviors:
Actively Listen: Couples that listen to each other feel more connected and understood. This means using body language to convey that you are interested, such as leaning in when they’re speaking, making eye contact, and using the technique of “mirroring” in which you repeat what your partner just said so they know you’re digesting what they’re saying. Jack Rosenblum, Ph.D., co-author of Five Secrets of Marriage from the Heart, suggests that to make your partner feel understood may require sitting on your hands, rather than providing advice when your partner needs to talk. The true art of listening is not talking over your partner or for them, but allowing them the space to vent without judgment or a running commentary.
Schedule couple time on a regular basis: Couples that are happy regularly share common interests or hobbies together. By setting aside a few hours once a week, couples then have the chance to connect in a positive space. Dr. Howard Markham, co-author of Fighting for Your Marriage states, “Early on in a relationship couples talk as friends, they do fun things; But, over time, those ways of connecting change.” Bringing back fun into a relationship, can work as an anti-aging serum, that re-sparks the sense of fun that made the relationship start in the first place. Many studies suggest that by doing activities that bring a sense of excitement, can make couples rate each other as more attracted to each other as well. Other suggestions for activities may include sharing a physical activity (walk, hike, ride bikes) which can keep relationships feeling uplifting, especially when faced with the daily stress of work and finances that can erode the sense of fun in a relationship.
Play Fair: How we handle conflict can make or break relationships. This means no name calling, throwing objects, or insults. It’s natural to have disagreements, but by setting ground rules you get to maintain the respect in the relationship. Calling “time-outs” is a great way to de-escalate situations that are getting heated. After both individuals have cooled-off, plan a time to discuss the issue. A common mistake couples make is avoiding the issue after a heated argument and never finding a resolution.
Sex is your friend: In long-term relationships it can be easy to let your sex life diminish over time. We need to be conscious of this and be sure to jump start our sex life from time to time. This is especially true if you’re finding that you or your partner are not have as much sex as one would like. “Think about your partner as someone you desire and someone you want to entice to fall in love with you over and over again; pay attention to your grooming, be romantic, don’t take your partner for granted,” suggests Markham. Recent research has found that people on average have sex 130 times a year and of those, couples rate having higher levels of sexual satisfaction. So take advantage of that statistic and keep the romance going!
Polite Requests: If you want something, ask for it! Ever feel unappreciated in the relationship and wish that your partner would do acts of love for you? Sometimes we may sit back and wait and see how long it takes for them to do that specific behavior, other times we may tell everyone else what we want but not the direct person we’re dating. The point here is to tell your partner directly what you would like. For example, if you want them to plan a date ask them to do so politely verses making underhanded statements, such as “you never take me anywhere.” Killing them with kindness really can work. If you make a request and weeks have gone by with no action, address the topic again in a direct manner, such as “I told you how I would love it if you would plan a date and it hasn’t happened, I was wondering if you’ve thought about it.” This gives your partner a chance to explain. I’ve worked with many people that say they don’t like to request what they want because they want it to come from their partner on their own. The truth is we’re not mind readers and you are more likely to get your needs met by making requests verses keeping a silent grudge. Doing small acts of kindness can go a long way in relationships and can show our partner how important they are to us.
Whether you are in a relationship or single, these tips can be helpful in creating stronger relationships that enhance enjoyment in our life.