There are three basic things you can do to make sure that your relationship is in a good place. Granted, I can't make you (or your partner or partners) do any of these things, but I can let you know what these basic things are in the hopes that you'll start to implement them.
Let's get clear on one quick thing. These things are simple, yes. Although they aren't necessarily easy.
Of course not, right?
Why can't relationships be easy?! I don't have an answer to that, but I do know that if we front load the work (i.e. learn these basic things in the beginning and/or right now), then the rest of our uncharted territory can be smooth sailing. Mostly because we know how to navigate various terrain - not necessarily because life/relationships get easier. We just get way more adept at being in them.
This one seems so obvious, doesn't it?! But it goes unaddressed for some relationships. Once we get into the comfort of a relationship and we feel as though we know our partner, it's not as exciting to hear about their day, or it's not as thrilling to ask random questions (partly because we think we know), and it's harder to make time for that weekly date.
PLUS, there's history now. We've got a history of things that have happened between us, so it's harder to 'start fresh,' so to speak. None of which means negative outcomes. I'm just trying to paint a picture of what typical relationships look like.
SO, my point is this. It's important to be friends. To see how your partner's day was, to ask about their plans for the future, to do things together (whether that's a night in or out or something completely different).
It's also important to be fond of your partner, to admire who they are, for them (and you) to feel known by each other, and to respond to them rather than ignore or dismiss them.
You'll see that the Gottmans (relationship counseling pioneers and gurus [stellar research to back up their work, also]) refer to the first three levels of their Sound Relationship House as the "friendship system." This is for good reason.
This is also based on the Gottman's work. When push comes to shove (no pun intended), it's important how we fight.
A common myth is that fighting leads to divorce. This is completely wrong. Some people in relationships argue more than others. It's really not that big of a deal. Of course, there are a couple of caveats.
- contempt (i.e. moral superiority)
- defensiveness (i.e. blaming, tit for tat)
- withdrawal/stonewalling (i.e. shutting down, leaving the room)
- criticism (i.e. "you're selfish")
- escalation (similar to defensiveness)
- invalidation (similar to contempt)
- negative interpretations
Believe it or not, fighting absolutely can take place without any of the above. While there are very few of us who are naturally good at this type of fighting, it is able to be taught (and learned) by many who try. Plus, it's very effective at keeping relationships in a good place.
And, for what it's worth, fighting is a common reason why people come in for relationship counseling. There are also other factors that feed into the above list. If you're trying to avoid the things above and are struggling, I'd suggest you seek out a trained therapist and get in for some sessions.
Learn How to Respond to Good and Bad News
Alright - last thing to keep in mind.
Quickly, imagine your partner comes to you and says, "Babe! Guess what?! I finally got that promotion at work I've been wanting!!"
How do you respond?
- "Wow! That's stellar! I'm so proud of you and I know you've worked so hard. Tell me all about it!" (with excitement in your expression)
- "Hey, that's cool" (without excitement in your expression)
- "Really? Isn't that just going to mean more time away from home?"
- "Okay. What's for dinner?"
For those who chose option 1, this is a good thing. It's called an "active constructive" response and means that you're enthusiastic and supportive of your partner in that moment. This is the most strongly related to relationship satisfaction. In other words, if you're doing this, then keep on keeping on!
Option 2 is a "passive constructive" response. It means that you're acknowledging your partner's news, but don't really seem excited or happy about it. This is deflating for your partner (take a second and imagine being on the receiving end of this type of response).
Option 3 is an "active destructive" response. It's belittling rather than supportive, and doesn't take your partner's feelings or work into consideration.
Option 4 is a "passive destructive" response. It minimizes the news by basically ignoring it and turns to topic over to something that is personally relevant.
The good news is that you've got four options (not one thousand). The bad news is that if you're prone to options 2-4, you'll need to reflect and adjust course. Sometimes easier said than done, but still doable.
Perfect! The Counseling Hub offers relationship counseling for all types of relationships (hetero, lgb+, non-monogamous, etc.) and Tara has been level II trained in the Gottman Method and is certified in the PREP, Inc. approach, both of which are supported by loads of research. Reach out today to get something set up and/or email us with any questions you might have!