Though relationships aren’t something that I’ve talked about on the blog before, if you’re here looking to build your best life, there’s a good chance that that life may include a partner (or partners). After all, even if you’re introverted and independent like my partner and I are, there are still plenty of fun perks to facing life with a co-pilot.
Even if you think that relationships aren’t for you (as I used to believe was true for myself), keep an open mind. You’d be surprised what you can create when you find the right partner.
Given that I am in a very happy and healthy long-term relationship, and I rarely see relationships like this modeled in the media or in the wild, I wanted to share some of the things that I’ve learned throughout the last few years that have helped us build such a strong, joyful relationship.
1. Make your partner’s life easier
This isn’t just about you. Relationships are a partnership. You are a team.
Now, those things probably aren’t news to anyone, but what that looks like in real life might not be obvious if most of the relationships that you encounter aren’t all that healthy.
Yes, obviously you don’t want to make your partner’s life worse. You don’t want to do things to hurt them, spite them, or make their day worse. But this doesn’t mean you take a neutral position.
Go out of your way to do little things for your partner that will brighten their day and make it flow more smoothly. Pick up one of their chores when they’re having a busy day. Open the door for them if you hear them fumbling with their keys. Leave a snack for them if they’ll be coming home late.
And don’t keep score. This isn’t a competition; neither of you owes the other anything. Doing a greater number of nice things doesn’t make you the winner, and they aren’t a bad partner if they can’t keep up with your kindness. Life ebbs and flows. Be extra supportive when you have the time and energy, and in a good relationship, these things will be returned when the time is right.
2. Don’t take everything personally
I common sentiment that I come across is, “I could never be in a relationship because I like my alone time too much,” presuming that relationships come with a lack of alone time.
I can tell you from experience that this isn’t true. My fiance and I spend quite a lot of time apart because this is our preference and we have no issue saying, “hey, I need some space for a while. I’ll be in the other room.”
This works because we don’t take it personally when the other doesn’t want to hang out. We communicate clearly and have mutual respect for each other. (These things aren’t news to anyone, but they’re still important!)
Because we can communicate honestly without worrying that the other person will be offended or take it personally, we’re able to be open with our needs rather than hiding them for the sake of keeping the peace.
Unless you have a strong reason to believe otherwise, your partner disliking your outfit or needing some space or wanting to spend their time differently than you is not a personal affront. Don’t take it as such.
It’s okay to spend time apart. It’s okay to have different hobbies. It’s okay if they don’t text back immediately. Find someone that you can be open with, and know that these things are not meant to be taken personally. They still love you, they just have their own tastes, opinions, and needs.
3. Give each other space
This one is closely related to the previous point. Just because you’re a couple does not mean that you have to spend all of your time together. In fact, you’ll be better off if you aren’t afraid to give each other space.
Space can come in many forms; it’s up to you to communicate and figure out where you need space and what that looks like in practice.
In my own relationship, we have spoken boundaries. My partner likes to sleep in, so we’ve agreed that the bedroom is his space until noon, and I don’t disturb him in the mornings. We don’t like working out together, so we go to the gym at separate times. And unless an urgent question was asked, no one is ever obligated to text back.
Granted, we both love our space, so these things may seem extreme to some, but this all varies by relationship. Talk about it honestly and figure out what works for you. This may involve compromises. If your partner needs too much or too little space, consider how you can work around this or if this is the right relationship for you.
Since my fiance and I are both introverts, we often feel “peopled-out” if we’ve spent too much time interacting with others. When this happens, one of us may need more space and alone time than usual.
In these times, we compromise. Sometimes this means spending time in the same space but working on separate activities. Other times, this means that the partner who doesn’t want to be alone turns to other friends to hang out with or talk to.
Get creative with it and know that respectfully giving each other space strengthens the relationship, keeps everybody levelheaded and independent, and makes the time you spend together even more enjoyable.
4. Don’t keep score
I mentioned this briefly in tip #1, but it applies to all things. Your relationship is not a competition. There is no winner. You do not lose if you do more chores this week than your partner did.
Yes, it’s fine to have a general idea of who is doing how much work and to plan together as a team so that chores are shared evenly. Coming up with a system for the housework makes life easier for everyone.
The only time that you should be concerned about an imbalance is if your actions are never reciprocated. If you’ve been consistently doing the dishes for the last eight months and your partner has never so much as unloaded the dishwasher despite your requests, it’s time for a chat. If you do them every day for two weeks because your partner is having a stressful time at work, this is not an issue.
The number of times they texted first and the number of times they planned your date night are not things to be counted. Don’t overcomplicate it, and don’t overthink it. If they’re interested in you, you’ll know. If they’re not, let it go. Keeping score isn’t going to save the relationship.
5. It’s you two vs. the problem, not you vs. them
Once you’ve realized this, it seems fairly obvious, but for many people, this is an epiphany. Every time you try to win an argument, you’ve both lost. You are on the same team.
When a disagreement arises, rather than targeting your partner, pair up. Work together to identify the issue.
Once you’ve figured out what it is that you’re fighting against, work together to come up with possible solutions. How can you solve this problem together? This is a joint effort, and it’s not up to only one person to solve the issue. Both people have a responsibility to help.
6. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you
This is a lesson that I learned from way too many fights in previous relationships. Before, when I was feeling hurt or upset, I had a tendency to say permanently damaging things. Rather than thinking forward about how I wanted the relationship to heal, I’d say whatever hurtful things came to my mind in that moment.
As much as it can feel cathartic to lash out when you’re hurt and upset, that kind of damage can’t be undone. It isn’t worth it, and you’ll only regret it later. No matter how much you apologize, it doesn’t take away the things you’ve said.
It can be so easy to let your emotions swallow you in a heated moment. Hold back. If you have to, simply say that you need some time and space to process and then leave the room or put your phone down until you’ve had some time to calm down.
Always keep the future, health, and longevity of your relationship in mind. It can be difficult, but there is no space for name-calling, mean comments, and harsh words in a healthy relationship. Remind yourself that you won’t feel this way in a couple of minutes/hours/days, and saying that mean thing isn’t a good idea.