Romance is a very small part of what makes a long-term relationship successful, it’s getting the other 98 percent right that makes a couple last in the long haul. It’s too bad we don’t have any days devoted to issues like communication, fighting fairly, and forgiving. Relationship change requires behavior change, and this is far from easy. Fortunately there are certain, very specific things you—yes, you—can do over the year that may change your relationship for the better. Very often you’ll find that your partner quickly and enthusiastically reciprocates, and the entire dynamic of your relationship changes. Focus on the following ten steps and transform your good (or so-so or maybe even deeply troubled) relationship into a great relationship:
1. Ask yourself: Would I rather be right…or would I rather be happy?
She doesn’t load the dishwasher the right way, you leave your socks on the bedroom floor, and she keeps squeezing the toothpaste tube in the middle. And these little, everyday toilet-seat-up-or-down issues are just the tip of the iceberg. Couples argue over almost everything—and some do. In order to have a successful relationship, both partners need to accept that we all have our different ways of doing things. What’s more, you both need to realize that accepting those differences is a key to a peaceful relationship. No one wants to be micromanaged, especially in their own home. If you just want to be right and prove your point on everything, your relationship is likely to fail. The fact is that often, there isn’t a right or a wrong way, just different ways. Assuming that yours is the right—and only—way is arrogant and disrespectful. Think about the big picture. Does it really matter how chores are done or is this really just about control?
2. Master the fine art of communication.
It sounds so simple: she speaks, you listen; and vice versa. But it’s actually more complex than it sounds. Communication is at the root of the problems faced by almost every couple I’ve ever seen. Gender differences, contrasting thinking styles, and different personalities can all make communication inside a relationship especially difficult. If you can learn to communicate effectively with your partner, you are well on your way to a successful and happy partnership and also a better night’s sleep for the both of you. The biggest mistake that couples make is not realizing the need to create an environment that allows their partner to talk freely about their thoughts and feelings. If your wife doesn’t reveal too much about herself, it may be that she is not very skilled at doing that—or it may be that every time she tries to tell you something she gets shot down. People simply won’t talk if they think they are going to get criticized in some way. Be respectful and listen. You may not understand or agree but you should always respect your partner’s right their viewpoint.
3. Learn to fight fair.
You’ve probably heard that couples argue most about Sex and Finances. But are these disputes really about sex and money or are they about something else? Emotional discussions by their very nature are about more important underlying issues, like trust, control, or jealousy. It’s just that money and sex are the currency of control in many relationships; how you handle these conflicts will determine whether the underlying problem is exacerbated or resolved. So how do you fight fair? Well, there are some guidelines: calling time-outs when things get too heated, never fighting in front of anyone else, not dragging unnecessary skeletons out of the closet, and so forth; but for the most part, fighting fair means trying to solve the issue rather than trying to tally up who’s better than who when it comes to you and your partner. Try to abandon the usual strategy of trying to win at all costs. Instead, work toward a productive resolution that you can both accept.
4. Commit, already. (And no, it has nothing to do with a wedding ring!)
Commitment is the glue that keeps a relationship together and yet most people haven’t a clue what the word “Commitment” really means. They think in terms of marriage licenses or sexual fidelity, but real commitment goes beyond what goes on behind closed doors and wedding bands. The truth is, you can be totally faithful to your partner but still not be committed to the relationship. Commitment really means that you consider the other person in all matters—you consider how any action you might take affects your partner and the relationship. This does not mean that you will always make personal decisions secondary to your relationship, It does mean, however, that you make every effort to consider the impact of your actions and treat the relationship and your partner with fairness, respect, and without harm. Various studies have shown commitment to be a predictor of long-term marital happiness and stability.
5. Be trustworthy.
In a solid relationship, you need to be able to make the assumption that your “other half” is telling you what you need to know and doing what they say they’re doing; and the feeling needs to be 100% mutual. That’s what trust means. It isn’t just about fidelity, It’s about trusting that your partner will respect you, be honest with you (which includes avoiding secretive behavior and “lies of omission”), and not hurt you. Do not break trust with your partner. Lack of trust is corrosive. It eats away at the very fabric of a relationship and leads to disillusion and dissolution. Once trust has been broken, it is very difficult, often impossible, to regain it. Even a gullible person will wise up eventually to an untrustworthy partner. In order to make this part of your relationship better, you must learn how to deal with anger and conflict. If you, as a couple, can manage anger and disputes, then both of you are less likely to resort to lies and deceit to avoid confrontation.
6. Learn how to share unconditionally.
This is much harder than it sounds. People are not very good at sharing. We fight hard for ownership and refuse to let it go once we have it. In fact, sharing is so foreign to most of us that we give up something only because we hope that giving up something we love will be beneficial for us in return. And that’s not sharing at all—it’s trading. We all want unconditional love and yet we find it very difficult to give ourselves unconditionally and yet, successful relationships do require sacrifice. Someone has to give up something from time to time—whether it’s something big like a career or a hometown or something small like acquiescing to your partner on her choice of restaurant. Try giving your partner an unconditional surprise at least once a week. Do it without expecting anything in return. And if you’ve been holding out on giving up on something, consider letting it go. You may be surprised at just how good it makes both of you feel.
7. Nurture your partner’s dreams and goals.
In a nutshell, nurturing your partner means accepting their independence and doing whatever you can to encourage it. If your inclination is to be with your partner 24/7 and control their every move, you really need to take a step back and learn to be a self-sufficient, independent human being. What you are doing is the opposite of nurturing and is no way you can have a healthy relationship if you don’t stop. On the other hand, if you’re failing to nurture your partner because you don’t know what their goals, dreams, and aspirations are, you simply need to ask. Then, devise three ways that you could assist in the realization of those goals. It can be a total game changer for your relationship.
8. Forget the roses.
Flying to Florida and boarding the cruise ship is not a romantic interlude if you then spend all your time in the casino and she becomes irremovably attached to the spa. Romance is, above all, about making your partner feel special, and you can do that only by paying attention. It will cost than time and staying in doors for awhile, which shouldn’t be a problem. It is all too easy in the mayhem of everyday life not to make time for romance. In the heady stages of the early infatuation, romance was natural and an essential priority. However, as the relationship matures, you have to go out of your way to make sure that romance occurs at all. Without special attention and time alone together, intimacy will disappear. Realize that romance can happen at anytime, anywhere if you make it happen.
9. Embrace the F-word: forgiveness.
In the course of your most intimate relationship, conflicts and major disagreements will occur. But one of the secrets of a successful relationship is ensuring that these muddy waters of disenchantment and anger don’t inevitably harden into bricks of resentment. To steer away, quickly, from resentment, you need to accept two facts that many couples struggle with:
• you cannot control another person unless they let you.
• Sometimes you have to give up, or modify, your dreams.
Unless you come to terms with these facts, you are going to have a rough time being successful in any close relationship. If you carry around resentment, you are the one who really suffers from the stress of the anger and frustration.
10. Don’t make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” (Don’t assume!)
Do you really understand your partner? Or do you at least think you do? One of our most important life skills is the ability to monitor our own instant judgments and automatic perceptions and measure them against reality. We all project our interpretations about others’— especially our partner’s— behavior. But such projections are a problem because most of the time we’re wrong or missing some important detail. Learn to resist your natural tendency to interpret your partner’s behavior. Instead, actually talk to her to find out what’s really going on. This is a crucial (and underused) relationship skill. Asking, instead of assuming, will result in a much more peaceful environment and trying to find out what your partner is really thinking and feeling and respecting it is a true act of love.
A good relationship shouldn’t take a ton of hard work. However, it does take a certain amount of reflection, self-control, compromise, and vigilance. You can’t just do what you want to do all the time and expect to be happy in your partnership. However, the time you put into creating and maintaining a healthy relationship is worth the effort.