Making relationships work
Basic principles for good relationships
Let’s face it, relationships are difficult. They take time, effort and dedication and there is no guarantee things will work out in the long run. However, there are some basic principles, which help to keep relationships healthy and energized. The following is an overview, with more information on additional pages.
How to make relationships work!
1 Talk to your partner
Talking to your partner about all sorts of things, especially about how you are doing with each other is essential. There is simply no way around it. If you don’t talk about yourself, your dreams, your gripes, your fears and your hopes for your relationship, how would your partner know about any of these things?
Your understanding of your partner and yourself in the relationship can only grow through communication. Otherwise it is easy to be left with your own worst assumptions, which are often based on difficult past experiences (see ego states).
2 Share power equally
The best relationships are those in which both partners feel powerful and heard. Remember that you are working together with your partner as a team. You are not running a race against each other.
You only win when both of you are happy. If you manage to out-run your partner all the time, so that you win and he or she loses, you will both lose in the end. Relationships only work when both of you win.
To make this happen, both you and your partner need to have an equal say in what happens. Dominating your partner or being dominated may feel safer in the short run, but will create a lot of problems in the future.
3 Be emotionally available
We all want to feel supported and cherished in our relationships. For that to happen we need to allow our partner to make an emotional impact on us. We need to be open to each other, rather than cut off and be distant.
For many people it is difficult to show their emotional sides, their vulnerabilities as well as their joys. If this is so for you, you may want to work on becoming more open to your partner. Being emotionally available means responding to your partner emotionally and practically. There’s more on this under relational needs.
4 Experience good times together
Relationships can get really serious and bogged down in difficulties. When work pressure builds up, children need things constantly, and other duties are pressing, it is easy for a relationship to become a mere work arrangement. Relationships thrive on fun times together.
Being able to laugh and joke together some of the time will build up emotional resources between the two of you for times when things get tough.
Make sure you have some easy, relaxed and playful times together with your partner. They will become memories you will both cherish for a long long time.
5 Invest time in each other
Our lives can be too busy, simply keeping up with work and all the necessary jobs that can take up so much time. Make sure you keep some time just for your relationship.
You will need time with your partner to re-connect and to catch up with all the little things which are happening in his or her life. The time you spend together is precious, even if you end up arguing!
At least the two of you are trying to get closer and to work things out. Having time for your partner is essential!
6 Respect each other’s differences
This is often a tricky one! When we fall in love with another person we may feel like they’re amazingly similar to ourselves. But, as we get to know them and the hard work of the relationship really begins, we find out how totally different they really are.
We may try and change them to make them more like ourselves, but, in the end we have to accept that they are difference. Our partners will always be different to us, think differently, and do things differently – and that needs to be OK with us.
To feel loving and close to someone who is very different involves acceptance. Honoring that difference and even cherishing it will bring respect and love into your relationship.
7 Stay emotionally separate
The above statement may sound strange. However, staying emotionally separate individual is about not merging with your partner, but keeping healthy boundaries.
Ultimately, we are all separate individuals and we all need to be able to manage our emotions separately. Just because your partner is feeling something doesn’t mean you have to feel it or automatically react to him or her.
Staying emotionally separate is the opposite of a co-dependent relationship where both partners need each other to regulate their emotions or self-esteem in some way.
This type of enmeshed relationship is not healthy. Staying emotionally separate means that you take full responsibility for yourself and your emotions. When we do this we are free to connect to our partners, because we want to not because we need to.
8 Be realistic about resources
Many relationships would actually work a lot better if the partners weren’t overstretching themselves.
Running a life together is really hard work. There is your home to look after, cleaning, shopping, organizational tasks, possibly children, work, and so on…and on….. The list is endless.
Remember that it may be an impossible task to do everything you think you have to in the time you have available! In our nuclear families there are only two adults to do all the jobs, which is often simply impossible.
Realizing that you may be asking too much of yourself and your partner may take the anger out of many arguments. Nobody is at fault when things don’t get done around the house if both of you are already doing all that you can! Why not consider getting help with various tasks or scale down your expectations?
9 Negotiate compromises
This goes back to the principle of team work and being able to respect your differences.
Quite often there will be times when you want different things. Instead of needing to have everything, or most things, your way, try and aim for a fair way of arranging compromises.
Both of you need to feel like you are getting some of what you want. If one of you is the one who always feels like he or she needs to give up what he or she wants to achieve a compromise, things will not work long term.
Compromises involve both people giving a little bit and gaining something in return.
10 Be physical time together
We all have an inbuilt biological drive to relate. Additionally, we are designed to experience physical contact as highly pleasurable, reassuring and enjoyable. Spending time physically close together with or without sex is really important for bonding between partners.
This could be any physical contact from holding hands, to hugging, to cuddling up somewhere together or to falling asleep in each others’ arms. Make sure you do spend some time physically close to your partner. Both men and women need physical contact which isn’t about sex as well as some which is.
11 Don’t avoid arguments
Arguments are necessary and can be extremely useful. There is no way you will always agree with your partner on matters of real importance over the next fifty years! It is impossible not to argue at some point if both of you want to be heard.
Arguing can be really productive as it means you both get to know each other and yourselves better. You may need to go over an issue many times till all has been said, but as long as you learn something new about your partner and yourself each time, this is time well spent and will be great work in creating a good relationship together.
12 Be a person in your own right
Even though you’re in a relationship, you’re still an individual. You still need to take full responsibility for your life. It is your job to make your own life satisfying, interesting, and meaningful, not your partner’s!
It is OK for both of you to have separate interests, careers, hobbies and different friends. Relationships are about closeness with another, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a person in your own right. When things get difficult in your relationship, you will need your own resources to support you through the tricky times.
Having a life of your own outside your relationship will give you more stability and satisfaction in the long run.
13 Be honest and open
There is nothing as damaging to relationships as lies and withdrawal. If you do find yourself hiding important issues from your partner, or covering your tracks with stories, please reflect on what is going on.
Your relationship will not flourish long term if you are deceiving your partner or you’re not open and honest about yourself or your reactions to him or her. If you are struggling to show yourself, work at it! If you need to go into psychotherapy to get some help with this, then do so.
Your partner can only attach to and work with what you give him or her. If you give nothing, or you’re not open about what you really think, feel or mean, things cannot grow.
13 Take responsibility for your own emotional baggage
Most of us work at this a whole life time long. And so we should. Whatever emotional baggage we have picked up in our past, including our childhood, is our responsibility to sort out.
Your partner may be able to help you with it, but ultimately we all need to sort it out ourselves. It is not our partner’s responsibility to reassure us or make us feel a particular way. It is our own responsibility. It does take real wisdom to acknowledge your own stuff and to tease it apart from what is going on right now with your partner.
This process will take time, but it must be undertaken! If you do find it difficult, get some help, but don’t keep making excuses.
14 Put your partner first
Your partner is the main attachment figure in your life, maybe with the exception of your children if you have them. Make sure you put him or her first. He or she is your family now, the main person in your life, the one who you have chosen to be with.
That means you need to value him or her in your life and treat him or her accordingly. Sometimes old relationships can intrude on the relationship with your partner, such as old friends or family. Remember though that your partner is your future and you need to invest in your future, even if that means letting go a little bit of your old loyalties to others.
15 Don’t get personal during arguments
Arguments can be extremely distressing and frustrating. We say all kinds of things to each other at these times, and maybe many of these things need to be said.
However, do not attack your partner personally, ever! You may not like what he or she is doing, but that does not give you the right to call him or her names or put him or her down as a person. It is OK to say “I really hate what you are doing …”, or even “I really don’t like you right now…”, but it is no good at all to say “You are an idiot” ands such like comments.
Always respect your partner as a person, however angry you may feel about him or her. Attacking your partner will just make it much harder to resolve the issue you have been arguing about. Remember that only when you work as a team can you win together.
17 It’s OK to apologize
Sometimes apologies are very much what is required and proper. It can put an end to ongoing disputes and ill feelings. I think that all of us will one time or another have done something that we need to apologize to our partner about.
Don’t hold back with it, your partner will often really appreciate your willingness to reflect on what’s happened and take things back. If you are apologizing for things you have done that weren’t quite OK, make sure you don’t do them again. Apologizing needs to be backed up by action to show that you really mean it.
18 Show your love
Last but not least, show your love! If you do not show it in words, emotions and actions, how would your partner know? Wouldn’t it be really tragic to think that you care very deeply for your partner, but he or she couldn’t feel it because you are not communicating it?
It is OK to show your partner how much you appreciate him or her. It will brighten up your days together and strengthen your relationship.