The vast majority of individuals who reach out to me for help with problematic relationships are more focused on what their partner is doing wrong and needs to change rather than what they themselves can do differently. It is rare that relationship dysfunction occurs solely because of one individual. All parties contribute to the health of a relationship be it healthy or unhealthy. Focus on what you can control – yourself. Practice these 10 things and then assess whether your relationship has improved or not.
1. Practice Empathy: In The Secret Weapon that will Improve All of Your Relationships Dr. Les Parrott writes about empathy, its role in one’s relationships, the benefits of having empathy, and how to increase it within oneself. First, empathy is the way in which we understand and share the feelings of those around us. For example, consider empathy as genuinely and deeply “walking a mile in…” someone’s shoes. Try using the phrases: “I hear you.” “I see you.” or “I notice you.”
Having empathy is no easy feat when one’s blood is boiling, one’s partner(s) are being less than charming, and it feels like there is no end in sight. Having empathy, however, expresses one’s investment in the relationship, shows effort is being made to understand the other person’s point of view and brings one into the emotional experience of the other partner.
Benefits of empathizing include giving and getting more grace, a deeper understanding of one’s partner, a deeper emotional connection, and enhanced trust in the vulnerability of the relationship. One might also feel a sense of heightened confidence in the relationship because of the enhanced emotional safety being explored and created.
2. Be Honest: There may be valid reasons for wanting to lie or previously lying in a relationship(s) but there is never a time too early to begin improving one’s relationship by being honest. This means begin honest about oneself and who one is, one’s expectations, one’s needs, one’s impressions of the relationship thus far, and at what state one believes the relationships to currently be in.
Being honest is not completely easy because it does take some vulnerability to do. Especially if one finds themselves expressing honest thoughts that would hurt a romantic partner. However, being honest shows respect and a willingness to be genuine, even if the discussion is a difficult one to have with one another.
3. Engage in Small Gestures: Engaging in small gestures towards a loved one can be meaningful and does not have to cost a fortune. These small gestures will keep a partner on their toes and rejuvenate the partner’s eagerness and desire for more of the other partner and the relationship. Additionally, it keeps one’s partner engaged and wanting more.
4. Do a Check- In/Ask Questions: Routinely checking in with a romantic partner can seem strange or robotic. However, taking the time to explore whether both partners are on the same page is crucial. Checking in can be seen as a way of being proactive in a relationship and seeking information not otherwise known. Not only is one making an effort but checking in ensures needs and desires are being fulfilled and that the partner is willing to have discussions about how the relationship is panning out, if necessary.
Furthermore, checking-in in the form of asking questions not only shows curiosity, but ultimately shows the effort one is trying to make in order to deepen the connection and understanding of the other individual(s). Checking in also shows that no one is assuming anything. In contrast, one cares enough to ask and seek out the information.
5. Use “I” Statements: The way in which one speaks definitely matters, not only in terms of tone but also the actual words and individual uses. “I” statements are beginning to gain a lot of traction in the romantic partner communication sphere. But why? What “I” statements accomplish is they remove the blame from what one is trying to say and instead provide the other individual with a statement of feeling, vulnerability, and rationale.
For example instead of saying “You did …..” one could say, “I felt [insert feeling here] the other day.” Or, instead of “You purposefully ignored me!” one could say, “At that moment I felt ignored and unseen.” The message and tone the partner receives is dramatically different. The individual is no longer sending a message of defensiveness. Subsequently, more effective communication can be fostered through these statements. Other effective statements, known as the XYZ statements can be found linked below with strong examples, negative examples, explanations, and relationale!
The way you communicate is dire to sustaining a healthy relationship especially since for every one poor interaction the relationship needs to have about five to twenty positive interactions to outweigh the poor one.
6. Figure out each partners’ love language(s): Love languages are also gaining traction. Love languages are the ways in which we feel and receive love.
There are five love languages (as identified by Dr. Gary Chapman): Quality Time, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, Words of Affirmation, and Acts of Service. Finding out one’s love language(s) and those of one’s partner(s) can help articulate one’s needs, desires and expectations, especially if one does not know what or how to express what those needs are.
Subsequently, one learns to provide the kind of love that their partner is receptive to.
You can find out your love language by taking this quiz. This specific quiz also defines each love language, provides examples of the love languages, and includes discussion questions for partners to chew on!
7. Schedule time to build and maintain connection: Whether putting time aside to connect comes in the form of eating out, watching a movie, cooking, grabbing dessert, or having sex, maintaining the relationship is crucial. Without time set aside to bond and reconnect, the relationship can resemble more of a stale roommate relationship. Be deliberate and protect the time. Relationships are often the hardest to prioritize.
8. Flirt: As goofy as it sounds, flirting keeps the passion alive in relationships. Often, passion is the most difficult thing to keep alive in a relationship and more often than not, one becomes fearful when the relationship goes “flat”. Flirting is a good reminder that one is still interested in the other individual(s), can still make an effort, and most of all, still desires the individual(s). Afterall, everyone wants to feel wanted.
9. Partake in alone time or time apart: Although alone time seems initially counter-intuitive, an individual must fill their cup before they can fill anyone else’s. Alone time can also be used to conceptualize the relationship, check in with oneself about the course of the relationship thus far, maintain external healthy connections, and more. Additionally, time apart is a practical way to determine what one receives from their partner while away. This could take the form of a sweet text message or a small gesture or surprise after one returns from the outing.
10. Taking responsibility for one’s own actions: Taking responsibility for what you have done, the good and the bad, expresses one’s honesty and respect for the other individual(s) involved. Being responsible means upholding your commitments, promises and that you are dependable in those ways. Furthermore, it shows someone that the other individual can be trusted because that individual holds themselves accountable and expresses honesty “even when others are not looking” so to speak.