Who has a good relationship – and what can I learn from them?
No one has an “ideal relationship”. Every relationship has its own problems – the difference is that some people work on managing the problems, and some let them become overwhelming.
So think about people who have a relationship you admire. What do you admire about it? How do they make it work? What are the strategies they use? It’s fine if this couple are celebrities, but if they are your friends or parents, it’s even better – because that way you can also ask them for advice that works in real life.
Who are we... and who am I?
Do you have an identity in your relationship – or is your relationship your entire identity?
One of you may be a bit more decisive or dominant than the other. That’s fine if it all balances out in the end. But if you’re always eating at the places he chooses, having sex only when he wants, doing the hobbies he wants, seeing the movies he likes… you’ll zone out and just drift through the days.
Or you’ll go the opposite direction and start to boil with frustration. So think about who you are as a couple – and your role in the relationship? What would you like to change?
It can be something simple, like time to go to a yoga class on your own. Or repainting your bedroom a different colour, or getting to choose a restaurant sometimes.
How do I communicate?
If you want him to understand you more, ask yourself this; do you communicate more with anger or with interest?
Anger is when you start almost every sentence with “You drive me crazy’” or “How can you do that! You don’t understand me”. Interest is when you say “I know you are busy and stressed, but I need you to listen now”
If you can find a respectful and kind way to communicate, your relationship has a much better chance of thriving. So next time he is pushing your buttons, try communicating in the same polite way you would to a friend or work colleague.
It also helps to pick your moments and pay attention to body language. If he’s tense and his shoulders are hunched up, he may be too stressed to think clearly. It takes at least 20 minutes for the body to sooth itself, so step back and let everyone’s blood pressure return to normal, then you can try again.
What do I appreciate about our relationship?
Often we focus on what we’re not getting in a relationship – especially in the age of social media, when everyone else is gleefully posting pics of their perfect holidays in the Maldives. You find yourself thinking, ‘how come we’re just sitting on the sofa watching Netflix?’
Asking yourself what you like about your relationship can have profound benefits. You can think about big issues – like emotional support in tough times. But you can also treasure small things, like the way he rubs your feet when you’re tired.
This awareness of how he improves your life is especially helpful when you hit a bumpy patch – and we all do, sooner or later.
What do I need to work on?
Over time, it’s easy to take a person for granted. So ask yourself if you still do small but meaningful gestures like saying goodbye when you leave for work in the morning?
And do you take equal responsibility for a good sex life, or is it up to him to seduce you? For example, when did you last suggest something new in bed, or take his hand and drag him into the bedroom? We all like to know we’re desired.
Asking him what he’d enjoys about the relationship can also be very powerful. Your curiosity shows that you care.
What do you need from me?
No matter how well you know someone, this question gives new insight. And you may be surprised what they need. Maybe your man wants more physical expressions of your love – like holding hands when you walk?
This question lets your love know that you care about what you have. And if you know you are doing something that matters to them, it can give extra meaning to something that is quite mundane, like buying their favourite cake
What aspects of this relationship need to change – and what would he say about this?
When things are more of less okay, it can feel kind of pointless to think about changes. But making small tweaks here and there can pay off in profound ways. For one thing, if you’re both reasonably happy, it’s much easier to discuss changes than when you are both anxious.
It also helps to think about these changes from your partners’ perspective, before you discuss them. It ca be a reality check, but it can also remove some of the anxiety about discussing them.
If I wanted to show the world that I value this relationship – what would I do differently?
It doesn’t have to be grand gestures like buying 100 red roses every Sunday, but if you’re serious about keeping a relationship healthy, show your spouse you value the love between you.
So ask yourself; what time and effort do I put into making this relationship feel special?
Is there is something you can do differently to demonstrate that love. Can you spend more time together? Go along with him when he visits his parents? Share new interests?
Routine is one of the biggest relationship killers – and it’s hard to be spontaneous when you know each other’s routine back to front. But you can break that routine by doing something small but new that brings you together – you see it in couples who decide to train for triathlons together. Suddenly they cannot shut up about their new passion.
When did we last talk about something new?
All couples suffer communication gaps and we often fall into the trap of interpreting a lover’s actions through our own filter – that’s because the closer you are, the more you assume.
If your eyes glaze over when he launches into that story you’ve heard a million times before, try using the story to kick off a something more interesting.
Ask more open-ended questions such as “let me know what you think about that” or “This is how I feel about x, how do you feel?”
Asking questions like this spark new insights into each other and it brings back the freshness you had when you first met.
How do we stay curious?
It’s easy to slip into the dinner, shopping and a movie rut on weekends. So take turns being the designated fun organizer. Take it in turns to organize new places to go every weekend – or once a month – if you’re super busy at work.
Something as simple as trying new kind of cuisine, taking a pasta-making class together or dragging yourself out to a street festival can show you a new side to each other. The trick to making this work?
When it’s your day to decide the event, he has to follow along and keep an open mind… and vice versa.
So if he wants to go to a Manga exhibition one weekend and you hate the idea, try it once. Next week you can drag him to a café where they serve that unicorn cake you’ve been dying to try.
What happens if nothing changes?
Often we need a catalyst or reason to make changes. If something about your relationship is really bothering you, asking yourself this question may cause some pain… but it can also be the spur you need.
You realize that if you don’t want to keep feeling bad like this… something has to change.
Text: Tara Barker