You really want to improve your relationship? Or, as I hope, save it from an untimely death? Good! Let's talk about 12 simple but proven ways to improve your relationship. In this blogpost, I talk about exactly how you can improve your relationship to be what you want it to be.
1. Be honest.
How much do you want your partner to lie to you? Or cheat on you? Or just do whatever they can get away with behind your back? Well, that’s probably about how your partner feels. If there is a fundamental message that transcends any particular religion, it is probably that you should act toward others as you would want them to act toward you. And perhaps the most universal expression of justice is that what goes around, comes around.
Being dishonest comes back, and never comes back well. Everyone thinks they are too clever to get caught, right up to the point when they get caught. So, be honest with your partner!
2. Show genuine interest.
When you first took up with your partner, you probably showed a lot of interest in your partner. Otherwise, you would not have succeeded in establishing a relationship. But for some people, getting into a relationship is almost like a check-off. “Well, I’m in a relationship. Next….” Relationships are like people, or plants, for that matter. They need to be nurtured and developed.
When a relationship seems to be standing still, it is actually moving backward, because relationships never are static. They always are moving somewhere, whether you realize it or not. If you have lost interest in your partner, try to get it back. If you don’t, your relationship will slide downhill, perhaps a little at a time so that you hardly notice it; but once enough time has passed, you probably will notice it and your partner certainly will. And the relationship will be on the way toward the brink, it is has not arrived there already. So, show genuine interest in your partner!
3. Show sincere interest in improving the relationship.
If you want merely to keep your relationship as good as it is, then you have to work on it to reach your goal of staying still. The worst thing is when your partner wants to work on the relationship and you respond with stone silence or, worse, with disparagement, as in, “What’s wrong with the relationship? And by the way, what’s wrong with you?”
If you want out, then try to make things work, and if you can’t, get out—if you can. And there may be a whole lot of reasons why you feel you can’t—children, money, need for companionship, or whatever. But don’t waste your life and your partner’s in a dead relationship. If the relationship is dying, bring it back to life before it is too late, or move on. Life is too short to waste it on a failed relationship. If you want your relationship to work, keep working on improving it—always!
4. Integrate your partner into your life.
When I was younger, I was just so busy. Really. My career was taking off. There were kids to feed and care for. There were places to go, things to do. And the marriage I was in, which was rocky in any case, died the usual death of people who are too busy. Almost certainly, it would have failed anyway, for any number of reasons.
But I learned one thing: You always can find something that, at the time, seems more important than your relationship. You may feel, for example, that whereas your relationship can wait, your career cannot. You just have to get the next promotion, the better raise, the higher level of eminence or fame. The trouble is that, really, your relationship can’t wait. When you don’t utilize your muscles, they start to shrink and decay. Relationships are the same way. You put them aside, they wither and die. So, make time for your partner!
Of all the ways to improve your relationship, this is a particularly effective one. When you hear a background noise over a period of time, you start to habituate to it. Eventually, you may not even hear it. Of course, sometimes, the sounds to which you habituate are not background, but rather, foreground. Say, for example, your partner’s talking to you. After a while, you may stop hearing, or at least, stop listening. Listening is not a passive process; it’s an active one, in which you not only hear what the person says, but reflect on it, and say intelligent and relevant things back.
People notice when you don’t listen. Sometimes it’s in your facial expression; or your lack of saying anything back; or in your looking at your cellphone while they are talking to you; or in your showing in any number of ways that you have tuned them out. Communication is the oxygen of a relationship; you lose it, and you probably will lose the relationship, or at least, whatever is meaningful in it. Communication is key to intimacy with your partner. So, listen to your partner! Don’t just pretend to listen; really, listen!
6. Never let a bad habit (or several bad habits) undermine your relationship.
Let’s face it. We all have bad habits! You do. I do. It’s part of life. If you think you have no bad habits, then your bad habit is denying your bad habits. Some bad habits are slightly off, but probably not dangerous: You just can’t skip the dessert; you sometimes forget to flush it; you bought one too many dresses or suits.
But other bad habits can harm or destroy a relationship: You need just one more drink, and another and another; you have a roving eye and follow up on it; you are a compulsive spender or, worse, gambler; you never can admit to your mistakes or say you are sorry; you procrastinate on paying bills and then end up with large finance charges; you hoard stuff.
Often, being told not to indulge the bad habit does not really solve the problem. It’s too deeply ingrained. If you have a bad habit that’s potentially fatal to the relationship, get help. There are cognitive-behavioral and other therapists out there who can help you. Do it before the bad habit does in your relationship.
7. Take care of yourself.
There are just so many ways you can let yourself go. You don’t watch your eating and keep gaining weight (I’ve been there). You don’t bathe enough (fortunately, I’ve not been there). You get sick and think doctors are for sissies, except that then you get worse and maybe pass your germs on to your partner or others in the family. You seem never to remember to brush your teeth, and they look it. You smoke so much that you smell like an ashtray. Your partner, of course, can help you, but only to a limited extent. In the end, you have to take responsibility for yourself. So, take care of yourself!
8. If you have a short fuse, work on lengthening it.
Lots of people have a short fuse, especially these days, when the world seems to lurch from one crisis to the next. What imperils a relationship is not having a short fuse, but rather, being unable or unwilling to manage it. Learn to count to 10 before you strike back. Don’t blame your partner for things that are not their fault. If you can’t control your anger, get anger-management training.
Really, who wants to be with someone who is pissed off all the time and has no qualms about showing it? You owe it to yourself and your partner to keep your anger under control. So, if you have a short fuse, make it longer!
9. Be generous with positive comments.
It’s just so easy to concentrate on the negatives in life. We all know that, except for those who live charmed lives, we have plenty of negatives on which we can focus—financial troubles, world problems, problems with the kids, problems with your house or your neighborhood, and on and on. But if you are a wet blanket, you can suffocate the relationship with the weight of the blanket.
Try to focus on the positive in life, even during tough periods. You just keep going, looking forward to what you hope will be a more positive future. Of course, there are times when you have to deal with the negatives in life. But if that is all you deal with, it becomes a burden not only on you, but on whomever you are with. So, focus on the positive. When you discuss the negative, be understanding; be considerate; be kind.
10. Make your partner #1.
Narcissism has always been a problem in the world, but there actually is some scientific evidence that it has gotten worse. Who knows why? The Internet? Social media? New social norms? Cultural permissiveness? Maybe there are lots of causes. But it’s a total drag to be with someone who always looks out for him or herself and not so much for anyone else, including the partner.
You think your partner doesn’t notice? Forget about it. Of course, they do. People who are narcissistic reek of it. It oozes out through their pores. And they are a terrible burden for others. Most people go into a relationship for support. Narcissists have plenty of support to give, but only to themselves. If you are looking out only for yourself, chances are good that, in the end, you will be all you have. So, don’t just look out for yourself or give the impression you do. Make your partner #1. If your partner does the same, you both will do great!
11. Focus on the best.
I have argued that our society, by placing so much emphasis on tests and more tests and more tests, over-develops analytical skills at the expense of other skills, like creative ones. We end up with people who are very good at finding fault and seeing what’s wrong with things and people but who often cannot find the positive in those things or people.
Your partner is imperfect. So are you. Focus on what is good. A lot of success in relationships is learning to live with your partner’s flaws—and your own. It’s easy to find fault. It’s much harder to find the good. Well, find it!
12. Don't be abusive.
If you are abusive of others, and especially of your partner, one of two things is going on. Either you are in an extremely bad situation that you need to get out of right away—there is something in the situation that is bringing out the worst in you. Or, perhaps more likely, you have a serious problem, and it is dispositional rather than situational. That is, it is in you, not in any one situation or another. Get help before it’s too late. And when people are abusive, “too late” can come surprisingly quickly. Never, ever, abuse your partner. If you do, the relationship soon will be over, at least as a true loving close relationship!
There you go: 12 sure ways to improve your relationship. Things are never perfect, but it is almost always in your power to make them better. Go do it!