Relationships are actually quite easy, in theory. You follow the rules, you don’t get bogged down in the drama and the nonsense, and you sail off into the sunset.
14. Take your time.
Getting into a relationship too fast and not getting out of the relationship fast enough (especially prior to marriage).
When you’re not in an official relationship with someone yet, it’s pretty easy to walk away if you see problems. But once you’re officially in a relationship with someone, you’re more invested in them, and you’re less likely to walk away when you see problems. So it’s important to spend significant time getting to know someone before you start doing things that make you feel more reluctant to walk away (whether that be kissing them, calling them your boyfriend or girlfriend, or whatever), so that you will filter out more of the bad potential partners before they become actual partners and waste more of your time causing you more pain.
Once you’re already in the relationship, it’s important to communicate – to express your needs clearly and assess your partner’s needs with empathy and care. And if you’ve expressed your needs clearly but your partner still does not meet them, then it’s important to end the relationship. Hanging around hoping something will suddenly change somehow is wasting your time and also wasting your partner’s time. It’s a kindness to both of you if you just explain that since your needs still have not been met, you’re leaving now.
There are at least three basic stages of a relationship. The first stage is when it’s not officially a relationship yet. Use this stage to filter out as many bad partners as you can before you get too invested. Think of as many relationship pitfalls as you can, and ask questions to try to determine in advance whether each potential partner is likely to be able to overcome them with you or not.
The second stage is when you’re boyfriends/girlfriends/etc. but not married yet. At this point you’ve progressed from asking questions and getting to know one another to actually trying to be one another’s primary supports in meeting the daily challenges of everyday life together. The biggest question to keep in mind at this point is, “Does this person make my life better, and do I make theirs better?” Does this person help you solve problems, relieve some of your burdens, introduce you to new and interesting ideas, listen and make you feel understood, relate and make you feel less alone – and do you do the same for them? Are you happier when they’re around, or does being around them exhaust you – and do you think they’re happier or more exhausted when you’re around?
If you were suddenly sick or injured in some new way and you needed help, could you rely on them to take care of you to about the same degree that you would take care of them? When you need something from them or they need something from you, can you each typically get what you need from each other, or does the conversation become strained or awkward because one of you is less able or less willing to meet the other’s needs?
In this stage, the possibility should never be far from your mind that maybe this person might turn out to just not be the right person for you to be with at all – because if you find that you’re not making each other’s lives better, and some conversations about how to try to fix that don’t seem to be actually fixing it, then the best thing for both of you is to end the relationship as soon as possible so you can both avoid wasting any more of your time with each other.
The third stage is when you’re married. At this point you should already have become very confident that you’re both basically reasonable people because you should already have demonstrated considerable ability to get along well and help one another surmount problems in the past.
So, when life continues to present new challenges, you should have some confidence that even if those challenges do lead to some arguments, those arguments are not reason to doubt whether your spouse is a basically reasonable person or not. You should already be convinced that they are a basically reasonable person. You should already have a substantial history with them that proves you are compatible in a wide variety of ways. So even if the two of you change over time in ways that alter your compatibility somewhat, there should still be enough common ground left that it generally behooves you to work through the problems.
During this stage, even if interacting with your spouse does currently make you feel more exhausted and less happy, your spouse still deserves credit for having made you more happy and less exhausted in previous years. As long as your spouse isn’t physically, verbally, sexually, or financially abusing you (and I would include cheating as a form of sexual abuse), they should be allowed plenty of leeway to borrow against that credit. People with a history of being really good for you have a right to go through hard times and be depressed and need your support. They supported you, so you should support them too. And if you’re both going through separate hard times at the same time, so you need their support but you’re not getting it? Try to be as forgiving as you can, because hopefully you wouldn’t have married them if they weren’t a basically good person who has proven that they can and do support you quote a lot most of the time.
Maybe they just need space to fail for a little while, and then they can get back on track. But also, do express your own needs – gently but clearly – so they know what’s going on with you and can make the best effort they can at the moment. Don’t expect them to read your mind.
13. Don’t do everything together.
Had a couple jokingly ask my wife and me what we saw in each other because I liked video games and sci fi movies and she didn’t. They divorced while we’re still going strong.
Before my wife, I tried to establish relationships over only common hobbies, and they never took off. My wife and I have hobbies in common, but the common hobbies are not the top priorities that have kept us together.
And, to your point, our separate hobbies give us a lot to talk about too.
12. Focus on the other person.
The inability to appreciate the fullness of what your partner is communicating because your mind is crowded with thoughts – the result of being self-absorbed instead of encouraging mutuality in the relationship.
11. You have to be in a good place yourself.
Entering into them for selfish reasons.
A lot of times people will enter into one so they don’t have to be alone and most people enjoying having someone in their life that likes them enough to be intimate with them. The problem is most of these same people will bail on the relationship if there’s any trouble or work to do. To be clear by trouble im not referring to abuse which is always a valid reason to leave. I’m talking about if the other person is struggling either physically or mentally and the other partner is annoyed and doesn’t want to deal with it. They live only for the fun times and benefits a relationship has to offer them.
One important thing to remember about relationships is that love involves sacrifice and if you aren’t willing to make sacrifices to improve the life of your partner then you don’t really love them.
10. You really do have to be yourself.
When it comes to relationships, the most common mistake involves a person withholding who they really are.
Far too many people treat first dates like opportunities to misrepresent themselves: They avoid discussing potentially divisive topics, they “forget” to mention their off-putting quirks, and they exaggerate their positive qualities. If someone is only looking for a casual fling, then all of that is fine… but if the goal is to find a partner with whom they’d be compatible in the long term, then they’re making an enormous error.
See, romantic relationships require work and compromise at the best of times, but those efforts are only effective if there’s already a mutually beneficial foundation. A neat-freak wouldn’t do well living with a slob, for instance, just like someone who wants kids probably wouldn’t be happy marrying a vehemently child-free individual. As a result, it’s a bad idea to hide any facets of yourself that might cause big problems later on.
That truth tends to go against what many people will tell you about dating, though: Most folks – particularly inexperienced ones – will make the claim that you should always put your best foot forward. While that’s true to an extent, the foot in question really needs to be yours, complete with all of the callouses and dirt that you’d track around the house. (This metaphor may be getting away from me.) Obscuring who you really are will only end up wasting both your and a prospective partner’s time unless you both get incredibly lucky.
It might seem counterintuitive, but if your intention is to connect with your future spouse, then you should start the relationship by saying “Here are all of the things that would drive the wrong person away!”
After all, you’re looking for the right person.
TL;DR: Deceptive dating dooms dalliances. Clarity confirms compatibility.
9. Never assume.
Assuming your partner should know what you want if they love you. I struggled early in our marriage because the women in my wife’s family are big on this. We worked on it and it took a bit, but we got to the point where we would only hold each other accountable to expressed words and thoughts.
It has made all the difference in the world and 27 years of marriage have been mostly happy. Also, comparisons. Never say “Well my last SO did this” or ” My family always did it another way”. Good way to alienate a partner.
8. No one needs to hear that.
Talking to your partner using the same voice you berate yourself with.
7. Remember you’re on the same team.
Not listening and being defensive. When your partner is upset about something you do, really listen to them. Resist the urge to always defend yourself. Take a pause. Evaluate and try to understand how something is making them feel.
Of course you have reasons for doing what you did/do. The point is that a defensive response invalidates their feelings and communicates to them that your needs are more important than theirs.
You can explain yourself later if you absolutely need to, but don’t make that your first response or the focus of your response.
6. It’s never going to.
Expecting reality to live up to expectations…
Unmet expectations was one of the biggest hurdles early on in my marriage. My husband is absolutely wonderful and I completely adore him, but he cannot read my mind. The best example: birthdays. Growing up, my family celebrated birthdays on the person’s birthday. There was a cake, wrapped gift(s), a card, and the birthday boy/girl picked dinner. (I understand this is a bit childish coming from a 31F, but it always felt so special to feel acknowledged and loved like that.) Early on in my marriage, I got gifts, but they weren’t always wrapped. I had to specifically ask for a cake or I didn’t get one. I still don’t usually get cards, but he knows those are important to me and is more likely to buy them now.
But I had to SAY SOMETHING. He can’t meet my needs if he doesn’t know what those are. Communicate.
5. They’ll kill it every time.
Defensiveness, contempt, criticism, and stonewalling are called the four horsemen of relationships. They are really easy behaviors to fall into when you’re upset. Being able to communicate clearly when you are upset takes serious effort.
I always try to keep in mind that I care about the other person and don’t want to say things I don’t mean or act in ways that hurt them just because I’m upset.
4. Believe them when you see them.
Ignoring blazing red flags. Like holy h*ll, my ex had some and I gave them the benefit of the doubt. And I ignored them.
I dumped his a$s when it all came to light.
3. Throw away your scoresheets.
“I did the dishes three times two weeks ago, you only did them once last week.”
“You got a new video game this month, why didn’t I get something?”
It’s never going to be completely even, things ebb and flow. Both side should feel like they’re getting a fair shake overall but if you keep track of every little thing (even if it’s just in your head, I don’t necessarily mean like an actual list) it’s just going to guarantee that somebody is always “losing”. It’s not a competition.
2. Don’t forget to laugh.
In no order of priority.
Not listening: During any discussion/argument/debate, when your partner is talking, you need to actually listen. If you’re already formulating your rebuttal to their points, then you’re not listening.
Focusing on the bad days: Guess what? Fairytale relationships are just that. Fairytales. In real relationships, we fight, we argue, we scream, we stomp our feet, we throw ice-cream on them, we have worse days and we have better days. Don’t measure your relationship by something you see in a movie or read in a book. Don’t let the bad days define your relationship. Revel in the good days. Enjoy them like they were your last.
Carrying the kitchen sink: a follow-up to the above statement. When you do argue, learn to truly forgive. Part of that comes from getting closure. If you’re not getting/giving closure to that argument you just had, you’re not going to be able to forget it. This will cause it to fester, and the next time something similar happens, you’ll find yourself saying/hearing the words: “You always do this.”
Communication: Okay, I know you’ve read/heard this a thousand times. But when I say communicate, I mean it in every form possible. Think you’ll get into trouble and/or have an argument if you’re honest? Do it anyway. Think your partner will not like what you have to say? Do it anyway. Obviously, this is not a hall pass to be mean. But if you don’t like the way your partner cooks something, speak up. If you want to try something in bed and aren’t sure about it, speak up.
“We” versus “You and I”: Remember the person you’re in a relationship with. Remember why you love them. And recall that the next time they do something that upsets/angers you. Remember that they did NOT do it out of spite or malice. When faced with any hurdle or barrier, remember that it’s we and not you/I.
It’s not 50-50. It’s not Give and take: If each of you is putting in 50% of the effort in everything then you’re both going to fall short. Instead, every time try giving it your 100%. Obviously, this is supposed to be mutual and goes both ways. And this is where communication comes into play. Live each day with the intention of making your partner proud.
Laugh: Make each other laugh. Crack jokes. Fart. I don’t know…whatever floats your boat. Laugh and laugh often. Be the reason for their joy. My favorite sound in the world is the sound of my wife laughing at my jokes.
1. That’s real math.
You should be putting more work into your relationship at 3-5years+ rather than just in the beginning.
The bottom line is that you can’t really go wrong if you’re being intentional and paying attention.
Is there something else you would add to this list? If so, put it in the comments!