A healthy, happy and intimate relationship is not guaranteed without some effort. No matter how deep the love, every relationship requires cultivating and caring for to enable it to grow and be the best that it can be.
This requires us to question and address our own behaviours, remain curious and manage our expectations. Those looking to enhance all aspects of their relating and relationships, whether with family, friends, work colleagues, can heed these few pointers to help them on their path, with specific attention to the most intimate of relationships – that with our partner.
Unsurprisingly, establishing and maintaining strong communication is key, and an essential ingredient to a healthy, happy relationship. This doesn’t just mean talking honestly, it includes being conscious of the language you use. Avoid using words like ‘should’, ‘shouldn’t’, ‘always’ and ‘never’, and try not to come from a place of blame, judgement or criticism. Communication isn’t just about what you say either, it’s about how you listen. By that, I mean really listen, not just waiting for your turn to speak.
Enjoying good communication will make resolution of conflict that much easier. Making time to address problems and resolve issues as and when they arise, is essential to a healthy partnership. Sweeping problems under the carpet breeds resentment, so it’s vital to keep talking, keep listening, and keep conflicts current rather than holding and building resentment. When something comes up, aim to resolve it there and then. Referencing back to the time your partner left the loo seat up in 1995 isn’t helpful to anyone.
Of course, life doesn’t always have to be so serious and neither do your issues. It’s a well-known phrase that ‘couples who laugh together, stay together’, and shared humour is crucial to maintaining a happy relationship. Try to create new ways to be playful, respectful and have fun together.
It’s also important to maintain individual interests and friends as well as shared hobbies and activities. If you only spend time together as a couple, this can lead to unhealthy levels of co-dependency. It’s important to celebrate that your partner is not like you. Constantly thinking or saying ‘if only you were as tidy as me’, or ‘as sociable as me’ or trying to change your partner to being more similar to you is unhealthy. You were drawn to their difference and how boring it would be if we were all the same. There is a theory that we see in our partner a lost or forgotten part of ourselves – the part of us that we don’t feel safe sharing in the world, so instead we unconsciously search for these qualities in others. So celebrate the differences between you, they offer a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow together.
When you feel the need to win or be right in an argument, this is your ego talking. It may offer you a shallow victory but will not bring happiness. Let go of your ego, allow your partner the benefit of the doubt and be generous when they are at fault. Humans are fallible and we all make mistakes – you will, and so will your partner.
Ultimately, cultivate realistic expectations of your partner. We are raised on fairy tale ideals of relationships, from Disney movies to romantic comedies, and can develop aspirations that simply aren’t attainable. Try considering your partner not as a ‘perfect other’ but another real and ‘flawed adult’, just like yourself.
In addition to verbal communication, connecting through the body helps to retain closeness in a relationship. This means more than just sex and refers to holding hands, cuddling, stroking, or simply sitting on the sofa with your feet in your partner’s lap. Physical intimacy can easily wain in a long term relationship, and it’s easy to slip into complacency in other ways too. It’s very easy to take your partner for granted. Maybe you don’t notice them when they enter or leave the room, or greet and welcome them when they come home or depart. Don’t forget that humans are fragile and we like to be acknowledged to feel appreciated.
Finally, try to prioritise your relationship as you did when you first met and even if it’s short, make quality time for each other. Put ‘date nights’ in the diary or plan a weekend away for just the two of you. It doesn’t have to be anything big, even just a night in with a takeaway and a film, so long as you are spending time when you are really together and focussing on your connection.
Of course, every relationship is different, but they all need investment in time and energy to ensure they not only survive but thrive.
Donna Lancaster is co-founder of The Bridge Retreat, a six-day personal development course.