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By Charles J. Orlando
The New Year brings a time of cleansing and refocus. And for many couples, it provides an opportunity to start anew, get centered on things, and assess how to make things work even better.
If you want to improve your relationship, there are plenty of suggestions from experts that discuss trips, staycations, date night, and getting back to basics. While those things might assist, they usually only have a short-term effect; as soon as the romantic situation ends, the original challenges return.
Related: 7 Amazing Ways Love Transforms Your Brain
Here are some crucial and fundamental ways you can improve your relationship the moment you stop reading this article:
1. Listen with the intent to understand, not to merely respond.
So many people claim “Communication is the cornerstone of a relationship.” I don’t agree. Not because communication isn’t valuable … but because for so many people, “communication” usually means speaking—sharing their view/opinion/why they are right. In truth, the best way to appreciate and understand where someone else is coming from is through active listening and empathy.
What to do: You don’t have to agree with your partner … just hear their view without asserting how right you think you are. Listening is how problems can get worked through.
2. Tolerance doesn’t work. Try acceptance.
Acceptance is critical … not only of each other, but also of ourselves and our individual circumstances. You can improve your relationship instantly when you both love and accept your similarities, and respect and appreciate your differences.
What to do: Don’t wish your partner was different. Accept them for who they are. If who they are (or how they act) doesn’t work for you—or deal breakers have come to light—discuss it.
3. Support them … and then reinforce your support.
In any healthy relationship there are joint interests shared as a couple, and individual interests unique to each person. If it’s important to your partner, make it important to you, too. Receiving support from the person you love most is really important. And letting your partner know that you care about them and their interests regularly counts.
What to do: Now, you don’t have to join them in all their activities/passions, but paying attention to what matters to them—and taking a genuine interest in it—makes all the difference. Carve out some time to talk about what your partner is up to, without the need to share your stuff at that time. By allowing them to have center stage, they will feel valued by you. Then, let them reciprocate.
4. Get honest … and stay that way.
Trust, loyalty, being straight-up—whatever you want to call it, being honest is crucial for everyone. No one wants to hear negative things … but they’d definitely prefer the ugly truth over a beautiful lie.
What to do: Yes, there are people who lie to make themselves seem better to others. But too often in established relationships, people aren’t honest because they: 1) don’t want to disappoint the other person; 2) don’t want to feel judged for their choices; or 3) don’t feel that their truth will be accepted.
For honesty to exist, a safe space must exist for telling the truth. So, make your relationship safe, and don’t judge. If your partner liea, that has nothing to do with you. And by always telling them the truth, you are not only keeping your integrity, you also allow them their dignity.
5. Keep your individuality … now and always.
It seems “doing things together” as a couple is the unspoken (and assumed) ”must” of successful relationships. However, too often, people then give up their sense of individuality once the relationship has grown—instead only speaking with “we” and “us”, and giving up things that matter to them personally.
What to do: Just because someone is in a relationship doesn’t mean they give up (or worse, sacrifice) their personal wants, aspirations, and dreams. Life, bills, kids and many other things can delay or alter life plans. But individuality—including interests, growth, financial independence (even if it’s just a separate account)—keeps people feeling good and secure about themselves outside the relationship … which plays a part in feeling good and secure in the relationship.
6. Laugh … play.
Love is much better when you smile. All relationships have their ups and downs, and life can certainly deal out its share of challenges. But keeping things fun—and having fun together—is what keeps couples strong through good and bad times … and the effects are instant and obvious.
What to do: Watching a comedy, playing practical jokes, or just keeping things playful between the two of you will make all the difference. Every time you do something that makes you or your partner smile, it drives a physical change and allows your body to release chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin (sometimes called the “cuddle hormone”) in both of your brains. You’ll feel happier and closer.
7. Acknowledge what matters to them.
Everyone likes acknowledgement for the things they do. In established relationships, sometimes we take our partner for granted. No matter how much someone loves you, everyone has a point where they get tired of waiting to feel appreciated.
What to do: As simples as it sounds, “please” and “thank you” go a long way to showing your partner that you value what they do. On a deeper level, tell them regularly that you are grateful for their efforts and actions. Support their efforts, and look for ways and opportunities to show them that you appreciate not only what they do, but also who they are.
8. Be affectionate.
Infatuation is what’s present at the beginning of a relationship. But without continuous effort by both people, the initial excitement can fade and warm feelings can disappear over time. Unless both partners make a conscious effort to renew their feelings for one another—every day—you risk not only a physical disconnection, but an emotional one, as well.
What to do: The secret is always in the little things. Hold their hand. Sit next to them on the couch. Kiss them hello when you get home and goodbye when you leave. Walk next to them. Send them a loving text for no reason in the middle of the day.
To build and maintain a long lasting, successful relationship, you need to commit to your partner’s emotional well-being. And when things are challenging or times are hard, that’s when it’s even more important to show them and put effort in.
Charles J. Orlando is a YourTango Expert, author, speaker, and relationship expert. He hopes to assist women in regaining their sanity and self-esteem, and empower men in evolving beyond their primal instincts.