Romantic Relationships: How to Stay Strong and Connected Over the Long Haul
Maintaining a healthy relationship takes work, but it doesn’t have to be hard if you follow these basic guidelines.
Building a relationship is a lot like building a house. Both need a solid foundation and stability to weather any storm. On-going care and maintenance are required to increase longevity and create a safe haven. So what are the building blocks of a romantic relationship? Let’s start with the basics.
Honesty is the best policy: Honesty is a requirement for any healthy relationship. Sometimes the truth hurts, but the consequences of dishonesty can be devastating. Speaking your truth in a kind and respectful manner is essential for open and honest communication. Extra care must be taken to use honesty is as a tool, not a weapon.
For example, the next time you feel the urge to tell it like it is, ask yourself: what do I hope to accomplish? If the answer it to vent your anger, think again. What would be the consequences? But if your goal is to share your thoughts and feelings with your partner and engage in a constructive dialog, then you’re on the right track. Even then, the old adage applies: it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Rather than saying, you never listen to me! how about, sometimes I feel like I’m not being heard. Do you hear the difference? The first response is angry, accusatory and speaks from the pain. By using an “I statement,” the second response reflects ownership of feelings and self-advocacy. It is more objective and less emotionally charged. This statement speaks for the pain and is more likely to evoke a calm, thoughtful response.
Set firm boundaries: If you allow your partner to step over your boundaries or if you don’t have any, it may lead to chronic anger and resentment. Women often shy away from setting boundaries for fear of hurting their partner’s feelings or making them angry. In the long run, it is far more loving to respectfully teach your partner how to treat you, than to be angry, passive-aggressive or emotionally withdrawn.
Set a boundary by speaking in a pleasant but firm manner. Your boundary should be a clear and straight-forward statement that is no more than one sentence long. Less is more. For example:
1. I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t interrupt me when I’m speaking.
2. I would like to hear about your lunch date, but it will have to wait until I get home from work.
3. You can borrow my laptop, just put it back on my desk when you’re finished.
It is not necessary to explain or justify your boundary. If your partner questions or challenges it, do not allow yourself to be drawn into an argument or debate. Simply state that the boundary is important to you and that you would appreciate his or her cooperation. If the boundary is crossed again, repeat the previous statement and restate the boundary. Remember, you are making a statement, not a request.
If you have difficulty setting boundaries, write down what you would like to say in advance and rehearse it out loud before sharing it with your partner. This will help you feel more confident and reduce anxiety. It may be necessary to reset or reinforce a boundary from time to time.
Forgive, or at the very least…let it go: Almost nothing is more damaging to a relationship than hanging on to pain and anger from the past and using it to punish your partner in real time. If this sounds familiar, start a dialog aimed at resolving the issue once and for all.
Remember to use “I statements,” avoid accusations and speak in a calm manner. If it is not possible to resolve the issue, then agree to disagree and let it go. Take it one step further by putting an end to any punishing behavior going forward. If you value the relationship, it is imperative that you do so.
If you cannot forgive your partner, depersonalize it by making it about their behavior, rather than him or her. For example, forgive his ignorance, insensitivity or selfishness. Forgive her for being human, flawed and imperfect. Forgive him for not being who you wanted him to be. Giving yourself permission to forgive and let go of pain and anger is a gift you give to yourself, as well as to your partner.
On-going maintenance: This is one of the most important yet frequently overlooked strategies for keeping your relationship going strong. Once a month, have a meeting just to touch base. Use the time to discuss any personal, family or household matters. Create an open and safe space to address any issues or concerns.
Lastly, take time for the two of you, whether it’s at home, a date-night or just hanging out together. Enter it in your calendar or on your to-do list and make it a priority. Building a healthy relationship takes time, energy and commitment. It’s an investment you make in each other that yields long-terms benefits and rewards.