Psychology studies show that, in the long term, the most important thing in your life is your personal relationships.
More important than your circumstances, hardships or successes, stuff you own or places you go, good quality relationships increase your resilience, your happiness and protect you from depression and other related “afflictions”. This can only be said about mature, fulfilling relationships, which we define based on one principle: “win-win”. In “win-win” relationships (be it friendships or romantic ones), all parties bring their best and leave out the worst. They focus on increasing the value of the partnership, the time spent together, the amount of sharing and avoid, conscientiously, pointing fingers and turning each interaction into a competition.
Good relationships almost never just happen. They usually are a combination of hard work, honest communication, and going the extra mile to add a little magic.
You’ve probably realized by now that relationships take work. A lot of work. Attraction often gets things going, but if that’s all the two of you have in common, your relationship will get old fast. (Even the hottest fires can only burn for so long). It can only occur when each individual takes care of himself first, which will, in turn, help both of them take care of each other. Through communication, relationship checkups, openness to change and emotional support, you can build a healthy relationship that improves the quality of your life and your significant other’s life as well.
They say that you don’t get to choose your parents and siblings; however, you get to choose your friends and lovers. The relationship with our significant other can be the best and the worst thing in our lives (sometimes both at the same time!). To help foster healthy, loving, supportive and fulfilling bonds with your partner, consider the following steps.
Do the things you did the first year you were dating. As the months and years roll on, we tend to slink into our proverbial sweatpants and get lazy in our relationship. We lose our patience, gentleness, thoughtfulness, understanding and the general effort we once made toward our mate. Think back to the first year of your relationship and write down all the things you used to do for your partner. Now start doing them again.
Talk and plan for the future. Goals are important to your overall happiness, and having a contingency plan in case of an emergency will allow you to enjoy your time together more thoroughly.
Keep talking. One of the fastest ways to torpedo a relationship is a lack of communication. If your boyfriend or girlfriend says something you don’t understand or don’t agree with, don’t let it fester inside of you. Ask them to explain their point better and talk it through. The same goes for their actions. If they treat you inappropriately, speak up. Use “I” statements: I feel this, I think that. Doing so makes it seem less like you’re accusing them, and they’ll be more apt to really listen to your concerns.
Ask questions. Show interest in what your other half is doing by asking about what’s going on in his or her life and how he or she is feeling about things. This will create an opportunity to keep your emotions balanced.
“Water” your relationships. Once you streamlined them, it’s time to work on them. They are, joke or not, like flowers, so focus on their development and take steps towards nurturing them. Focus on their quality in particular.
Respect each other. You can’t be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t respect you. Do they like you for who you really are, or for who you pretend to be when you’re with them? If you can’t be yourself around them, ask yourself why that is. Are you afraid they won’t be into the real you? If the answer is yes, this may not be the right person for you. Your bf or gf should never force you to do or be something you aren’t comfortable with.
Check on your relationship periodically. You don’t want to become overly concerned with maintaining the relationship, but a periodic checkup can help. Ask your partner about the relationship and how things are going. This can help you see how the other other feels at certain stages of the relationship.
Separate the facts from the feelings. What beliefs and feelings get triggered in you during conflicts? Ask yourself: Is there something from my past that is influencing how I’m seeing the situation now? The critical question you want to ask: Is this about him or her, or is it really about me? What’s the real truth? Once you’re able to differentiate facts from feelings, you’ll see your partner more clearly and be able to resolve conflicts from clarity.
Decide what you value most in life as a person. Finding out what you like and value, what is important for your growth and happiness will help you look for the same things in the people you bond with.
Develop compassion. Practice observing yourself and your partner without judging. Part of you might judge, but you don’t have to identify with it. Judging closes a door. The opposite of judging is compassion. When you are compassionate, you are open, connected, and more available to dialoguing respectfully with your partner. As you increasingly learn to see your partner compassionately, you will have more power to choose your response rather than just reacting.
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Forgiveness. When someone you care about does something that feels hurtful, you give them the opportunity to work through it and offer them forgiveness. Everyone messes up once in a while. Everyone has a bad day. People in healthy relationships don’t dwell on their partner’s mistakes and let resentment fester in their hearts — they move on. If someone hurts you, and they are truly sorry, offer them forgiveness.
Gratitude. Gratitude is important in all aspects of life, but in relationships, it is essential. Be grateful for everything your partner brings to the table. When our expectations of the ones we love become out of line with what they have to offer, our relationships suffer.
Take care of the business side of your relationship. Money is the cause of nearly one-third of all divorces. If you’re having financial issues, get some professional help to get back on track.
Trust each other. Trust is a huge piece in the healthy relationship puzzle. You need to trust that person with your heart, your mind, your body…it’s a huge deal. This is especially important when you become physical. Becoming physical with someone you don’t trust will not end well, because trust is the basis of every relationship. You wouldn’t be friends with someone you don’t trust, right? So why would you date them?
Be honest. Lying, secretiveness, cheating…not qualities you ever want in your relationship. Trust and honesty go hand in hand, but without honesty, you can’t begin to build trust in someone. Be open about your feelings and tell your partner what you’re thinking in a compassionate, caring way. What you have to say might be hard for them to hear, but it’s important to always be honest. (Lying to them will hurt even more when they inevitably find out).
Keep a balanced lifestyle. New relationships make it tempting to spend all of your time with your significant other, but you should maintain a good balance of friends, family and your significant other. If your life becomes imbalanced, then you may begin to blame your significant other for your problems, which can hurt the relationship. Balance will keep you levelheaded.
Accept your differences and allow those to strengthen your relationship. Don’t view your differences as problems, but view them as an opportunity for you to be with someone who will bring you out of your comfort zone. Differences can bring about a good change in both people, and they don’t always have to be problems.
Create a “we” that can house two “I’s.” The foundation for a thriving, growing, mutually supportive relationship is being separate, yet connected. In co-dependent relationships, each person sacrifices part of him or herself — compromising the relationship as a whole. When you are separate and connected, each individual “I” contributes to creating a “we” that is stronger than the sum of its parts.
Say the “hard things” from love. Become aware of the hard things that you’re not talking about. How does that feel? No matter what you’re feeling in a situation, channel the energy of your emotions so that you say what you need to say in a constructive manner.
Don’t argue, but learn to compromise smartly. Smart compromise involves shared responsibility for the future of the relationship and assertiveness. When everybody understands the part they play in their relationships’ evolution, the focus shifts from arguments to finding a common ground.
Share your best. Knowledge, experience, emotions. Be it books, music, places you went or things you did that others might find interesting, many relationships are based on shared experiences, rather than anything else.
These steps are just a hint of what you could do towards improving your relationships. Follow them or not, but try to find out what suits you in particular. Remember that human interactions are, in a way, like wine: they get better in time. However, this only happens if you work on them.