It is pretty rare these days to find a couple who have a continuously harmonious relationship. We know that divorce is common and research also tells us that even among those who remain married there is a great deal of dissatisfaction. I spent many years in my clinical practice days supporting couples through trying times in their relationship. One of the most interesting observations I made was how often the members of the couple were so different from each other in terms of personality and temperament. The idea that ‘opposites attract’ was certainly true to what I was seeing! What I also noticed though was that those couples who were able to appreciate the differences as assets in the relationship had better outcomes than those who saw the differences as signs of incompatibility. Something to reflect on for most of us I think. We really need to manage our relationships better so read on for some more tips and info on how to create one that lasts the tests of time.
This is fairly self-explanatory, however, there are other features of trust that are not so obvious. You need to feel confident that your partner has your back and will not do anything to deliberately cause you pain. They will respect your vulnerability, foibles and quirks and trust that you can make good decisions. When a marriage has strong foundations in trust partners are more confident to assert their needs and raise difficult issues that help the relationship to grow.
Knowing that you will persevere with each other even when things get tough. That you will stand by each other in adversity, defend each other’s honour if required and not be frightened off by conflict and life challenges. Commitment also means resolving to do your best to nurture and elevate your partner throughout the life of your relationship.
Be prepared to work on the relationship…er… forever….
Understand that relationships require maintenance. Only in fairytales can we expect to meet the partner of our dreams and live happily ever after without working at it! Think of your relationship as a garden. If you neglect it the grass becomes long, weeds crowd out the flowers you plant, fences fall down and it is no longer a pleasant place to be. A well-tended garden is a safe haven that makes you feel peaceful and gives you pleasure and satisfaction whenever you admire your work.
Have realistic expectations
Long-term relationships are never smooth sailing. The initial heady euphoria of a new relationship does wane over time but it is replaced by a deeper, mellower love and respect. It is normal to disagree about things and yes, you may fall out of love for a while if you neglect your relationship. It is even normal to have periods where you question whether you want to continue the relationship. The key is not to be afraid of these feelings and challenges but to see them as indicators that the relationship needs some work so that it can emerge even stronger.
Take the time to get to know each other – really…
Ask about your partner’s life history, the things that interest them, the dreams they have for the future. Find out their pet hates, their triggers, the life experiences that have shaped who they are. Always remain open, curious and non-judgemental towards each other. It is so easy to conduct an everyday relationship in a mindless way but your partner is the number one person in the world who most deserves your attention.
Put effort into making each other feel good
Take time every day to notice something your partner has done that you appreciate or makes you value them. Show them respect and affection. Take the time to tell them how awesome you think they are. Give each other compliments and praise and be mindful to always give at least ten times more positive feedback than negative.
Understand each other’s ‘Love Language’
Discover what it is that you can do to make your partner feel loved. Is it words of love, special gifts, the things you do for them or the time you spend. Dr Gary Chapman has undertaken a great deal of research on this topic and has a useful online quiz to help you work out your Love Language. Be mindful that you need to speak your partner’s love language to really hit the mark (not yours).
Don’t be afraid of conflict
Conflict and disagreement are part of normal life. We aren’t clones and if everyone agreed all the time nothing new would ever be created. The trick is to make sure that the conflict is well managed – that it doesn’t descend into personal attacks or aggression. Healthily managed conflict allows partners to air their grievances, learn something new and grow, as individuals and a couple. Sometimes conflict is just a helpful sign that the relationship needs some tweaking or a slight course adjustment.
Understand your own conflict resolution style – are you competitive, collaborative, accommodating, compromising or do you try to avoid conflict at all costs (Thomas and Kilmann 1974).
Be a great listener
A fundamental skill as a psychologist, coach or counsellor is active listening and I know many people find this extraordinarily difficult. So often when someone is talking to us we are either not fully present or jump into problem-solving/fixing mode. It seems to be our default setting yet most of us just want to be heard when we talk about what is on our mind. When your partner speaks, particularly when they are saying it is important, listen attentively without judging, reflect back what you hear and don’t give advice unless it is asked for.
Help your partner achieve their dreams
Regularly check in with your partner to discover their level of satisfaction with their life path. Discover each other’s dreams and be supportive of making them a reality.
Bear in mind that your partner will see the best and the worst of you
We wear ‘masks’ nearly everywhere we go. We have slightly different personas depending on who we are interacting with – a professional mask for work, a mum mask for the kids, a relaxed mask with friends etc. When we are with our partner the mask usually comes off. This is generally a good thing because we allow that person to see all the vulnerable, deeper parts of us. It can sometimes be a problem, however, when we use it as an excuse to behave without exercising self-control.
Take good care of yourself
Relationship quality and level of satisfaction is inevitably impacted when you are not feeling good about yourself. Regularly check in on your own sense of wellness and general life satisfaction. Things like low self-esteem, feeling unattractive, depression, anxiety, stress and poor health all influence how we interact in our relationships. Keep yourself well and those good feelings will flow into your relationships.
Often we take our relationships for granted, assuming they will take care of themselves. When you think about it though, no-one deserves your care and attention more than the people you have chosen to have in your life. Sometimes we behave better towards strangers than we do towards our loved ones! Many of our relationships last for decades so if you feel that you are struggling, consider getting some professional help to ensure they remain nourishing and positive.
Thank you to Dr’s John and Julie Gottman for providing much inspiration for this article.
I so appreciate you taking the time to read my posts and I sincerely hope that you find them helpful. Please understand, however, that the information you find here is not a substitute for therapy and I cannot respond to individual requests for help in the comments. If you have serious concerns about your mental or emotional health please seek personal, professional help.