Have you ever noticed that when you are having relationship problems, all of a sudden everyone around you is a relationship expert? Friends, family members, work colleagues – the stream of the well-intentioned relationship advice seems to come at you from every angle. And most of the time the conflicting advice you receive can leave you feeling more confused than before you brought it up with any of them.
With all the different sources of information, we have access to now, seeking advice can get overwhelming. So to make what can be a complicated area of life simpler, we have gathered the best pieces of relationship advice from around the world and put them all in one place.
It’s Not Your Partner’s Responsibility To Make You Happy
How often have you heard people in relationships say “he just makes me feel so bad about myself” or “she makes me so angry”?
The truth is, nobody can make you feel anything.
It is up to you to accept responsibility for how you feel. This is an important part of owning your personal power. Amy Morin licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and author explain that nearly everybody has given someone else power over the way they feel, think or behave at some stage in their lives.
She goes on to explain that one of the most effective ways to retain your personal power is to accept responsibility for how you feel.
“Don’t let other people’s behavior dictate your emotions (and) instead, accept that it is up to you to manage your emotions, regardless of how others behave.”
Not only are you giving away your own personal power when you outsource your happiness, but you are also setting expectations of your partner that are unrealistic, and that will put a lot of unnecessary pressure on your relationship.
Now repeat after me:
“I am in control of my own happiness” and “My partner is in control of their own happiness.”
Effective Communication Is Not Just About What You Say
The most common issue couples have is miscommunication. With this comes frustration and disconnection resulting in a lack of intimacy and trust.
Tony Robbins explains that often people mistake communication for speaking or making small talk which is the underlying cause of unsuccessful communication in relationships.
Robbins continues that everyone has different ways they give and receive information:
“Communication in relationships, at its core, is about connecting and using your verbal, written and physical skills to fulfill your partner’s needs – not just making small talk. Some people like to talk, some prefer to touch and others are more visual or respond better to gift giving than an outward discussion of feelings. You probably know which communication style you prefer, but what about your partner’s?”
Effective communication in relationships is not only about being aware of how we send out information but also how we receive it. Scenarios such as one partner thinking everything is fine and the other thinking “he/ she never listens to me” are all too familiar.
Active listening is integral in the communication process, this involves being fully present to your partner. Put down your phone. Turn off the TV. Get closer to your partner when they want to speak with you (no yelling to each other from another room).
Give your partner your full attention so they know they are your number one priority and that what they are saying matters. Also, clarify that you have heard them properly and that you understand what they have said by repeating back what you have heard in your own words.
Identify Your Love Language
Not only do we all communicate in different ways, but we all also experience love in different ways. One person’s way of giving and receiving love can be completely different from their partner’s. Because we usually give love the same way we receive it (because that’s our love language), often we are not giving love in a way our partner likes to receive love/feel loved.
Dr. Gary Chapman, speaker, counselor and author of The 5 Love Languages® series explains that we all experience love differently, and without understanding these differences, it’s easy to get it wrong when showing that you care.
Dr. Chapman calls the different ways of expressing and receiving love the “5 Love Languages.” They are Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.
His books and his free online The 5 Love Languages® quiz helps couples to understand each other. Each individual has at least one language that they prefer above the other. And once you and your partner know what each other’s love language is, it takes the guesswork out of how to give and receive love in meaningful ways.
Underpinning everything we’ve covered so far is one of the most important elements of any successful, healthy, long-term relationship — Respect.
The couple that holds the world record for the longest marriage, Zelmyra and Herbert Fisher (86 years) said the best piece of marriage advice they ever received was “Respect, support, and communicate with each other. Be faithful, honest, and true.”
On the website loveisrespect.org, respect is explained in a thorough, easy to understand way:
“In a healthy relationship, partners are equals, which means that neither partner has “authority” over the other. Each partner is free to live their own life, which can include deciding to share some aspects of their life with their partner. Respect also means that, while we may not always agree with our partner/s, we choose to trust them and put faith in their judgment.”
You may be wondering “what is the best way to show respect in a healthy relationship?” Loveisrespect.org clarifies that respect is not a one-off act or word, it is shown in how you treat one another on a daily basis, even in times of disagreement or conflict. “Fighting fair” is part of showing respect in relationships – being able to value and respect your partner’s feelings and opinions, even if they are different from yours.
Respect is NOT about controlling another person (aka your partner) or making them do what you want them to do. It’s about accepting and loving the other person and allowing them to express who they are and having the freedom to be themselves.
Have Clear Boundaries
Setting and sticking to clear boundaries can be the difference between a healthy, happy relationship and a toxic, dysfunctional relationship. Loveisrespect.org explains that discussing your boundaries with your partner is an essential way to ensure that both parties’ needs are being met and that you each feel safe in your relationship.
Some boundaries to consider are how much time you spend apart when you will be physically intimate, who you will talk to about your relationship, what details of the relationship you are comfortable sharing.
Know Your Values
Tony Robbins explains the importance of values in his book Awaken The Giant Within:
“To value something means to place importance on it. All decision-making comes down to values clarification.”
Values bring energy and direction; they’re at the heart of what makes an individual tick. When you know what’s most important to you, making a decision is quite simple – individually, and as a couple.
So to start the process of working out your values, Robbins suggests answering one simple question “What’s most important to me in life?” then brainstorm the answers. Once you have a list of answers, arrange them in order from most important to least important (these are your “moving-towards values”).
The flip-side of the exercise is making a list of what Robbins calls “moving-away from values”. These are the things you actively avoid in life. Arrange these in order too. Seeing these will help you get clarity over your avoiding behaviors, and have greater clarity in your decision making.
Robbins’ next step is a big one, something most people may not have done before. Now ask yourself “What type of person do I need to be in order to achieve all that I want in life? In order to be that person, what would my values need to be? What values do I need to add/eliminate?”
Think about all areas of your life when you answer these values questions, paying special attention to your relationship. What sort of person do you need to be in order to have the relationship you want?
Let Go of the Small Stuff
After the honeymoon period is over in a relationship, it can become easy for couples to slip into “the comfort zone”. In this comfort zone are things like laziness, lack of effort and nit-picking over things that you may not have even noticed in the blissful getting to know each other stage.
In their book “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff – in Love“, Dr. Richard Carlson and his wife Kristine Carlson explain how couples can avoid letting the little everyday irritations in life get to them, and how to appreciate each other. Their top tips include:
- Let It Go Already – in summary, make the decision to forgive, forget and move on.
- Throw Away Your Scorecard – don’t keep score of what you do and what your partner isn’t doing.
- Allow Your Partner To Be Human – remember that you are in a relationship with a fellow human who is doing the best they can.
- Learn To Laugh At Yourself – learn to laugh at yourself and diffuse potential arguments with the power of humor.
If You Can’t Avoid the Fight, Fight Fair
No relationship is perfect, and part of any healthy relationship is the ability to have discussions and air concerns with your partner to avoid “bottling things up” and potentially having outbursts about unrelated issues later on.
Another gold nugget from “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff – in Love” is ‘Don’t Fight Unless The Mood Is Right‘. When someone is angry, you are not going to be speaking to the person, you will be speaking to the mood. Giving each other space when one of you (or both of you) are in a bad mood, and coming back to discuss your concerns when feeling more level-headed is a more rational way to deal with disagreements.
The site Love Engineer with relationship experts from around the world has a list of Do’s and Don’ts when fighting (how to fight fair) including:
- Do not attack or give insults
- No yelling, throwing, hitting or pushing
- No blaming, criticizing and/or judging
- No giving the silent treatment
- Do take responsibility for what you can change or how you can improve the relationship
- Ask for what you need in the relationship
- Work on seeing the other person’s perspective.
Parents – Don’t Forget About Your Partner!
Relationships Australia, Inc. has a range of advice sheets to help with different aspects of relationships, with one focus area being Parenting and Relationships. Their sub-topic in this focus area is ‘Don’t forget about your partner’ where they explain the importance of finding time out for yourselves.
If you are overwhelmed by the responsibilities of caring for children, working and all the other items on your to-do list, it’s easy to forget about your partner or start taking them for granted.
Their article suggests to try to find time for just the two of you, even if you are tired or “too busy.”
Which brings us to the next important piece of advice…
Make Time for Date Night
Drs. John and Julie Gottman of The Gottman Institute advise that date nights make relationships. And in case you’re wondering what a date night (or morning or afternoon) is, they explain this as a pre-planned time where the two of you take a break from your duties in and out of the home and spend time focusing on each other. The goal of this time together is to really talk and listen to each other, to reconnect on a deeper level.
The Gottmans go on to list the most common date night obstacles, and how to overcome them:
TIME – Scheduling / blocking out time in your calendar and showing up no matter what.
MONEY – Dates don’t have to cost a thing. Going for a walk along the coast or in the bush, sitting in a park watching the world go by, or taking a trip down memory lane going through old photos – you are only limited by your imagination!
CHILDCARE – “Trade childcare with other couples (in your friend’s group). If that’s not possible, see if a trusted family member or close friend will help you in your quest to spend sacred time together. Look for inexpensive babysitters in your neighborhood, or ask friends for recommendations.” suggest the Gottmans.
Don’t Neglect the Importance Of Intimacy
Intimacy is something not always discussed openly, a topic often linked to sex can sometimes even be seen as a taboo subject. However, intimacy is much more than just physical intimacy.
Relationships Australia defines intimacy as:
“Intimacy is about loving trust and support; accepting and sharing in your partner’s feelings, being there when they want to let their defenses down and knowing that your partner will be there for you.”
According to Brené Brown, an expert on social connection, the key to unlocking intimacy is the ability to be vulnerable. Brown says that if you want to have deeper relationships, you have to remove your “armor” (the protective layer that a lot of us aren’t even aware we are wearing), no matter how vulnerable it makes you.
An article in Psychology Today titled “The Real Secret To Intimacy (and Why It Scares Us)” also explores this connection between vulnerability and intimacy, explaining that knowing you are seen for who you are and loved all the same, and to give that to your partner may just be one of life’s most fulfilling experiences.
This deeper connection, being able to be truly seen and loved for who you are and being able to express all of you translates across physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, spiritual intimacy, and intellectual intimacy.
Leave a Toxic Relationship
So far, we’ve covered advice relating to staying in a healthy, loving relationship. But sometimes relationships just aren’t made to last – toxic relationships. (If you are unsure about whether you are in a toxic relationship you may want to check out this article: Signs of a Toxic Relationship)
Ending any relationship is not a pleasant process, however ending a toxic relationship has a whole new level of complexities and things to be aware of. You will need to be mentally, physically, emotionally and financially prepared to end it otherwise (as most research will show) you will continue to go back to the toxic environment.
However, according to the Power of Positivity, there are many ways to get out of a toxic relationship peacefully. We have listed the top 3 below:
- Surround yourself with positive social support
- Identify and express your emotional states
- Find a lesson in the distress
Long-Distance Relationships Can Work
With so many people meeting online as well as a lot of people working away from their partner or family, it’s no wonder this is one of the most searched relationship topics. The old saying goes “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, and in the case of a long-distance relationship, never a truer word has been spoken.
Maintain Your Sense of Self
If your entire world revolves around your relationship and you become all about the other person, chances are you are not taking time to nurture hobbies, friendships or taking care of yourself. Maintaining your sense of self in a relationship is critical, after all, your partner fell in love with you and everything that makes you unique.
Sharon Martin, a licensed psychotherapist and co-dependency expert, explains that there are many ways you can maintain your sense of self in relationships including:
“Knowing what you like and what matters to you; Asking for what you want, rather than always deferring to his/her wants; Not keeping yourself “small” or hidden to please others; (and) Staying true to your values”
Keep the Spark Alive
The main difference between a romantic relationship and a friendship is the physical intimate connection. The ability to maintain this aspect of the relationship can either make or break couples.
In an article published in Self, several couple’s therapists explain ways to keep the spark alive in a long-term relationship.
From making a game out of it to checking in with each other every day, all the way through to downloading apps designed to help reignite the flame in the bedroom, the opportunities to keep the embers of love burning are only limited by your imagination.
Regain Broken Trust
Dr. Magdalena Battles says it best that:
“Trust is the rock upon which all relationships exist. If that rock is chipped away by deceit, over time the foundation crumbles.”
She continues explaining that when something more serious happens such as infidelity in a marriage, and therefore the foundation that the relationship is built on, is broken in an instant. According to Dr. Battles, it’s not easy to rebuild trust, but it is possible.
She suggests the COME FORTH method to overcome broken trust in a relationship.
For the offender:
- C: Come clean
- O: Open yourself emotionally
- M: Make meaningful conversations
- E: Engage in full transparency
And for the person who has had their trust betrayed:
- F: Forgive
- O: Open conversations
- R: Request what you need to get back to a healthy relationship
- T: Talk about the betrayal to a confidant or professional
- H: Heal yourself to heal the relationship
Be Supportive in Stressful Times
We all know how easy it is to show our support when things are going well, but what about when things aren’t going quite so smoothly? Robbins Research International has published just how important being supportive of our partner during stressful times really is:
“When we routinely provide our partners with the emotional support they need, we can create a new depth of love in the relationship. Because as ironic as it may seem, when stress makes your partner more ornery, argumentative, or distant, that is when he or she needs you to show up the most.”
Be Patient (And Realistic)
Patience is an important element in a healthy relationship, especially in the initial stages when old habits and baggage need to be ironed out or let go. While patience is a virtue, it’s also essential to be realistic. If your needs are not being met or your partner isn’t honoring their promises to you, it may be time to reassess whether the relationship is right for you.
Monica Parikh, attorney, writer and dating coach, points out that we need to look at our partner’s actions – do they match their words? Has your partner committed to counseling or made a commitment to change? Or are they simply saying what they think you want to hear to get you off their back?
“You have only one life to live. Don’t waste it on a promise and a dream, especially absent a real commitment” — Parikh
Love and Fear Go Hand in Hand
Sheryl Paul, M.A., shares insight into her time as a love coach:
“Love is the biggest risk we take. When we love, we open our hearts, our minds, our bodies, and our souls to another, and as such, nothing renders us more vulnerable to being hurt and to experiencing loss.”
Paul continues by explaining that fear isn’t always obvious and can show up as doubt, irritation, numbness or apathy towards your partner or your relationship. She says that when these feelings surface, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in the wrong relationship; that it’s more likely you are in the right relationship and on a subconscious level, you are protecting yourself from getting hurt as you share the love with your partner.
Being in a relationship can be the most challenging, and the most rewarding time of your life.
We have covered a lot of advice topics under the umbrella of relationships to help with the most common questions asked. By following this advice, turning towards your relationship and giving it the full attention it deserves, you will be pleasantly surprised with how deep your connection with your partner can truly be, and how fulfilled you will feel.
Photo credit: Pexel