Getting into a relationship might be easy, and even getting out of a relationship is not that big of a challenge for most of us. The problem is what comes in between the two. If you search for relationship advice online, you’ll see that much of it is quite obvious. That’s because it is. But when we’re in the thick of a relationship, the obvious suddenly becomes elusive and fuzzy. That’s why we need to refresh our memories once in a while. What you’re about to read here is stuff you already know but have probably put on a shelf somewhere because you’re dealing with the daily realities of a relationship. Sometimes, we just can’t see the forest for the trees.
#1: Be Cautious about Asking Friends for Advice
Your friends might be well-wishers, but they’re not relationship experts. However, if you know another couple that’s handling something particularly well in their own relationship, you can ask them how they do it. That’s the kind of information you want because it’s first-hand, relevant, and possibly useful to you. It’s also given as-is rather than sugar-coated or toned down. If they tell you they struggled through something, you know it’s got to be true.
That being said, not every friend is in a position to give you sound advice about relationship matters. Yes, it’s probably good to sound them out about something and get their opinion, but keep in mind that it’s merely their opinion based on their own experiences. Even if it’s another couple, their take on something is likely to be vastly different from your own. As such, don’t expect to receive a solution that you can copy-paste into your relationship. All you should expect is another perspective - a third set of eyes, if you will.
#2: Don’t Shy Away from Conflict
If you need to fight in loud voices, by all means, do so. Don’t shy away from getting into an argument. However, remember that a disagreement is only useful if it’s done in a productive and creative way manner than in a destructive way. Here are some tips:
- Stay away from hurting each other’s feelings and egos.
- Don’t make it personal. Talk about the issue or the behavior, not the person.
- Be aware of the language you use. Foul language helps let off steam but it can harm the relationship.
- Talk about how you feel when something happens that you don’t like. That’s a much better way to get a person to change their behavior.
- Be as clear as you can. Words are important so choose them with care.
Every conflict must lead to a better understanding of and a deeper appreciation for each other. That’s how you know it’s working. Otherwise, it’s just a fight with no productive outcome. In the beginning, you may not be able to avoid them, but if you follow this advice every time, you’ll see that the meaningless fights start to get fewer and further between.
#3: Make the Choice to Love Every Single Day
Love is an active emotion, not a passive one. It is a choice you made all those years ago, and one that must be made every day. Over time, it gets harder and harder to make that commitment on a daily basis, but that’s what it takes. Make it a habit to say “I love you” to each other in the mornings or at night. If you get irritated about your partner or spouse, that’s the time you need to make that commitment.
Nobody said it was going to be easy to make a relationship work, but all that work will pay off in the end. Remember that the goal that the both of you are working toward is the day when you understand each other so well and are so much in sync that the hard work is no longer necessary. It takes years to achieve that kind of oneness of mind. In the meantime, we need to do everything we can to keep heading toward that goal, one day at a time.
Too many couples tend to wrongly believe that the commitment they made when they first fell in love will carry them through all the hard times to come. That couldn’t be further from the truth. That commitment was merely the first step in a lifelong journey of discovery and sacrifice. The real commitment comes in the daily acts of love, affection, generosity, altruism, courage, humility, acceptance, tolerance, and forbearance.
The best part is that you’ll be paid in spades for all those sacrifices you make while building and fortifying the relationship. Your reward will be many times the effort you put in, and that’s the real reward in any relationship, especially love.
#4: Talk about Money in a Healthy Way
Many couples fight about finances because they’re often pulling in different directions. One might want to save for a vacation home while the other wants to save for a trip overseas; one might be more prudent about buying another car while the other is more impulsive. You each have your own preferences for what to do with your money, so the only way to arrive at a mutual decision is to discuss it in a calm manner.
Fighting only instigates the ego and makes both of you want what you want at any cost. That’s not the way to go. If you’re a couple, your fortunes are tied to each other. You have to arrive at a middle-ground decision if you both feel strongly about something. In many cases, though, talking through something will help you arrive at a decision that both of you can live with and are even happy about. It doesn’t always have to be about compromise. If one person doesn’t feel that strongly about an upcoming major purchase, allow the other person to have the final say about that particular expense.
Learning to talk about money in a level-headed way will do wonders for your finances. You can plan together, give each other ideas on optimizing your earnings and savings, keep tabs on any excessive spending or splurge buying, and even indulge in a splurge when you can afford it. A couple that can make rational financial decisions together has removed the one major problem that many couples face today - the tension in the relationship caused by money. Don’t let money overcome you; together, you can overcome the havoc that money would otherwise wreak on your relationship.
#5: Show Your Love, Don’t Just Express it Verbally
In Dr. Gary Chapman’s best-selling book The 5 Love Languages, he outlines five different ways in which love can be expressed and received. These are as follows:
- Words of affirmation
- Quality time
- Acts of service
In the section above called Make the Choice to Love Every Day, we talked about saying “I love you” on a daily basis. We also spoke about the active effort that goes into building and nurturing a relationship. The 5 love languages help you put that into practice as tangible action items. Now for the fun part!
First, you need to identify the love languages that both of you speak and hear. It’s not that hard if you know what to look for. As an example, if your spouse loves receiving gifts, that’s the language they hear and understand. If you love it when your spouse takes charge around the house and gets things done for you, that’s the love language you appreciate the most. Find out what these triggers are for the two of you, and do more of that for each other. For some people, even a simple reassuring touch, an unexpected embrace, or a hug given randomly can make their day. Do more of that. For others, it’s merely spending time being around them; give them more of that.
The more quickly you can start identifying each other’s languages of love, the faster your relationship can grow and mature to the next level. These communication methods are vitally important to your relationship, so take them seriously and start working on them now rather than later.
#6: Learn the Art of Active Listening
“You hear but you just don’t listen!” Have you ever had someone, especially your partner, say that to you? That means you’re hearing the words as they reach your ears and get transmitted to your brain, but the interpretation part is broken. There are essentially five reasons we want to hear something that another person says:
- To gain information
- To understand
- For enjoyment
- To learn
- As an obligation, but without any interest
If you’re doing the first four things when your partner is speaking to you, you’re an ace active listener. Assuming you aren’t, it’s that fifth thing that’s probably got your goat!
There are several things you can do to avoid that problem, and these techniques have been used by millions of people to become better at listening in an active manner, as opposed to just letting the words wash over you and have the other person hope and pray that something sticks. Here they are:
- Pay Attention
- Make eye contact
- Avoid being distracted by something in your hand
- Don’t prepare a response as you’re listening
- Focus only on what the person is saying - all other sounds must be drowned out
- Read their body language while hearing their words - sometimes, they’re in conflict
Paying attention is the best way to become a good listener. It allows you to process the words without confusion. It gives you clarity about what they’re trying to tell you. It keeps you attentive when they’re speaking. Most of all, it gives you the ability to look beyond the words and decipher the real meaning of what they’re saying. For instance, if they’re complaining about their boss being rude, pay close attention to the words they use, their body language. Are they asking you to do something about it? Are they merely venting? Do they need something from you at that point? If you’re really listening, you’ll soon be an expert at spotting such cues.
- Let Them Know You’re Listening
- Nod in acknowledgment as they speak
- React to their words with smiles, frowns, etc.
- Keep an open posture - don’t cross your arms or put yourself in an obviously non-receptive position, like turning the other way
- Use prompts like “Hmm”, “Yeah”, and “Uh-huh” to help them elaborate and open up
You need to make it amply clear that you’re doing all these things because it gives the other person more confidence about your ability to really listen to them. Many times, that’s all they want you to do - listen. If they want you to do something about their problem, you’ll hear that, too, but only if you’re really listening. A lot of the conflict between couples can be avoided if they learn how to distinguish between the need to just listen and the need to take action, solve a problem, or give a piece of advice.
- Keep it Dynamic
- Paraphrase to show them you’re processing the information: “Let me see if I understand correctly - you’re saying that…”, etc.
- Ask questions if you don’t follow
- Summarize what they said so they know you got it
Providing feedback throughout the conversation makes them feel you’re an active participant. The back-and-forth makes it a conversation rather than a monologue or a soliloquy - or, God forbid, a diatribe! Another benefit to keeping it dynamic is that you can offer thoughts and suggestions without it sounding like a therapy session with you as the expert. Use phrases like “Is it possible you feel this way because…” rather than “I think you’re angry because…” Don’t be judgmental when they’re trying to say their piece. Just help them deliver it. That brings us to the next active listening technique.
- Don’t judge while they’re speaking
- Resist the temptation to pass judgment on each point
- Don’t counter-argue a point
- If you’re going to ask a question, wait for them to finish what they’re saying
It’s hard not to say anything or share our own opinion when someone’s talking because we’re designed that way. Even before they finish, we’re already crafting our response. That’s actually what makes most of us poor listeners - because we’re occupied with our own thoughts, we fail to listen to their words and their body language. So, as hard as it might be for you not to say anything judgmental or opinion-based, rein it in until they’ve said what they want to say. Once they’re done, you can break it down, offer your thoughts, and allow them to evaluate it in a rational and objective manner. Your job is to facilitate the flow of communication in these situations, not take the lead.
- Be Sensitive with Your Responses
- Be honest but not at the cost of attacking them or putting them down; in other words, be sensitively honest, not brutally so
- Show respect with your words - talk about the issue, not the person
- Treat them the way you’d want to be treated in that situation
It’s easy to come in all gung-ho and offer the perfect solution to their problem and save the day. But are you thinking about how that’ll make them feel? What if your well-meaning answer just makes them feel inadequate about their own ability to deal with the situation? Have you ever looked at it that way? Maybe they want to come up with the answer on their own so they can feel that they’ve dealt with the problem, not have some knight in shining armor rescue them. And this goes for the girls, too. Don’t offer a solution and make it sound that it should have been obvious. That undermines his ego at best and is demeaning at worst.
#7: Don’t Treat Your Partner as a BFF
Most of us seem to expect way too much out of our partners and spouses. We want them to be our companions, our saviors, our best friends, our soulmates, our earning partners, our co-parent, and our chief cook and bottle washer. That’s just too much to expect from one person. Sure, much of the time we do play different roles and wear multiple hats in a relationship, but we’re not experts at everything. That’s impossible for anyone, even you. So why are you expecting them to be the ‘best everything’ for you?
If you feel that your needs aren’t being met in a particular area, go out and get some friends who can fill that gap. It’s perfectly okay for you to have a best friend outside your relationship. You might think it’s not ideal but what choice do you have other than forcing your partner or spouse to be something they’re not. They can certainly change, given enough time, but they have to want to do it. It’s not something you can force on them. It’ll happen eventually but, in the meantime, you may have to make alternative arrangements.
This might seem like a weird concept but it actually works. Couples therapists recommend it all the time because it has several benefits:
- You’re not disappointed when your partner can’t be what you want them to be
- It helps you widen your social circle
- It gives you the ability to fulfill your own needs without making your partner feel inadequate
- It gives your partner time to evolve into that role eventually
In the words of one therapist, “This can free up your relationship to be a source of joy rather than something that lets you down.”
That makes so much sense, doesn’t it? Why force someone to be something they’re not when there’s another way?
#8: Focus on Resolving the Bigger Issues First
If you find yourself constantly butting heads on a few issues, address those as a matter of priority. For instance, if money is your biggest source of conflict, sit down and try to figure out why that might be the case? Is it that one of you is spending more than what the two of you can afford? Is your stress from work a constant source of conflict at home? Is he always so tired after work that he is never in the mood to listen to your problems as a homemaker? What’s the real issue? Figure that out and the job is already half done. What’s left is to find a solution so it stops being the epicenter of your discontent.
Once you’ve identified the real problem, sit down and talk it out until it is resolved. Most of the time, you won’t even need the help of a professional. We’re not discounting the value of therapy, but very often, you can figure it out on your own if you’re willing to take the time to do it. An important aspect of this is to avoid playing the blame game. Finger-pointing only makes things worse. “You always do this…”, “Why do you never…”, etc. makes it about the person rather than the issue. The truth is, it’s the issue that’s bothering you, not the person. Identifying that alone will help transform the way you speak to each other. Instead of harping on the quality of the person that makes them do those things, learn to linger less on that and more on how the issue makes you feel.
As an example, if your partner is in the habit of making sudden purchases for significant sums of money, talk to them about how that makes you feel rather than pointing out that it’s wrong for them to do that. If you tell them how it affects you and how it upsets the plan the two of you initially had in mind, they’ll eventually figure out on their own that their actions are a direct cause of the conflict in question.
More importantly, give them the benefit of doubt regarding whether or not what they’re doing is being done to intentionally hurt you or make you feel less of a person. Don’t assume things about the intentions behind their actions. If the actions themselves bother you so much, talk about how they bother you and how you feel each time they do those things. Let them do the rest of the math.
#9: Open Up about your Feelings - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The freedom to voice your feelings to your partner without fear of judgment or recrimination is quite possibly one of the biggest freedoms you can enjoy in a relationship. Sadly, it’s not too often that we see this between couples even though it’s so important. Much of our time is spent in silent suffering simply because we feel that our feelings are trivial, don’t matter, won’t be heard, or aren’t worth sharing with the ones we love the most. That can lead to a lot of pent-up negativity and stress, not to mention ill-feelings toward the other person.
The key here is to be able to appreciate the value of your own emotions and feelings and stand up for them. Most of us tend to shrug off our feelings, thinking they’re not normal or not important enough to be voiced. The truth is, our feelings are trying to tell us that there’s an emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual imbalance going on that needs to be brought back into balance.
The feelings might be good ones, bad ones, or even emotions that we might consider downright ugly, such as wrath, bitterness, and other dark feelings. The bad ones have to be let out so they can find a resolution. If you don’t let them out, they can be like psychological poisons that eventually make the relationship itself toxic. In her book, “Lethal Lovers and Poisonous People: How to Protect Your Health from Relationships That Make You Sick", author Harriet Braiker says you can identify this toxicity when you start experiencing these emotions:
- Loss of self-esteem
She calls these the 7 deadly signs of a toxic relationship. Don’t let your relationship go that way.
On the other hand, when you voice your feelings to your partner in a healthy way, it helps you find ‘organic closure’ for issues that might otherwise become toxic and corrosive in nature and destroy the relationship. In other words, don’t let ‘the bad’ become ‘the ugly.’
The flip side of that involves sharing positive emotions as well. Everyone wants to be appreciated, and when it comes from the one person that matters most in their lives, the feeling is unparalleled. Keep saying things like, “I feel safe when you say that”, or “I feel wanted when you do that for me.” They help you by allowing you to be more comfortable about voicing your feelings, and they help your partner by providing a positive affirmation about the behavior or words that made you feel that way. It’s a win-win like no other. Additionally, voicing good thoughts will help you balance out the bad stuff when it does come, and that’s very important from a relationship angle.
#10: Set Up ‘Talk Dates’ to Help Keep the Relationship On Track
Nurturing a relationship is an active process, just like love. Clinical psychologist Joseph Cilona suggests that you “Commit to investing an hour—on an ongoing basis—to work on strengthening your relationship, troubleshooting, and making it more satisfying.” It’s homework for couples!
Why does this work? Per Cilona, a designated conversation is a better way to get the “maintenance work” out of the way than to have it ruin a perfectly romantic meal. So true, that. How many times have you planned a romantic dinner or some quiet time together and something that’s been nagging one of you suddenly explodes onto the scene? You can avoid these situations by scheduling the time you need to troubleshoot, air differences, voice feelings, and generally get your house in order.
Some couples might need to do this more frequently than others. It depends on the level of openness and candor that you currently share, and how much you need it. If you both have stressful jobs or something doesn’t seem right in a relationship that seemed perfect before, you probably need more than an hour a week. Some couples might only need an hour a month. Play it by ear and see how the first few sessions go. If you feel you’re overdoing it and you end up trying hard to fill up the hour, make it less frequent. If the time isn’t enough, step up the schedule.
#11: Be Willing to be the 90% Contributor to the Relationship
Giving is the name of the game in any relationship, but rarely is it a 50-50 situation. Such “perfect partnerships” rarely exist in real life when it comes to contributing to the success of a relationship. So, if you want to make yours work, both of you have to be willing to go far beyond that and be 90% contributors. At any given point in time, the total has to add up to 100%.
That needs elaborating.
Our contribution to a relationship is a dynamic one, not a static one. That means we fluctuate between about 10% and the 50% level we think is required of us. The only problem with that is this: when neither of you is operating at a 50% contribution level, it doesn’t add up to 100%. That’s when one or both of you end up feeling the pinch, either in the form of irritation, resentment, or some other negative feeling.
Now, as we saw earlier, it’s certainly important to talk about these feelings, but now we’re talking about a solution to the problem so those negative feelings are eventually seldom felt. The key to that is to keep yourself operating at a level that’s between 10% and 90%. You can certainly expect a 10% contribution from your partner even on their worst day. If on some days, you’re feeling at 10%, you should be confident that your spouse or partner is capable of being at 90% to compensate for your rough day. And it goes both ways. The objective is to keep the total as near the 100% mark as possible so the relationship itself doesn’t suffer the consequences of these dynamic shifts.
It is absolutely imperative that both of you are on the same page here. Neither one of you can be operating at or near 90% all the time. But being able to flexibly move from 10% to 90% shows that you’re willing to go the extra mile and compensate for your partner when they need it the most, and vice versa. This is what it means to be a 90% contributor to a relationship.
#12: Your Happiness is Your Responsibility
If your own happiness depends on whether or not your partner is toeing the line at all times, that’s not love. There’s another word for it, and it’s called “bondage.” If they constantly feel that it’s their responsibility to keep you happy, what about their own happiness? Doesn’t that count? Of course it does. That’s why each of you is responsible for your own happiness.
Life Coach Jeff Bear of Bear Partners puts it this way: “If you’re looking for someone to complete you —or vice versa—you’re looking in the wrong direction for the lasting happiness, wholeness, and fulfillment that you truly seek. Wouldn’t it be better if you could find a way to feel how you want to feel regardless of what your partner is saying or doing?”
Doesn’t that make sense? This is the only way to be truly happy and free within the constraints of your relationship. But if the relationship itself is a constraint, then you’re better off looking in another place for happiness.
When you stop looking to your partner to make you happy, you are no longer a passenger; you’re in the driver’s seat. That makes all the difference because there’s no pressure on either of you to walk on eggshells in the fear that it will displease the other person. It’s a very liberating experience.
By that same token, being unhappy is also in your control. You can choose to be unhappy with whatever your partner does or says, but the emotion is entirely yours. Too many people blame their partners, their parents, their friends, their kids, their jobs, their situation, and so on and so forth for their unhappy state. The choice to be unhappy is one that you make, just like the choice to be happy is yours to make. It’s just two sides of the same coin.
#13: Learn to Love Yourself
Another aspect of being in control of your own happiness is the ability to love yourself. If you constantly rely on your partner to love you so you can love yourself, you’re possibly approaching it from the wrong angle. Self-love is innate and independent of external circumstances. It is not dependent on how another person feels about you; in fact, it often helps negate the negative and dilute the positive.
It keeps you level-headed when you’re being flattered and even-keeled when you’re being battered.
That’s self-love, and it is imperative that you develop this type of love before you can start to love someone else. If you don’t love yourself first, you really can’t love anyone or anything else with any level of depth of emotion. The real feelings of love for another person must necessarily arise from that fountain of self-love.
A famous British producer and author once said this: “The way you treat yourself sets the standards for others.” That’s such a powerful statement that it’s worth exploring further.
How do you treat yourself - your time, your money, your body, etc.? Do you treat these things with the respect they deserve? Are you really doing it? Do you treat your time like it’s precious, or your money like it’s hear-earned and well-deserved? If you aren’t doing all of that, how can you expect someone else to treat you, your things, your emotions, and everything else that’s yours with respect?
Self-love can transform your life in astonishing ways:
- You’ll be healthier because you respect your body
- Your relationships will be based on honesty and real emotions
- You’ll be confident all the time
- You’ll have a special aura about you that will draw the right people into your sphere of influence
- You’ll be able to say ‘No’ to people without feeling guilty
- You’ll be driven and motivated
- You’ll give less of a hoot about what other people think or say that’s negative
- You’ll find it easier to get over failures and start looking at them as the stepping stones they really are
- You’ll be more humble yet more secure about yourself
- You’ll be in a much better position to find true love
There’s so much you can accomplish by learning to love yourself. So, what’s stopping you? Is it those mental barriers that were force-built into your brain from a very young age? That ridiculous notion of putting yourself last? That stupid saying about pride coming before a fall? Those might be true for some people, especially those who tend towards narcissism or excessive self-love. But for a normal, healthy, human being, loving yourself first is the wisest piece of advice you can ever follow.
#14: Always Give Your Partner the Benefit of the Doubt
Trust is a huge part of a healthy relationship. If you don’t agree with something he or she did or said and you don’t know the background, then give them the benefit of the doubt. Attribute a higher sense of loyalty to them and trust that they did that or said that for the best. The good thing about this is that it works out for the best either way. If they were wrong, they’ll appreciate the faith you had in them and strive to do or be better. If they were right, your trust was totally justified.
Much of our doubt and uncertainty about another person’s actions actually come from how we feel about ourselves rather than anything else. If we can learn to let go of that anxiety, we’ll all live happier lives.
There’s a simple mantra that allows you to do this: “Today, I’m going to choose the most benign interpretation for whatever comes my way.” According to clinical psychologist Seth J. Gillihan, “This mentality gives you the freedom to get over yourself.”
So, in a sense, when you give your significant other the benefit of the doubt, you’re actually trusting in yourself and the decision you made to be with them. Isn’t that a much healthier view of your relationship than one fraught with irritation, worry, and discontent? Wow!
#15: Stop Projecting Your Feelings Onto Your Partner
Closely related to this is the idea of attributing your own feelings to your partner instead of asking them how they feel or what their intention was. When your spouse or lover does something that upsets you, try and identify the cause of that emotion. Do you feel that way because someone else did something similar to you and it turned out they had the wrong intention? Why blame the one you’re with now for something from your past that might be completely unrelated?
For instance, if you’ve been cheated on before, you probably have trust issues that cause you to interpret your current partner’s actions in a particular way - a negative way. If she hasn’t said “I love you” in a couple of days, your imagination kicks into overdrive and tells you that something’s up. How do you know something’s up in this instance? Have you asked them about it? Have you even brought it up?
Again, the key here is to assume the best and attribute a higher sense of loyalty to your partner instead of jumping the gun. Then, when you get a chance to talk to them about your feelings, 9 times out of 10 you’ll end up feeling silly for thinking those things.
False assumptions can be very detrimental to a relationship because all it is is a projection of your own fears into the action of someone else. You have no way of knowing another person’s intentions unless they’ve established a pattern. If you see something out of whack, give them the benefit of the doubt and stop projecting your feelings onto them.
#16: Periodically Check Your Customer’s Satisfaction Level
This might seem completely alien in this context but it’s not. When you’re in a relationship, it’s very much like the relationship a company or brand has with its most important customer. What, you don’t think Amazon Web Services executives keep a very close eye on how their relationship with Netflix is going? Netflix has most of its content on Amazon’s servers, which makes them a very important client. That’s why they assign a dedicated resource to taking care of that client and periodically check in to see how it’s going.
You can do that, too. You don’t necessarily have to make a show of it. Just slide it in casually, with an occasional, “Hey, how are feeling about us these days?” or “Is there something on your mind?” What this does is allow the person to voice any concerns they may have about your actions or words from the recent past. We’re not mind readers, so don’t expect to know everything that goes on in your partner’s head, and don’t expect them to know what goes on in yours. Voicing your thoughts in this manner allows both of you to get things off your chest.
Remember what we discussed in #9 about opening up about your feelings? It’s essentially the same thing but you are now encouraging your bae to list out all the little things that they might otherwise keep bottled up inside. And we know how that can turn out. Periodically checking the pulse of the relationship is like a waiter asking you how your meal went or Prime Video asking you whether you enjoyed the movie you just watched. It’s just good customer service.
The only thing you need to be wary of is overdoing this. Coming on too strong or too frequently with your ‘customer satisfaction survey’ can make it clinical or even off-putting. Do it casually and only occasionally, when you sense that there’s something on their mind but they aren’t sharing it. This will act as a prompt.
#17: Touch and Be Touched
Physical intimacy is much more than just a three-letter word. It is about the sense of touch, which conveys far more intimacy than words ever can. It’s been said that one touch is more powerful than a thousand words, but touch is even more compelling when combined with the intent of conveying love. Touching your partner when you talk to them about something private or giving them a random hug when they least expect it says volumes about your feelings for them.
There’s plenty of scientific and medical evidence that touching someone in an affectionate manner not only promotes attachment and bonding in couples, but also contributes to physical well-being.
Unfortunately, most couples use the power of touch early on in their relationships but start to lose that magic as they become more familiar with each other. But touch is a lot like love (see #3 above) because it must be actively engaged in. It should be intentional and it should be frequent. The power of touch can benefit couples in so many different ways:
- Helps strengthen the bond you share
- Is known to reduce stress levels
- Can help alleviate pain to a great degree
- Regular touching is directly related to higher levels of satisfaction with your partner
We’ll also have to recognize that not everyone comes from a background where touch is encouraged. This is especially true of men, who are often raised to believe that men shouldn’t engage in ‘touchy feely stuff.’ You can lecture them to high heaven about the many ways in which that is a misconception, but that belief is so ingrained in some men that arguing about it doesn’t help one bit. Instead, teach him the art of touching by engaging in it with him. Ask for a foot rub or massage when you feel he’s on edge; subtly slip your hand into his when nobody’s looking; naturally hook your arm into his at parties. What you’re trying to do is to gradually make him more comfortable with the sense of touch outside the bedroom. Despite his initial hesitation, he’s actually enjoying it. What man doesn’t love his woman even more when she fawns over him in subtle ways?
Of course, there are also plenty of women who are averse to touch as well. They may not be bound by social constraints the way men are, but a lot of factors can impact their receptiveness to touch. What’s important to note here is that most women will only tolerate a touch from men they know and trust. That’s usually because of early socialization patterns, self-confidence issues, social anxiety, being body-conscious, germophobia, past experience with negative touch, etc. A lot of these factors affect men, too, but the social implications are usually amplified for women. Sad, but true.
When it comes to a relationship, there’s a level of trust and affection that can help you overcome these hurdles. Some are immediate and some need to be gradual, but it can be done if both of you are on the same page. And you don’t even have to start from the same point. One of you could be an inveterate hugger while the other is an incurable haphephobe (someone who truly can’t stand being touched.) It may take time, but the intimacy you share in other areas of your life will help you conquer this obstacle as well.
#18: Have a Few Shared Goals
It’s important for couples to have individual goals that they can spur each other towards, but it’s equally vital to have a few goals that are common. Most of the time, these goals are big ones, like starting a family, buying a home, or sending a child to an expensive college. However, they don’t have to be big ones. They can be simple goals like learning a new type of dance or learning how to cook an exotic dish you both enjoy eating. The point is to always have goals that you’re working to achieve.
The biggest benefit of this is that it charges up the relationship. It keeps you both accountable to the goal, and you can feed off each other’s momentum and energy. It’s an invigorating feeling when two people are working toward a shared objective.
Another major benefit is that it aligns you with each other’s way of thinking. Having a common goal unifies your priorities and helps you both pull in the same direction. It clarifies the little things, acting as a constant beacon, a lighthouse, and a compass rolled into one. Your actions will be in line with your objectives, and there will be less conflict in the relationship when you both want the same things.
#19: Show Your Gratitude Every Chance You Get
We’ve all been so sensitized to working without appreciation that we naturally tend to bring that behavior into our relationships as well. We barely get any recognition at the office for all the hard work we do, our kids take everything for granted like it’s their birthright, our friends consider gratitude to be an unspoken attribute - so where are we going to get any appreciation from if not from the one person we value the most in this world?
Sure, most of the time we’re only ‘doing our duty’, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be thanked or recognized for it. That’s why it’s so important to say thank you to your partner for even the most remotely selfless thing he or she does for you. In order to do that, you have to be vigilant and ‘catch them doing good.’ In a way, it’s like training yourself with positive reinforcement. A “good boy” or “attagirl” never hurt anyone, dog or human!
Logically, it also spurs us on to do more things that will get a thank you in return. To paraphrase JFK, we end up focusing more on what we can do for our partner than what our partner can do for us. It’s a virtuous cycle that helps strengthen the relationship in many ways and on an ongoing basis. It is active, therefore it promotes the growth of the relationship. Just like love and touch, gratitude is a powerful way to nurture a healthy relationship.
The ironic part of all this is that we’re generally brought up to be socially graceful and mind our Ps and Qs. We thank the lift operator, the doorman, the security officer at work, our servicemen and women, our teachers, our pastor, and just about everyone else. But when it comes closer to home, we start taking things for granted. That also means it’s an easy hurdle to overcome - we’re already trained to do it everywhere else.
#20: Advice about Relationship Advice in General
Although we’ve done our best to root out the best relationship advice online from various trusted sources, any type of advice is only as good as how well you implement it. In the case of relationship advice, you need to personalize each piece of wisdom and learn how you can apply it to your unique situation. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of thing, which is why you’ve probably seen variations of these nuggets in one form or other across the Internet. That’s why you need to customize it for your relationship.
For instance, let’s take the topic of touch and intimacy. If one of you is truly a haphephobe, you have a genuine fear of being touched. That’s not going to go away in a hurry. It could take years to overcome that fear - even if that touch is delivered by someone they would normally trust under any other circumstance. In such cases, professional intervention may be required. You don’t have to do it all on your own when there’s ample help to be had. Apart from one-on-one or couples sessions with licensed therapists, there are also approved therapy groups for couples or even one partner. These resources will help you reach your goals faster and in a less painful way.
Another aspect to be aware of is that not every piece of advice is required for every couple. If you make a list of the 20 things we’ve shared here, you’ll find that you’re already doing (or not doing, as the case may be) many of them. Ticking off the stuff you already have a handle on gives you a sort of scorecard to use as a starting point. Pick the ones where you’re the weakest and start from there, or just deal with the low-hanging fruit before you get to the hardcore stuff. You need to apply these bits of advice based on the kind of relationship you already have and what’s missing from it. Don’t try and fix what’s not broken and don’t try to improve something that already works fine. There are plenty of relationship areas where your energy can be put to better use.
Finally, don’t ever force your partner to participate in anything they don’t want to. This advice is primarily for you, and optional for them. It’s great if they’re on board, but don’t shove it down their throats. Use them as self-improvement tools, and when they start to get interested in what you do because they’re seeing the results, let them in on it gradually and without any pressure. There’s no race or competition to see who can create the healthiest relationship in the world in record time. The best piece of advice we’ve ever heard is this: take it easy!
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