No one is preparing us to build, maintain or grow long-term relationships but it actually requires a skill set. The “why” behind that is outside the scope of this post but what I do want to share are 11 key elements that I believe are essential to helping relationships succeed:
1. Hug. Arguably the most important thing you can do for your relationship. Hugs reconnect the both of you. They alleviate stress. They help you share your partner’s burden without forcing them to talk about it. You need to hug your partner at least six times a day.
2. Play. This is right up there with hugs for me. Play is crucial to maintaining desire in long-term relationships. It brings newness to what is well-known. It allows us to see our partners with fresh eyes. It can lead to discovering facets of our partners that still remain hidden. It’s key to continuing to learn who our partner is when we stagnate.
3. Date. Dating is especially important for couples with children. The husband-wife relationship is quickly neglected for parenting duties. Our culture is doing too good of a job being all about the kids. To the moms who struggle with taking a night off (or who honestly have lost interest because the children have replaced the husband), let me put it this way: if you can’t do it for yourselves then do it for the children. Your kids deserve parents who love each other. Nannies are awesome, get one. Dress up, go out with your partner and talk about anything except the kids, bills or work. Play.
4. Schedule time each day to pause and appreciate your partner. I thought this was the corniest piece of advice the first time I heard it. I can tell you from experience, though, that it’s one of the most important things we can do in our relationship. When things go south it’s scary how easily we forget what we liked about our partner in the first place. Have an iphone? Save a note. Jot down anything and everything that you love about your partner. Set a timer on your phone to read that list every single day. Don’t allow yourself to forget how awesome your partner is and why you chose him/her.
5. Don’t lose your independence. Your partner is not a god. You had a life before you met – hobbies, interests and passions. Don’t lose sight of them, especially if your partner doesn’t share all of them. You’re going to wish you hadn’t lost this side of you years into your relationship when you realize you’re unhappy and don’t’ know why.
6. Maintain your friendships. It’s so important to have a social life outside of your family. If you are only looking to your partner it will put too much stress on the relationship. The temporary space and distance allows you to miss your partner which helps you value them more. It also gives you a break to re-center after an argument. It’s another way to enjoy interests that your partner may not want to frequently engage in with you.
Warning: I wouldn’t recommend complaining about your partner or sharing all the details of arguments with your friends. Venting may be cathartic but the long-term damage it has on your partner’s relationship with the rest of your inner circle may be irreparable. While the both of you will most likely resolve your issues quickly and move on, your friends and family may not forgive and forget as easily.
7. Forgive. Your partner is going to make the same mistake over and over and over again. You will need to be able to forgive him/her each and every time. This is really hard because it’s easy to take the repeated offense(s) personally. “If you loved me, you’d pay more attention!” or “You don’t love me because you keep making the same mistake!” It’s not personal and for some people, specifically those suffering from depression, being forgetful is a constant struggle. Be patient, be understanding and…
8. Have a short memory span. Once an argument has been truly resolved, move on. Don’t keep tally of the number of times your partner has asked you were the bath towels are or forgotten to start the dishwasher or clean the bathroom. Give a gentle reminder and then toss the incident out of your mind. I hear we’ll all be much happier if we do this 🙂
9. Fix yourself first. When you get frustrated at your partner’s shortcomings, instead of asking him/her to change, look at yourself first. Ask: “What can I do to help my partner?” “What can I do to make things easier for him/her?” “If I want my partner to do x, y or z, how can I exemplify that myself?” If you want your partner to be more romantic, you need to start being more romantic. If you want your partner to take more initiative with household responsibilities, you need to start taking more initiative. Lead by example, not by nagging.
10. Watch your language/tone. Being disrespectful is a fast way to erode your relationship. Don’t deride or curse at each other, don’t be quick to pass judgement. It’s normal to be frustrated and okay to voice those frustrations. But instead of saying, “You’re a control freak!” it’s better to focus on how your partner’s specific behavior makes you feel.
11. Take breaks. Sometimes a solo vacation can do wonders. It helps you recharge, get back in touch with who you are as an individual and serves as a healthy distraction to take your mind off of whatever is going on right now. A week, maybe three weeks max if you’re taking a kick-ass vacation. I wouldn’t recommend anything longer than that because staying connected is so important to the relationship that a longer separation would do more harm than good.
Takeaway: Be selfish and exercise interdependence. Hug and play. Forgive and forget. Be the change you wish to see in your partner. Your children deserve parents who love each other and you deserve a happy, healthy relationship.