Love should be the foundation of a solid relationship. You love you partner, your partner loves you. This is a good start, but love is not enough. You’ll also need to master some skills to make love last and grow stronger over time. Relationships are like a dance where you need coordinated movements to make it work. The good news is that we can learn the necessary skills if we don’t know and use them already.
Here are some of them.
Honesty and Sincerity
It’s important to discuss everything that is going on in a relationship, especially at the beginning of your life together. Talk with your partner about your expectations, desires, needs, disappointments, preferences, likes and dislikes. Often times people assume that their partner “should know” what they are thinking and what they want. This is not so.
Here are two rules to help keep those conversations constructive: when it’s you who’s talking, try to be as gentle and non-accusing as possible. Try to phrase your concerns as “I statements.” If you’re the one who’s listening – try to really listen and not to get defensive.
Those two skills will take some leaning, but they are very important.
Maintain Positive Balance
The renowned relationship researcher and family therapist John Gottman discovered that for a relationship to thrive it’s important to maintain a five to one ratio of positive and negative interactions. That means that if you criticize your partner for something, then you should say or do five positive things to balance and neutralize your criticism.
Handling Conflicts and Fights
Most couples will have some conflicts once in a while. After all you are two different people with different views, needs and backgrounds who are trying to create a unique life together. It’s natural that our interests will clash sometimes. But, conflicts can be a tremendous opportunity to grow if they’re handled properly.
First – concentrate on the issue at hand and never bring up a bunch of problems from the past. For example, if you’re handling financial issues, don’t bring up all the cases when your partner was insensitive to your mother, didn’t wash the dishes, or didn’t call you when he or she was late from work. Don’t use the words “always” and “never.” If emotions get too heated, take a pause and come back to the discussion when you’re both cooled-off. Learn how to turn towards each other instead of away from each other during conflicts.
Learn Your Partner’s “Language of Love”
In his wonderful book “The Five Love Languages,” Gary Chapman describes five different ways we express and receive love. If partners don’t understand the differences in their expressions of love, they may feel unloved, misunderstood and lonely. Learning to speak and understand our own and our partner’s languages of love can make a huge difference in your relationship and bring more harmony into the dance of intimacy.
Make Time for Each Other
Sometimes we get so busy with work, kids, obligations and responsibility that our partners occupy the last place on our “to do” lists. Make dates, set aside at least one day a week when you do something together even if it’s something as simple as going for a walk. Reconnect, devote all your attention to each other and enjoy their company. This will keep the connection between you stronger and will help weather some of the difficult times that all of us face.
These are a few fairly simple tips. If you can master at least some of them you will see your relationship getting better. If you find it’s just too difficult, or the problems seem unsurmountable, maybe it’s a good time to see a relationship counselor.
I wish you a joyful dance together.