A few months ago, I asked my mom about Jane a patient of hers who suffers from a nervous system disease. Jane has been married for 20 odd years and through her illness, her husband has remained by her side. He hasn’t remarried nor has he put her into a nursing home. He even hired three nurses to watch his wife around the clock while he’s at work and still makes time to spend time with her. Talk about commitment. When I asked my mom about the dynamics of their relationship before Jane’s illness, she explained that they were close friends and that they enjoyed each other’s company.
Since then, I’ve thought a lot about what keeps couples together, while so many marriages are crumbling by the dozens. I’m sure most couples were in love in the beginning, but you have to admit: by itself, love is never enough to sustain a relationship.
There’s a lot of information about healthy relationships online, but one thing that researchers seem to agree on is that people who tend to keep their relationships going do it according to motive: those that stop it from falling apart and those that actually nurture.
I’m not a stranger to bad relationships. I know what it feels like to be in a toxic one and I’ve watched family member’s marriage end in divorce. I’ve had relationships end in a massive explosion and some that ended with a simple goodbye.
Looking back, when I think of all the happy couples I know, you know how many of them say, “Oh, our relationship is perfect, we never fight. Everything is just peaches and cream?”
None of them.
Now let’s go back to my story about Jane and why I think her relationship has gone the distance: well, for starters relationships take a lot of time and effort on both parts. It’s about emotional competence and one’s ability to function through all areas of the relationship process and apparently Jane’s husband did just that.
Relationships aren’t easy, but far too many couples throw in the towel prematurely only to repeat the same mistakes in their next relationship. So regardless of where you’re at in life, here are some tips on how to improve your relationship.
All relationships go through highs and lows but to be in a healthy relationship, it’s important to learn the value of self-awareness when it comes to your partner. Improving your self-awareness will allow you to have a better idea of who you are, what you need, what you want, and why you do the things that you do. I know this might sound harsh, but sometimes people can be selfish. Like if you’re having a bad day and snapping at your partner, taking a step back might cause you to realize that it’s not that your partner is doing anything, it’s that your stressed out, and what you need is to relax so that your bad mood doesn’t bleed into your relationship.
2. Communication, Communication
The most important thing—despite the fact that most of us hate talking about our feelings is communication. It’s the ruler of every kind of relationship. Whether it’s one with your partner or your boss. Speak up. Express your needs, in a healthy way. Create a truly open channel of communication with your partner. If you can’t be honest without feeling guilty or feeling like it’s going to start a fight, it might not be the right relationship for you.
3. Work together
No, it’s not all about you. Couples who switch over from figuring what’s best for them as individuals to what’s best for them as a couple last longer. Thinking in terms of the team allows both people to have needs and know that both sets of needs matter. Remember, you’re in a relationship with a living breathing human being. Every person is going through their own struggles so don’t make it all about you. You have to support your partner as you would want them to support you. Remember, couples who can respond to each other’s stress in a helpful way rather than in a way that exacerbates it tends to be able to weather the tense times.
4. Regulate your feelings
We’ve all been there, you’re stressed but you can’t take it out on your partner. Now before you go over reacting about a minor issue take a step back and use some emotional intelligence. It’s as simple as regulating your feelings and responses to things that happen in your relationship.
To take my point further, try keeping your emotions calm and learn how to manage conflict without starting a fight. Most people, even very “intelligent” people have some dysfunctional behaviors that are destructive to them and others. Some of the most common ones are defensiveness, poor communication skills, and emotional intelligence. You probably have some sense of where your areas of improvement are, and if you don’t try asking your partner for some feedback.
5. Spice it up from time to time
People in long-term relationships tend to forget this over time, and that’s why so many couples eventually break up, they believe the spark is gone. You need to know what direction you want to go in your relationship, or you could grow apart. Make time to have fun together. Create an atmosphere of humor and positivity together. Go out dancing, cuddle, and hold hands. Jazz up your sex routine, and do something different. Make sex a priority. These small things are what make relationships so wonderful in the first place, and keeping these loving practices alive is key to making a relationship work in the long run.