Many relationships fail, and a great percentage of them could have been saved if each partner had the right tools. Yet, few seek these tools.
If you were to start your own business, you would study business in school, create well thought-out business plans, and analyze your business’s performance diligently.
However, if someone wants to have a successful relationship, the same diligence is not done. People don’t go to school to learn how to be in a happy relationship. Self-help sections have a stigma. Dating coaches are only for "the hopeless.”
It’s no wonder so many relationships fail.
If you want to have a successful, lasting relationship, you need to educate yourself on how to do so.
Seventeen-year Matchmaker Leslie Wardman has counseled thousands of singles on building strong relationships that last. In this article, Leslie pinpoints the most important things you can do to build healthy habits from the beginning, how to perform relationship maintenance, and how to resolve common issues that arise with the end goal of making the relationship even stronger than before.
Part 1: The Beginning
While the early months of a relationship can feel effortless and exciting, successful long-term relationships involve ongoing effort and compromise by both partners. Building healthy habits early in your relationship can establish a solid foundation for the long run. When you are just starting a relationship, it is important to:
Build a foundation of appreciation and respect. Focus on all the considerate things your partner says and does.
Explore each other’s interests so that you have a long list of things to enjoy together. Try new things together to expand mutual interests.
Establish a pattern of apologizing if you make a mistake or hurt your partner’s feelings.
Part 2: Relationship Maintenance
Relationships take dedication and effort. As your relationship matures, there needs to be continual maintenance. The most important thing to understand is that relationships change and evolve over time. Issues will arise, and successful couples learn to communicate and turn these issues into an opportunity for growth. Below are three main takeaways for maturing relationships:
Changes in life outside your relationship will impact what you want and need from the relationship. Since change is inevitable, welcoming it as an opportunity to enhance the relationship is more fruitful than trying to avoid it.
Check in Periodically
Occasionally set aside time to check in with each other on changing expectations and goals. If a couple ignores difficult topics for too long, their relationship is likely to drift into rocky waters without their noticing.
Conflict Will Arise
Disagreements in a relationship are normal, and if constructively resolved, actually strengthen the relationship. It is inevitable that there will be times of sadness, tension, or outright anger between you and your partner. The source of these problems may lie in unrealistic demands, unexplored expectations, or unresolved issues in one partner or in the relationship. Resolving conflicts requires honesty, a willingness to consider your partner’s perspective even if you don’t fully understand or agree with it, and communication.
8 Golden Rules Of Relationship Maintenance
- Be aware of what you and your partner want for yourselves and what you want from the relationship.
- Let one another know what your needs are.
- Realize that your partner will not be able to meet all your needs. Some of these needs will have to be met outside of the relationship.
- Be willing to negotiate and compromise on the things you want from one another.
- Do not demand that a partner change to meet all your expectations. Work to accept the differences between your ideal mate and the real person you are dating.
- Try to see things from the other’s point of view. This doesn’t mean that you must agree with one another all the time, but rather that both of you can understand and respect each other’s differences, points of view, and separate needs.
- Where critical differences do exist in your expectations, needs, or opinions, try to work honestly and sincerely to negotiate. Seek professional help early rather than waiting until the situation becomes critical.
- Do your best to treat your partner in a way that says, “I love you and trust you, and I want to work this out.”
Part 3: Successful Conflict Resolution
As we already discussed, conflicts will arise. It’s inevitable. How you resolve those conflicts is the most important factor. Below are guidelines for successful conflict resolution.
Find out how conflicts were managed (or not managed) in your partner’s family, and talk about how conflict was approached (or avoided) in your own family. This kind of conversation can help each person understand their own and their partner’s approach to conflict resolution.
Contrary to previous notions, the best time to resolve a conflict may not be immediately. It is not unusual for one or both partners to need some time to cool off. This time-out period can help you avoid saying or doing hurtful things in the heat of the moment, and can help partners more clearly identify what needs to be done to resolve the conflict.
Emotional support involves accepting your partner’s differences and not insisting that he or she meet your needs only in the precise way that you want them met. Relationships require compromise.
Agree to Disagree
Most couples will encounter some issues upon which they will never completely agree. Rather than continuing a cycle of repeated fights, agree to disagree and negotiate a compromise or find a way to work around the issue. Couples don’t have to agree on absolutely everything, and it’s healthy if each person in the relationship maintains their own personal viewpoints.
Wanting Versus Needing
Distinguish between things you want versus things you need from your partner. For example, for safety reasons, you might need your partner to remember to pick you up on time after dark. But calling you several times a day may really only be a want, not a vital component of the relationship.
Clarify Your Messages
A clear message involves a respectful but direct expression of your wants and needs. Take some time to identify what you really want before talking to your partner. Work on being able to describe your request in clear, observable terms. And remember ladies, men are not mind readers. Don’t play the “he should just know” game. They don’t know, and they need you to tell them.
Discuss One Thing at a Time
It can be tempting to list your concerns or grievances, but doing so will likely prolong an argument. Do your best to keep the focus on resolving one concern at a time is best practice.
Being a good listener requires the following: (a) don’t interrupt, (b) focus on what your partner is saying rather than on formulating your own response, and (c) verbally repeat back what your partner said to confirm you clearly understand. This alone can prevent misunderstandings that might otherwise develop into a fight.
Research has found that couples who edit themselves are typically the happiest. This means not lashing out and saying all of the angry things they may be thinking. Learn to control your own thoughts and anger.
Adopt a “Win-Win” Position
A “win-win” stance means that your goal is for the relationship, rather than for either partner to “win” in a conflict situation.
Part 4: How To Handle Expectations
Each of us enter into romantic relationships with ideas about what we want based on family relationships, what we’ve seen in the media, and our own past relationship experiences. Holding on to unrealistic expectations can cause a relationship to be unsatisfying and to eventually fail. The following will help you to distinguish between healthy and problematic relationship expectations:
What you want from a relationship in the early months of dating may be quite different from what you want after you have been together for some time. Anticipate that both you and your partner will change over time. Feelings of love and passion change with time, as well. Respecting and valuing these changes is healthy.
It is difficult, but healthy, to accept that there are some things about our partners that will not change over time, no matter how much we want them to. Learn to accept, and even love, their differences.
Express Wants and Needs
While it is easy to assume that your partner knows your wants and needs, this is often not the case and can be the source of much stress in relationships. A healthier approach is to directly express our needs and wishes to our partner.
Respect Your Partner’s Rights
In healthy relationships, there is respect for each partner’s right to have his or her own feelings, friends, activities, and opinions. It is unrealistic to expect or demand that that he or she have the same priorities, goals, and interests as you.
Be Prepared to Fight Fair.
Couples who view conflict as a threat to the relationship, and something to be avoided at all costs, often find that accumulated and unaddressed conflicts are the real threat. Healthy couples fight, but they fight fair – accepting responsibility for their part in a problem, admitting when they are wrong, and seeking compromise.
Maintain the Relationship
Most of us know that keeping a vehicle moving in the desired direction require not only regular refueling, but also ongoing maintenance and active corrections to the steering to compensate for changes in the road. A similar situation applies to continuing relationships. While we may work hard to get the relationship started, expecting to cruise without effort or active maintenance typically leads the relationship to stall or crash! Though gifts and getaways are important, it is often the small, nonmaterial things that partners routinely do for each other that keep the relationship satisfying.
Part 5: How To Handle Relationship Pressures
Differences in Background
Even partners coming from very similar cultural, religious, or economic backgrounds can benefit from discussing their expectations of how a good boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse behaves. What seems obvious or normal to you may surprise your partner, and vice versa. If you are from different backgrounds, be aware that you may need to spend more time and energy to build your relationship.
Time Together and Apart
How much time you spend together and apart is a common relationship concern. If you interpret your partner’s time apart from you as, “He or she doesn’t care for me as much as I care for him or her,” you may be headed for trouble by jumping to conclusions. Check out with your partner what time alone means to him or her, and share your feelings about what you need from the relationship in terms of time together.
Your Partner’s Family
Some people find dealing with their partner’s family difficult or frustrating. It’s important that the two of you discuss and agree on how you want to respond to differing family values and support one another in the face of what can be very intense “suggestions” from family.
There are some people who seem to believe that “I have to give up all my friends unless my partner likes them as much as I do.” Giving up friends is not healthy for you or the relationship, except in circumstances where your friends pressure you to participate in activities that are damaging to yourself and the relationship. Negotiate which friends you and your partner spend time with together.
You’ve heard this a million times before, but we'll say it again: relationships are work. You have to have the right tools to build healthy habits from the beginning; these are the building blocks of a long-term, successful relationship. You have to know how to handle issues that arise. Most people view issues as problematic, possibly fatal, when in reality, they are golden opportunities that can make the relationship even stronger than before. It is absolutely vital to have a toolbox for when you meet that right person, your life partner, your other half, in order for it to last.