What came next surprised, inspired, and frustrated me all at once. These ideas were so simple, so straightforward. Why weren’t more couples putting them to use in their own relationships? James, happily “living in sin” with Victoria for 40 good years, said it best. “Most people just don’t seem to care enough to put more effort into their relationship every day.”
If you really do care then you’ll have what it takes to put the following concepts to use and reap the benefits. In spite of all the complexity that love serves up, these keys will make short work of adding joy to your relationship
1. Ask For Praise
Expecting your partner to notice things without prompting is often very unfair and can lead to resentment. Keep the beast away by speaking up and bringing attention to things you’d like your partner to notice. If you’ve done something you’d like your partner to take notice of, say something! Got your hair did? Say something! Fixed the dining room table so it doesn’t teeter? Say something!
You did this instinctively when you were a child. Remember running up to a parent or guardian and asking them to look at a picture you’d colored or cape you’d made out of an expensive tablecloth? For most of us, the response was one of amazement (if a bit contrived) and vocal appreciation for our obvious talents.
You’re not so very different now. You still love to be praised when you’ve done well. Even if it’s something you should have done earlier in the week or missed a detail on. How to get that praise? Ask for it and agree to give it when your partner asks you for some appreciation. You know not to crush a child’s spirit by ignoring their efforts to impress you. Are you as smart about your partner?
2. In Everything, Give Thanks
Say “Thank You” and make an effort to regularly demonstrate your genuine gratefulness for all your partner does for you. There are going to be times when this will seem an impossible chore. Perhaps you’ll be furious with your partner over something or other and they’ll point out something they did, hoping for praise. How will you respond? Will you offer your praise and thanks then deal with your anger separately? Or will you close up like a shell and torture your partner with inconsolable silence?
You care about making your relationship work so I expect you’ll swallow your momentary pride and say thank you. After all, your partner deserves at least the same courtesy you’d give to a complete stranger. When you cannot be gracious, be polite. Make a habit of offering thanks to your partner, even for the tiniest of things, and a sapling of thankfulness will grow into something strong enough to support you both.
3. Schedule Time For Each Other
If you were worried about killing spontaneous romance by scheduling time with your partner, you wouldn’t be reading this. For the rest of us with busy lives and hectic schedules, an exhausting Wednesday is easier to handle knowing that Thursday at 6pm we get a few hours with our best friend.
All that’s left is to actually be present with your partner during the focused time you have together. This, according to all voices heard in my less-than-scientific survey, is one of the hardest parts of any long-term relationship.
Dinner with kids at the table doesn’t count as real presence. Sitting on the couch while you both have laptops running in front of you doesn’t count either. In fact, most of the things we do as couples fall into the realm of proximity instead of true presence. A simple test (thanks, Debbie!) is to see if you need to get your partner’s attention before talking for them to hear what you say. If you do, they weren’t really there to begin with.
You’ll be tempted to use your regular time together as the time for you to angrily vent and argue. Don’t do it! This is your time to catch up with the person you love. If you can’t think of something wondrous and warm to say, chew on silence and just be. There’s something about focused presence with a loved one that helps troubles sink away just a bit. Make the most of your time together!
4. Agree On How To Argue
Sometime when you’re not even a little angry with each other, sit down and talk about how you fight. Then lay down some rules you both agree to follow during future arguments.
Mary, a 74 year-old mother of four and widow of two shared three of her rules:
- Nobody leaves during an argument without saying where they’re going.
- Arguments that last longer than 3 days are obviously stupid and will not be allowed to continue.
- An argument will never mean that the relationship itself is in question.
Mary’s final rule resonated with me because that’s something I work very hard to do in my own relationships. One of the most difficult but smartest things to say during an argument is, “I love you but I’m so pissed at you about/for/because [insert argument here].” Keeping the argument separate from the relationship status is key to getting things back on track. You could call it a shortcut through very dark woods.
5. Say You’re Sorry Every Day
Apologizing is a lot like learning a foreign language. The more you practice it in real-life situations, the better you become at it.
If you don’t do something worth saying sorry for every day, you’re either an angel or completely blind to your own inadequacy. You need not commit some great damage against your partner before saying you’re sorry. Just be yourself. In the course of being yourself you’ll say something without thinking, forget to pick up something from the store, or complain about your day without asking about your partner’s. You’re a master at making mistakes! =)
The more you ask for forgiveness, the easier it will be to admit to and gain forgiveness for all the things you do that might drive your partner away if not taken care of. Its never easy to swallow your pride and admit to screwing something up. But you need to do this and make a habit of it if you want to make your relationship the best it can possibly be.