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 home. First you lay a solid foundation. Then you build a safe, sturdy structure that is comfortable and meets your needs. Finally, you must maintain it on an on-going basis to protect it from the elements and ensure its longevity. Let’s start with the basics.
Honesty Is the best policy (in a manner of speaking): Couples have been known to emotionally pummel each other in the name of honesty. This can be very damaging. While I don’t advocate dishonesty, I do recommend being considerate and exercising good judgment.
For example, the next time you’re compelled to ‘tell it like it is,’ pause and ask yourself: ‘what do I want to accomplish?’ If the answer is to clear the air or in some way enhance the health and well-being of the relationship, then go right ahead. Even then, the old adage “it’s not what you say, but how you say it” applies.
Rather than saying, ‘you never listen to me!’ how about, ‘sometimes I feel like my opinions and feelings don’t matter.’ Do you hear the difference? The first response is angry, accusatory and speaks FROM the pain. The second response reflects ownership of feelings and self-advocacy. It is more objective, emotionally neutral and invites further dialog. It speaks FOR the pain and is more likely to evoke a calm, rational response.
Set firm boundaries: If you allow your partner to overstep your boundaries, it may lead to chronic anger and resentment. The longer it continues, the harder it is to change. Women often shy away from setting boundaries for fear of making their partner angry or appearing to be mean-spirited. In the long run, it is far more loving to respectfully teach your partner how to treat you, than to be angry, passively-aggressive or emotionally withdrawn. Setting firm boundaries also gives you the opportunity to practice your assertiveness skills.
Set a boundary by calmly describing the behavior you find unacceptable and state that it is not okay for it to continue. You do not need to justify it. If your partner challenges you, simply restate the boundary. Do not allow yourself to be drawn into an argument or debate. You are making a statement, not a request. Write down what you want to say in advance and rehearse it out loud before you set the boundary. This will help you feel more confident and reduce anxiety. It may be necessary to reinforce the 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 old hurts and using them as weapons to verbally beat-up your partner. This includes the silent treatment. If this sounds familiar, start a dialog aimed at resolving the issue once and for all. If this is not possible, agree to disagree. Next, decide if you are ready, willing and able to let it go. If you value the relationship, it is imperative that you do so.
If you cannot forgive your partner, then at the very least forgive their ignorance, selfishness or short-sightedness. Forgive them for being human, flawed and imperfect. Giving yourself permission to finally let it go and put it behind you is a gift you give to yourself as well as your partner.
On-going maintenance: This is one of the most important yet frequently overlooked strategies for keeping your relationship strong and resilient. Once a month, call a meeting to discuss personal, family or household matters. Create an open and safe forum for addressing any issues or concerns. Take turns speaking and if necessary, set a timer so when someone is speaking, the other person must listen until the timer goes off and then it’s their turn to speak. Schedule time just for the two of you, whether it’s at home, a special outing or just running errands together. Enter it in your calendar or on your to-do list and then make it a priority!