6 Time-Tested Ways to Make a Relationship Work
If you're like me, you're 100% human, complete with quirks, talents, shortcomings, and a generous portion of dysfunction. We are all, to put it gracefully, "works in progress."
This is why relationships can be so difficult. We're taking two dysfunctional people and mashing them together. In a relationship, you're not just dealing with your own personal issues. You're dealing with two people's worth of dysfunction! (See also: The First Thing You Need to Work on If You Want a Better Relationship)
But don't get too depressed. When approached correctly, a relationship can be the most fulfilling thing in your life.
1. Don't Take. Give!
If you go into a relationship for what you can get out of it, you aren't a partner; you're a leech. If two people enter a relationship looking out for themselves, that relationship is doomed to fail.
Regardless of your philosophy on life and love, the simple truth is that relationships don't work unless both partners come in looking to give. When two people decide to devote their lives completely to each other, the relationship is positioned for success.
When I know my wife is giving of herself wholeheartedly to me, rather than expecting me to perform for her, it allows me to give myself wholeheartedly to her, and vice versa.
2. Celebrate What They Do Instead of Complaining About What They Don't
We all want to be valued and appreciated. At the same time, we are all lacking in many ways. If you get married in your twenties and live to be 85, over 70% of your life, and thus, your self-development, will occur after you get married.
Don't focus on what's lacking. Celebrate who your partner is and the good things he/she does. See the best in your partner. Have you ever had someone believe in you? It really makes you want to be the best you can be. Have you ever had someone despise you or look down on you? It hurts and frustrates, and it does anything but inspire you to be better. The more honored and valued your partner feels, the more he/she will want to work on the weak areas.
3. Value Your Own Needs
This mutual exchange naturally does not work if it's one-sided. If I sacrifice myself for my wife, and she never returns the favor, then my needs go unmet, and ultimately, I shrivel and die emotionally. (See also: Happy and Married: 24 Tips From 24 Years of Marriage)
As a human being, you have needs, and your needs are just as valuable as anyone else's. Inevitably, there will be points in the relationship where one partner begins to take without giving. If the other partner reciprocates by withholding love, the relationship will implode.
This goes back to our first point. If it's not about me in the first place, I don't quit loving my wife the moment she stops sacrificing for me or meeting my needs. Over the long haul, no one-sided relationship can last, but in the short term, it often simply comes down to a lack of communication.
4. Don't Expect Your Partner to Be a Mind Reader
In my experience, the single biggest reason relationships fail is poor communication. The more we get to know someone, the more we assume, and assumptions in the absence of communication will kill your relationship.
If I notice my wife has stopped helping out around the house, I have two options:
- Assume she just doesn't care and begin resenting her.
- Communicate what I'm feeling to her and let her respond.
Choosing to communicate is the first step, but how you communicate is just as important. If I walk up to my wife and say, "You never help around the house anymore. Why are you being so selfish?" her response will probably be defensive. An argument will ensue, in which she'll bring up something I've been doing wrong, and then we'll both be angry and defensive. (See also: 25 Ways to Communicate Better Today)
If, however, I give her the benefit of the doubt, and simply say, "Hey sweetheart, it seems to me like I've been having to do most of the work around the house lately, and it's making me feel sort of used and unappreciated." Now I'm giving her the opportunity to value me and restore our connection, rather than instigating a fight.
5. Build and Re-Establish Trust
Obviously, the above doesn't happen without some level of trust. I'm trusting that my wife actually values me in the first place. If trust hasn't been established, it's impossible to grow in intimacy.
At the start of a relationship, a certain level of trust must be given. As you get to know your partner's heart, you must choose to extend trust based on that understanding. The partner must then affirm your trust by following through on commitments. (See also: Learn How to Admit You're Wrong)
Over the course of any relationship, breaches in trust will be made. How you respond determines the effect those breaches have on your relationship. If both parties are committed to growing together, forgiveness and re-established trust can actually build the relationship stronger than it was before.
6. Be Vulnerable
The goal of any romantic relationship is intimacy. You want to be with someone who knows you completely and loves you consistently as you are. As you build trust with your partner, you must also increase your level of vulnerability.
This is one of the hardest things for people to do, and it's a common reason relationships fail. If you've been hurt in the past, it can be difficult to open yourself up for heartache yet again.
Ultimately, your partner can never fully love you if he or she doesn't fully know you. I can't value my wife if she doesn't show me what she needs. I can try as much as I want, but until the window into her soul is opened up, my attempts will be in vain.
Your trust level absolutely must rise equally with your level of vulnerability, but without that second piece, any relationship is just a facade and WILL eventually fail.
The tenets of a strong relationship are really quite simple. People make it complex by riding their emotions instead of choosing their destiny, but ultimately, it's as simple as a choice. If you choose your partner — if you choose to give of yourself, value your own needs, communicate well, establish trust, and be vulnerable — every single day, you really can't fail.
What are your time-tested truths of relationships? Please share in comments!