With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, there will be a lot of social media overtures, neighborhood flower shops will sell out of roses, and every place to grab a steak will be packed—and that’s great. Every relationship needs a dose of romance. However, Valentine’s Day isn’t enough to keep the embers of love warm.
Relationships are hard. Really hard. No matter how great a bond is, there’s always work that needs to be done. Like a car, sharing our lives with a partner requires routine maintenance to keep things performing in tip-top shape.
You shouldn’t be waiting for a holiday to put the work in with your partner; instead of waiting for that special occasion it’s crucial to keep reminding one another why your love is real every day.
A Plan for the Committed
Over the last several years, we’ve seen drastic changes in the way people view relationships. For instance, sociology professor Andrew Cherlin has explained that divorce rates have been going up since they were first tracked in the mid-1800s is due, in part to “a gradual growth in the sense that it was okay to end a marriage if you’re unhappy.”
All too often when people struggle in their relationships, they don’t always consider that the grass might be greener where they stand. Moving on from someone you love to someone new may seem exciting, but that new person will often show their own flawed tendencies over time too.
No matter what we do, people change — even you – and no one is perfect. A relationship doesn’t hinge on the practical nuance of our ability to work with our partner’s flaws, but instead on evolving emotionally with them. Partnership isn’t about living in a time-capsule, where you continually experience one magical moment in time. It’s finding someone you are dedicated to changing with over time.
People have value; they bring things to our lives in ways we can’t calculate with simple emotional math. It’s obvious not every relationship is going to work out. If you’re lucky enough to have found someone, it’s important to learn when it is healthy to let go, and when it is right to stick it out. Relationships are filled with twists, turns, bombshells, triumph and revelation.
Closing a book before it ends can rob you of one of life’s greatest adventures.
No relationship is perfect, there are no fairy tales because spoiler alert: no matter how perfect the love may seem, all couples get into fights—especially if they’ve been together sixty years. But, those sixty-year couples know one secret that many of us don’t—and may never experience—because they never gave up. And if you’ve got a relationship that you want to grow, then you need to give it the time it needs to . When couples were interviewed about how their love persevered over the decades they were together, they noted things like the importance of working together to help the relationship continue to move forward, making the time to spend with one another, and compromising, even when things get difficult. As one long-time couple noted:
“Life is going to hit you with curve balls. But you have to stick it out. People give up too soon, too easily. It’s how you handle those lows together that makes the differences in life. There will be strains, yet it gets easier, and in many ways, better.”
There are a lot of things we can reflect on with our partners this time of year, but if you’re struggling with love (or things are going great) always keep these things in mind.
Now let’s get to work:
Go on a Date Night
Kids are draining. Jobs make us physically, mentally and emotionally tired. And then there’s hobbies, the gym, cooking dinner, maintaining friendships, and whatever else comes with the puzzle that is adulthood. As difficult as it might sound, it’s easy to neglect the person who sleeps next to us every night.
To make sure that the keeps his relationship moving in full swing, Jay Papasan, co-author of The ONE Thing, makes sure that he and his wife and business owner Wendy Papasan have a date night once a week, every week. They block that time off and protect it, so even in the middle of their busiest schedules, they still find time to invest in one another.
When is the last time you hit up your favorite restaurant? No kids, no friends, just the two of you? What about the place you met? Going back to a location where you’ve got an emotional connection could very well spark a lot of old feelings.
If you’re not the sentimental types, go somewhere new. If you crave new experiences, go take on a new adventure together. If novelty floats your boat, make a pact to try out the hot spot in town, or just one everyone’s been talking about. Make the time to hang out with one another, even if it’s a glass of wine and a movie, or taking the kids to the park – but do stuff together.
Communicate, and Don’t be Afraid to Fight
This is the biggest hurdle for a lot of us. Sometimes, we think our partners are mind readers, but surprise! They’re not. Another surprise is that, unless you’ve spent time training yourself to become an expert at it—you’re probably not as good at communication as you think you are.
This is especially true when it feels like every conversation, no matter how small feels like an argument. We shouldn’t be afraid to argue with our significant others—it’s important to hash out disagreements. However, it’s important for arguments to be substantive dialogues that lead to understanding—not a tirade of back and forth volleys that stem from a feeling of being misunderstood.
In fact, the ways we argue have a direct correlation to the longevity and sustainability of relationships. For the past 30 years, psychologist John Gottman and mathematician James Murray have been studying couples and longevity, and they found one crucial factor that indicated whether or not couples would last: their fighting style.
The two would watch couples, both new and old, partake in three different exchanges: a conversation about their day, a discussion on something positive, and a topic that the couple viewed as contentious. Observers would score and rate the exchanges, giving different values to various emotional responses, positive points for good and negative for bad, and give the couples an overall score. And they came to an overwhelming conclusion: people who didn’t argue constructively were not going to have a long partnership.
These numbers were so accurate that the researchers were able to predict divorce with a 94% accuracy. They found that couples fell into five categories: validating, volatile, conflict-avoiding, hostile, and hostile-detached. Of the five, only validating, volatile, and conflict-avoiding had a higher likelihood of long-term stability. But volatile relationships were still at risk.
In an article with The Wall Street Journal, the two noted that the key part of arguing successfully was to face one another when having a discussion, and to make sure to acknowledge your role in the problem.
We may not be mathematicians or psychologists, but we’ve done our fair share of research on the topic of communication and have written plenty of articles on how to communicate effectively with our spouses. To sum things up, here’s what we should be doing:
- Asking our partner a relevant question and listen to their response. Then, before sharing our own opinion, confirm to them that we heard what they had to say by repeating it back to them, using the beginning phrase, “What I hear you saying is…”
- Establish a common language to build from that includes some ground-rules that you intend to follow as a couple. For example, if in the middle of a fight things get heated, if someone says “Time out”, both partners should agree to separate and cool-off before meeting again.
And here’s what you shouldn’t be doing:
- Attacking your partner with a litany of overwhelming news, worries, or long speeches right before they walk out the door.
- Feel concerned about getting the last word in.
- Bottle up problems or issues instead of dealing with them as they arise.
When times are rough, don’t avoid stressful conversations, but always remember there’s a time and a place. Be patient and use your words wisely, don’t attack one another in the heat of the moment. Calm down, get some fresh air and try to bridge the topic again. Create a dialogue, don’t talk at your partner. By having a frank, honest, but calm conversation, the impact will be greater than two people who can’t seem to get a word in, but are also saying too much.
Share the emotional, spiritual, mental aspects of your life, give your special person everything because communication is the key.
Acknowledge One Another
When life is busy, it can be easy to get lost inside our own heads. We’ve all been there: you just walked in from a long day filled with small talk, meetings, and traffic. Stepping inside the house, we notice it seems cleaner, but don’t say thank you to our partner for cleaning it. After a few moments of not mentioning it, there’s a good chance, your partner will bring up that you didn’t notice their hard work and the result could be hurt feelings and possibly a fight.
A simple thank you goes a long way. It’s important to let one another know that you’re appreciative of one another’s effort, both in the office or with the kids. Even if the gesture is small, taking the time to recognize it does a relationship a lot of good.
If something is bothering you, talk about it. If you love something, talk about it. Don’t keep secrets, and always be open about what’s on your mind. Trust is the most significant component next to communication in a working relationship.
Relying on one another is huge, no one wants to second guess the other when they go out with friends or work late, establishing a clear bond that takes one another at face value is essential for a working and thriving relationship.
Also: remember that you can be truthful without being mean. Not everyone wants the unabashed truth. Some people’s communication styles require us to roll out the truth in small doses. Remember, it’s not about getting something off your chest—it’s about being heard and understood. A little tact can go a long way toward fulfilling your needs as well as theirs.
Stand by Your Promises
If you’re on a path of self-improvement, or working on making things better, stronger, or just sweeter between you and your partner, actually do them. When you make promises and don’t keep them, people (especially your partner) will see it as a lot of hot air. If you commit to being there, be there – no matter if it’s literal or metaphorical. You can’t be counted on if you’re not keeping promises.
Commit to being positive. Being negative and expecting the worst is easy—and for a lot of us, that’s our default way of thinking. Don’t let your relationship suffer from petty arguments or assuming that everything will go wrong. If things aren’t going great right now, commit to looking on the bright side, or at least never losing hope that things will be worked out. Do not give up. If you’re personally struggling, or your partner is, be the light and stay positive. When something good happens, join the party, celebrate the win.
Laugh at Yourself
Don’t be so serious. Find the humor in everything. Everyone loves to laugh, even when things aren’t going great. And laughing is good for you too. Letting yourself find the humor in things around you can help you increase your intake of oxygen and release endorphins, which help to reduce stress and tension. Don’t center on the bad stuff, the drama, but instead find what’s funny, make one another laugh. By having a sense of humor about life, stress, and obstacles, your partner will loosen up, too.
Your Way Isn’t Always the Right Way
Love is a collaboration, which requires new experiences and activities. Try things, don’t be afraid to go to new places, try new hobbies, or just try a new place to eat. Don’t rely on the tried and true experiences that you’ve stuck with thus far, because your partner might be longing for new something new. Explore life because variety can keep a relationship fresh.
Push for Time with Friends
Make sure your significant other spends time with their friends – without you. Establishing that you don’t have to spend every waking moment together makes for a stronger bond. Don’t make one another feel guilty about going out and leaving you home with the kids. Don’t blow up their phone, and don’t pout on social media. Understand and celebrate that people need to invest in friendship. When they spend time with their friends, it also shows that you’re accepting and comfortable in the relationship and that love and trust is rock solid.
Don’t Hold Grudges
If you’ve discussed hot button topics and came to a conclusion, they’re over. Let go and work to move on. Don’t dredge old arguments because you can’t look past someone’s history.
Love is hard, and it takes work. If you put the time in and make an effort to be a better partner, it’ll show. Life gets in the way, kids can be stressful sometimes, but if you focus, you’ll make it. You’re a family, you’ve made it this far, and you can keep going till the end of your days. Invest in one another’s happiness through small touches, or just a nice conversation. Do the dishes without being asked, drop by the flower shop, or just make the time to watch your partner’s favorite show.
As we leave you, remember that there are times you’ll find this advice challenging, but remember: love is always, always worth fighting for – no matter what life throws at us.