There are two times that people put the most effort into a relationship–at the beginning, and at the end. At the beginning, we want so much to spend time together that we will make time to do whatever it takes. At the end of a relationship, we spend a lot of effort just to keep ourselves together while our relationship is falling apart. Many people learn too late that the most important time to work on a relationship is . . . every day. Because, while choosing a good partner is essential, just committing to someone does not ensure years of happiness.
To continue to reap the rewards of a great relationship, there is a continual amount of work that must be done. Just as a farmer cannot sow his seeds and sit back until they mature, so it is that we cannot expect an initial commitment to carry us to a great relationship.
Following these 10 steps will help to keep your relationship healthy and thriving:
1. Give and take–Couples who have been married 50 years or more say that the number one reason their marriages have survived is “give and take.” There are times that our needs must be met, but there are also times when we need to sacrifice for the sake of our partner (and our relationship).
2. Dating–Dating is not just for meeting people. It is the number one ingredient in keeping a marriage fun. The more children there are in a relationship, the greater the need for dating. Dating can be defined as doing something enjoyable with your partner, outside the home, without the kids. One time a week is minimal for most couples.
3. Love is given–Love needs to be demonstrated in ways that are perceived as loving by our partner. Just to feel like we love our partner is not enough to keep their love tank full. For some, loving is receiving gifts or favors; for others physical touch or sex; and for others it is doing activities together. Just because we like something doesn’t mean our partner does. Love must be given in a way that it can be received.
4. Trust is earned–Without trust there can be no intimacy in a relationship. Trust, unlike love, is not given but can only be earned. We earn our partner’s trust by following through on our commitments and consistently behaving in a way that is good for our relationship.
5. Communicate honestly–Lack of honest communication indicates lack of trust or insecurity. Either is detrimental to a relationship. To be honest with each other means that there must be a freedom to express ideas that your partner does not like and does not have to like. When we agree that listening does not necessitate agreement, it is easier to be open and honest with each other.
6. Use the power of visualization–We can only achieve what we can conceive. The way you think about your partner and your future together will impact the way you feel and behave toward each other. Negative images must lead to corrective action or be replaced with positive ones. Positive thinking about your partner puts a gleam in your eye which is apparent to your partner.
7. Make your needs known–Eliminate all complaining by changing your complaints to requests. Requests risk rejection, but complaints guarantee it. Do you really want your spouse to stop watching TV or are you really wanting your spouse to sit and talk with you? Ask your spouse to sit and talk with you rather than complaining about his or her TV viewing.
8. Agree–Rather than listening for the part of what your partner is saying that you disagree with and then debating about it, listen for what your partner is saying that you agree with. Sometimes partners feel like you are looking for something to pick at because you only comment when you disagree. Frequent agreement will make the disagreements more tolerable.
9. Go the extra step–The little bit extra that we do for any job or relationship makes all the difference both in early dating and in maintaining the relationship. Make your spouse’s lunch? Include a little love note. Greet your spouse with a kiss? Kiss his or her neck too. Whatever you do, think about how you can add just a little more to make it special.
10. Make a relationship plan–Living from day to day without any goals for the future leads to routine, stagnation, boredom, or burnout. When you and your partner are working on goals together, you share something that the rest of the world doesn’t have. And that creates a special world for the two of you.
Just as it’s easier to change your car oil than to replace the transmission, so it is easier to work on your relationship before problems occur. Being in love has never been enough to maintain a long term relationship. Doing what it takes to have a good long term relationship, however, will increase your feelings of love. Working one on one with a relationship coach will give you more specific ways to address issues important to your relationship. Success can happen if you make it happen.