Fifteen tips for maintaining a healthy relationship, including love clichés that actually bear some truth.
1. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus: Accept that there are some fundamental differences between genders. When men are stressed, for example, they often prefer to “retreat into their caves.” They need time and space to figure out a solution. When women are stressed, they often prefer to talk about their problems.
This inherent opposition can be an added source of stress on top of the original problem. Men and women need to recognize this about each other and strive to take a little step in the direction of the other’s preferred method.
It’s fine that you both have different ways of perceiving and reacting to the world – but to maintain a healthy relationship, you have to at least try to understand the code of conduct on your significant other’s planet.
Best Friends and Being Angry
2. Don’t go to bed angry: Perhaps the most passed-on piece of advice in the long-term relationship world, “don’t go to bed angry” is not a universal truth. But the underlying concept – communication as vital to relationship – is. The idea that going to bed angry can cause resentment to build up and make a blowup inevitable can be true in some couples’ cases. But other couples (or halves of couples) need space to calm down before hashing out issues. The key is to figure out which approach works best for the two of you. Arguing late at night when you’re both exhausted is just as likely to lead to a blowup as if you risk letting resentment build for another eight hours.
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3. Your partner is your best friend: This one is kind of true. The sex and romance should be there, but you should also feel like you can talk to your partner about anything; laugh over anything; feel better when you’re together. For some, love grows out of friendship. For others, friendship grows out of love. No matter which way it happens, friendship provides stability even when there are strains on the romantic part of the relationship.
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4. For richer or poorer: It’s in the vows for a reason. Money is one of the top things couples fight about, and no wonder – household finances weave a complicated web of ego, self-righteousness, responsibility, fear and control and power. Money can lead to all kinds of misunderstandings and disagreements. Oftentimes in relationships, one person is a spender; the other is the saver. And these titles often come with uncomplimentary tags: the spender is the “shopaholic” or “spendthrift.” The saver is the “cheapskate” or “tightwad.” It’s easy to fall into name calling, even if you keep it in your head.
Money arguments tend to reflect fundamental differences between couples, and there’s not often a way to reconcile differences. One of the best ways to lessen arguments over money is simply to reflect on your differences with your partner. What does money mean to you? What does it mean to your significant other? Talk about it – how does it relate to your sense of stress? Well-being? Feelings of competence? Control? Self-respect and the respect of others? How do material possessions affect these things? The more you understand your own positions and your partners, the more you’ll be able to discuss money matters calmly and rationally.
5. Opposites attract: Scientific studies show that while most people say they’re looking for a life partner that complements their personality, in reality, people tend to look for life partners who share certain personality traits with them. While there have been plenty of happy marriages between members of different religions, political parties and other such fundamental beliefs, the truth is, a basic difference in values will certainly add stress to a relationship.
That said, finding a partner who has different interests than you, who helps you get outside your comfort zone and who exposes you to new ideas helps build a strong, lasting relationship. It keeps things interesting.
The key is to find someone who shares many of your same basic beliefs but also helps you grow.
And if you’re already committed to someone whose basic outlook on life is the opposite of yours, it all goes back to good old communication and compromise. Hold each other’s hands, look each other in the eye – establish a personal connection, then talk about the tough issues. Try your hardest to see where your partner is coming from. Then switch. The goal isn’t to convince the other person you’re right, it is simply to gain a better understanding of their fundamental beliefs.
6. I’d trust him/her with my life: Yep, it’s corny. But it’s a cliché for a reason – trust is a building block of any healthy relationship. Part of a long-term relationship is building a mutual, protective alliance. You care for the other, and in turn, you are cared for. This also requires vulnerability. It can be hard if you have a fear of becoming dependent, but a successful relationship naturally results in some level of dependency. That’s one of the benefits of being in a relationship – you give up some control so that you can receive another’s help and protective love.
Also trust your partner to make autonomous decisions. This requires giving up some control, but it gets easier with practice.
Give him the benefit of the doubt. Unless there is some sort of betrayal in your relationship’s past that gives you a concrete reason not to trust, reel out the line. Jealousy isn’t healthy in any relationship – romantic or otherwise.
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7. The languages of love: Like Men are from Mars, Women are From Venus, the Five Love Languages is an immensely popular book on understanding your partner and building a strong relationship. The premise is that individuals prefer to receive love in different ways. You need to learn how your partner best feels loved, and help your partner understand you do. According to author Gary Chapman the five languages are: words of affirmation (tell them you love them), acts of service (do the dishes without being asked), receiving gifts (come home with flowers for no reason), quality time (go on a picnic) and physical touch (hold hands when you’re watching television). A person often strongly prefers one “language” above the others. Figuring it out is easy – explain the premise of the theory and just ask which your significant other prefers. Then remember to act on it. Simple.
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8. Keep it hot: Don’t underestimate physical attraction. While it may come and go over the years, but there are little ways to keep it up. You need to be honest about your feelings and your needs. If it’s hard to talk about, write it down. Remember – it still pays to shave, put on a nice suit and sweep her off her feet.
Physical affection of any type, including handholding in public and a kiss before bed, help couples maintain intimacy – it’s not just about sex. Shoulder rubs and foot massages can also go a long way, especially after a stressful day. Kiss goodbye each morning when you leave for work, and kiss hello when you see each other again in the evening. It doesn’t have to be a passionate display of affection each time – in fact, it’s the routine and the normalcy of the hello and goodbye kiss that help maintain the intimacy.
9. Be a team player: Commitment to the relationship and to your partner is vital. It’s part of the “for better or for worse” part of the vows. If you try to remember to put your partner first, you’ll get it right at least part of the time. This includes being faithful, pulling your weight when it comes to chores, child-raising and other household responsibilities. Sometimes you’ll be doing more giving than receiving, but that’s how partnerships work. It will even out in the end.
10. Thinking of you: Let your partner know you’re thinking about her with small gestures – a note, a small bag of her favorite candy, a cup of coffee at work, a magazine or book she’d like, etc. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. The point is to show you were out and about and saw something that made you think of her. Similarly, fixing something that’s broken or doing a small chore around the house is a thoughtful gesture. Plus you’ll get bonus points for earning her more free time.
Dating and Love
11. Date night: This is especially important for couples who work long hours, have children or lead busy lives in general. Carve out time for the two of you to spend quality time together alone. Spending quality time together requires undivided attention. No texting friends, no constant check-ins with the babysitter, no work email – just the two of you. It’s more than just existing in the same room together – him watching basketball, her reading a magazine – all your focus is on the other person.
Date nights help build intimacy and communication as well as support the friendship that is the base of your relationship. Plus, it can give the two of you a chance to dress up and look good for each other, giving a boost to that physical attraction you felt when you met. Recreate your first date, play a sport together, cook together – anything you both enjoy. Or, try something new together – take a class, go to the ballet, find the best tapas in your city.
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12. I love you: Words mean a lot. Even if you’re certain your significant other knows how you feel, make sure to voice it regularly. Here are some phrases to get you started: I love you; I love when you _____; You’re awesome at ______; You might be right about that; You’re beautiful/handsome; You’re my best friend; I appreciate your doing that.
Hearing the words out loud is reaffirming and comforting. It fosters a feeling of commitment, security and intimacy. Write them, say them, text them – it doesn’t matter how, just use them.
13. Choose your battles: If you’re feelings are truly hurt or you’re deeply angry, absolutely share them with your partner. But some things are better left unsaid. When you make a request of your partner, and he doesn’t follow through (still leaving hair shavings in the sink?), stop and ask yourself if this is where you want to spend your capital. Is this really that important? Can I let this slide? Focus your energies only on things that markedly affect your feelings or quality of life, and let the rest go.
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14. He completes me: It’s great if your significant other helps out where you fall short – he kills the spiders, you handle the dust bunnies; he gets you pumped for a night on the town, you center him for movie night at home. But that’s not all there is. He complements you, not completes you. It’s not fair to expect him to fulfill all of your emotional needs.
Healthy relationships require some alone time and independence, too. Having your own, separate friends and hobbies helps you keep your self-reflection sharp and is a confidence booster to help you remember you are your own person. It’s okay if on Sunday morning, you go out to brunch with your girlfriends and he goes to the driving range.
Lot Of Work and Further Reading
15. It’s a lot of work: Don’t expect otherwise. You’ll fight, you’ll cry and you’ll wonder how she could even think something like that. It happens. When you’re angry, take a break and think about a few of your partners good qualities – the times she makes you laugh with her silly dance, the delicious dinner she cooked last night, how beautiful she looks with her hair up. It will calm you down, and remind you that while you’re angry, you still love each other.
Further reading on how to keep relationship strong and healthy: