When it comes to inspirational quotes and relationship how-to articles I travel light. Too many words of wisdom and they begin to cancel each other out. Besides, as someone who writes a personal advice column, I’ve grown accustomed to getting to the point in as few sentences as possible.
With that in mind, here’s my short list of how to increase your chances of making a relationship last, using easy-to-follow investment principles. Because not all of us are fluent in romance.
1. Pick well
When it comes to picking a partner, the first step has to do with you, and only you: Figure out who you are. Be honest with yourself. The easier you can forgive and accept your own shortcomings, the more forgiving you’ll become towards others. Besides, the qualities you like about yourself are usually the qualities you would want in a partner. So dig deep. What are your best and worst qualities? What are you willing to change about yourself, and what would be a dealbreaker?
When it comes to going on actual dates, be yourself, but within reason. There’s the sweatpants-and-drink-from-the-milk-carton you, and then there’s the meet-the-client you. It’s usually a good idea to start off in the more formal range. It’s a sign that you respect the process, yourself, and your date.
2. Don’t get complacent
Once you’re in an exclusive relationship you can relax, right? Yes, and no. Go ahead, be yourself. Eat in front of the television now and then. Leave the bathroom door halfway open if that works for you. Line up ten bottles of shampoo in the shower, leave your drying lingerie scattered all over your apartment, or your weights in your living room. But don’t get lazy. Relationships require some upkeep.
For a relationship to remain strong, treat it like it’s fragile. If you owned an original Andy Warhol you’d hang it with care, and make sure to keep it out of direct sunlight. And if you owned a Fendi handbag you’d probably be carrying it like a newborn and wrapping it in tissue paper before you put it away.
How does this principle work in a relationship? It’s simple. Save the best of who you are for those you truly care about. I’m not saying for you to walk on eggshells around the person you love. Quite the opposite. You owe it to yourself as well as to your partner to be yourself. And the best part of who you are isn’t perfect — the best part is authentic.
3. Increase investments during downturns
Having said all that, your best intentions will not always be enough to keep your relationship perfectly in tune. Although we’ve been fooled to believe otherwise, there’s a consistent ebb and flow to every relationship. And that’s a good thing. Because there’s no way we could possibly maintain the same high-intensity engagement day after day. Yet we have come to believe that the main ingredient in a solid relationship is the constant verbal reassurance that we love each other. If we say it enough, that’s enough.
It’s not that easy. But it’s also not as complicated as you might think. If you’ve been together for a while and begin to wonder if the relationship is still working, ask yourself some questions:
Do you still smile at, look at, and listen to your partner like you mean it?
Do you ask follow-up questions, give compliments and touch each other when you pass in the hallway?
The feelings that used to automatically trigger these seemingly small verbal and physical gestures might no longer be as close to the surface as they once were. But by starting with the action, those old, familiar feelings will often follow.
But there are the Netflix romcom and wine evenings. Then there’s the rest of our lives. A kitchen sink full of dirty dishes, overdue bills stuffed in an already overstuffed drawer, and clothes scattered on the bedroom floor are all romance killers.
But, as we know, dips can be great opportunities to gain long-term profits. The willingness to acknowledge and accept rather than ignore, and the desire to get through rather than walk around are the building blocks for a solid foundation. These challenges will be the hills you stand on when you, decades from now, look back and marvel at all that you’ve accomplished together.
The reality is that people adapt. We learn to accept the socks on the floor (or kick them under the bed). And we learn to bend (as in bending over to pick them up) and to view that tiny task as a long-term relationship investment.
And here’s the thing: if most of our needs are met, and as long as we feel acknowledged, accepted, and respected, the socks on the floor and the collection of haircare products in the shower don’t matter very much. If, on the other hand, we feel neglected, misunderstood, and devalued, all those minor annoyances become a really big deal.
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This post was previously published on medium.com.
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