Love is not enough – kindness is important too
After about eighteen months the romantic glow wears off most relationships. That is when the real work of building something that lasts begins. The basis for that is caring – and mutual kindness. Do one thing every day that demonstrates your affection and commitment.
Interdependence, not co-dependence
Don’t be clingy, and don’t use your partner as a refuge from life. Relationships that flourish are based on interdependence – each party enjoying a life outside the home, while enjoying each other inside it (and outside it). Cultivate your strengths and gifts, and your selected path in life – and encourage your partner to cultivate theirs.
Watch your relationship bank balance
The ‘bank balance’ is the total of credits you have acquired in your partnership, minus the debits. Your credits accrue when you show attention, affection and support, as well as bestowing time and gifts. Your debits accrue when you shout, sulk and make demands. For every thing you take out of the relationship, put two things back in.
Make physical intimacy a priority
Sex, as well as close physical intimacy, is a barometer of relationship health. Couples who (enjoy) sleep together, stay together. The same goes for couples who kiss, hold hands, or hug each other every day. Loss of interest in intimacy (on either side) is always a bad sign of relationship breakdown.
Listen carefully when your partner makes a bid for attention
Research by Dr John Gottman shows that relationships are more likely to fail when partners ignore or reject each other’s bids for attention. These bids can be quite subtle, as when your partner looks in your direction for a moment. Or they may be straightforward requests to talk. Couples who take time out to to listen (no matter how busy they might be) are more likely to stay together.
Be honest about your shortcomings
When it is your turn to talk be open about your mistakes (without excusing them). Show your vulnerability, as that will encourage your partner to do the same. Sharing and accepting each other’s weaknesses will bind you closer.
If you have interests in common then do them together. Spiritual pursuits, fitness, hobbies, communities, sport, meditation, travel, art, food, et cetera. If you don’t have similar activities then find some, as doing those will give you a shared focus, and will strengthen your bond. In general, however, operating a business together does not work for most couples, unless you have an unusually strong relationship (too many potential arguments).
Watch out for frustration that doesn’t go away.
The first stage of relationship breakdown is persistent frustration that manifests as scorn, repeated criticism, stonewalling and negativity. Those are signs that one – or both of you – are repeating behaviours that create mounting frustration (and creating a lot of debits in those bank balances). Use frustration as a cue for an honest conversation, as well as a commitment to change your behaviour in the relationship.
Avoid the ‘argument room’
Research shows that the majority of arguments occur in the same room. This is most often the kitchen, but other spaces can do just as well. The reason for this is that your home is also your territory: and most people will fight to preserve it. If you have something important to talk about use a neutral venue outside the home: a cafe, a bar, a park, or even the garden will do.
Learn how to argue
This also means learning how not to argue. Recrimination, blame, insults and shouting damage your relationship. Speaking quietly and fairly, while also making your constructive point will achieve more than ventilation. As also will listening to your partner’s point of view. Use the Even Cod Need Air assertiveness style to facilitate this.
Don’t compare your relationship with others
Every relationship has it own quirks and rules, and is therefore unique. This is especially true when partners practice interdependence rather than co-dependence. Some couples argue a lot, but stay together. Other couples don’t argue (or talk), and break apart. Some couples look glamorous, but aren’t happy; others lead humdrum lives, yet are devoted to each other. You get the idea.
Go easy on the drink and drugs
In over twenty-five years of working with couples I notice that heavy use of alcohol and recreational drugs is a primary source of breakdown. This is especially true if one partner is a heavy user while the other isn’t. Regular use of mind-altering substances takes a toll on your physical health, makes you childish and selfish, and makes it less likely that you can do the work of building a long-term relationship.
Accept your differences
Human beings are complex creatures, and there is no such thing as perfect compatibility between any two of them. Accept that there are areas in life where you will never agree, and that each of you has habits the other doesn’t appreciate. Focus not on your partner’s weaknesses but on the things you adore about them. And practice the power of acceptance in your own life.
Apologise, forgive, compromise
Don’t let disputes drag on. Put an end to them quickly. If you made one mistake (even where your partner made three) apologise for it. If they hurt you (and are sincere in making amends), forgive. And compromise, compromise, compromise. If you are fed up with compromising, then compromise some more. I have been married for forty years and I can testify that this is a golden rule.
Look in the mirror
If your relationship isn’t prospering then look hard at yourself in the mirror. Are you really being the best you can be in that relationship? Honestly?
Get professional help
If, despite your mutual best efforts you aren’t getting on, then seek professional help. A good therapist can help you see flaws in the way you interact with each other that may not be apparent to you. And guide you towards a better dynamic.
If you can’t afford relationship counselling then I recommend this book here.