Thomas Fiffer shares 7 easy-to-adopt habits that will turn you into an amazing relationship partner.
OK. The headline got your attention. But I’m asking you a serious question. One that could mean the difference between long-term warmth and happiness and a string of short-term flameouts. If your answer is no, read no further. There’s nothing wrong with being single, and many people live rich, fulfilling lives without romance. But if you want to rock your intimate partnerships, to be called “the best” on a daily basis, to be the lover no one ever wants to leave, this article is tailor-made for you, and it will change your love life dramatically in the three minutes it takes to read it. Are you in?
First let’s get clear that I’m not offering pick-up techniques. I’m telling you how to make your relationship glide smoothly on the dance floor once you already have a partner. Note I didn’t say glide “effortlessly,” because being a relationship rock star takes work. But the effort you invest in developing these habits will reward you with more love, affection, deep commitment—and yes, the other fun stuff that comes with that—than you ever thought possible.
So, here are the seven habits that relationship rock stars work to develop and practice consistently to keep their partners happy and their relationships solid and strong.
1. No excuses—ever. However justified, explainable, or understandable you think your screw-up was, never offer an excuse. Always lead with, “I’m sorry.” When your partner feels hurt, any reason whatsoever you give for your actions comes across as an excuse. You made a mistake or misunderstood something. You forgot an important date. You said something awful that you didn’t really mean. And yes, these things happen to the best of us. The differentiator between garage band guitarist and relationship rock star is not how fantastic you are when you’re great, but how real you are when you mess up. And the truth is, while your reasons may seem relevant to you, your partner doesn’t care why you made the error. Your partner is looking for one thing—for you to acknowledge that you’ve hurt their feelings and to be accountable for their pain. Bite your tongue, literally, if you have to, but never, ever excuse your mistakes.
2. Apologize without qualifiers. This is different from not making excuses. It’s wording your apology to avoid two conjunctions—if and but—that drive a knife through the heart of sincerity and cut intimacy to the quick. Saying “I’m sorry if I hurt you …” or “I’m sorry, but …” instantly turns your statement into a non-apology. The “if” is particularly devastating, because it questions, and in doing so denies, the hurt your partner has expressed. If you want to invalidate your partner’s feelings, aka relationship suicide, use if. On the other hand, if you want to show that you’ve heard your partner loud and clear, aka healthy relationship communication, put a period after “I’m sorry” or say, “I’m sorry that I hurt you, and I won’t do it again.” Learning to apologize sincerely and without qualifiers doesn’t mean you can keep doing things you’ll need to apologize for. But it does get your contrition taken seriously and make your partner much more likely to forgive.
3. Care—and show it. “But I love my partner,” you say, “so of course I care.” Relationship rock stars understand that loving and caring are two different things and know that while love between partners may be assumed, caring must be shown every day. Caring means asking, “How are you feeling?” “Did you have a good day?” “Did you work things out with your friend?” Caring also means getting your own shit together so you can support your partner’s hopes and dreams. Caring means calling and texting and answering when your partner calls and texts. Caring means listening. Caring means never leaving your partner to wonder if you care because you’re not present in some way or too distracted to be interested in what he or she is saying. Caring means remembering your partner’s likes and dislikes, childhood stories, and adult fantasies. Caring means taking action. If you come across as not caring (even though you may care), you will be seen as insensitive and quickly shown the door.
4. Stop comparing, even when you’re praising. No partner is perfect, but if you’ve chosen to be with someone, enjoy and appreciate your partner for who he or she is, and never, ever compare him or her to another person or talk about what he or she is not. This also means not talking about your exes, unless your partner inquires. Many of us, on some level, worry that we’re not good enough, not successful enough, not thin enough, not making our partners happy enough. Comparisons play into and magnify these fears, turning low-level insecurities into crises of self-esteem. Especially when you’re praising your partner, don’t make your compliment a comparison. “Just say, “You’re beautiful,” instead of “You’re more beautiful than …” And while you’re at it, praise, praise, and praise some more. Remind your partner constantly of what you love about him or her specifically, what draws you, what makes the person you love unique.
5. Don’t keep score. Relationships are not contests. You’ve already “won” by finding a person who wants to be with you, so quite while you’re ahead. Success in relationships is not measured by winning arguments, racking up IOUs, or even building a reserve of favors you can use to call one in when you need it. If you want to be “better” than your partner, outdo him or her in the caring department—and do it quietly without asking for or expecting extra credit. Keeping score defines a relationship as oppositional, and relationships thrive on harmony and alignment. Cataloging slights, bringing up old business, or saying you’ll “never forget” something (other than abuse) only encourages your partner to do the same and sets up a competitive dynamic that requires a loser. And who wants to be a loser? Rock stars who “win” at relationships start with a clean slate every day and consider their victories connecting, creating closeness, and helping their partners be happier.
6. Follow through on your word. This is perhaps the most important habit to develop if you want to become a relationship rock star. If you promise it, deliver it. If you say you’ll take care of it, do it—and without being asked again. You may feel resentment at being asked to do something, and so you procrastinate. Trust me, your partner (especially if she’s a woman) does not want to have to ask you again and be seen as a nag. You will do your partner—and your relationship—a huge favor by learning to put an agreed-upon task on your list and do it without being reminded. Better yet, do things you know need to be taken care of without being asked at all. This is guaranteed to blow your partner away, and it’s a perfect way to show that you care.
7. Let your partner lead. Relationship rock stars don’t try to control everything to orchestrate the “perfect” relationship. They let things flow, and they’re willing to follow their partner’s lead a fair amount of the time. For a relationship to be whole, each person must be an equal half of it. If you feel the need to be in charge all the time because you think you know how to do everything better, you’re not in a relationship of equals. You want a strong partner, one who grows and develops as you spend time together. Needing to lead all the time enables stasis in your partner while also creating tremendous frustration, because you’re not always going to get it right. Letting your partner lead is not about giving in and doing what your partner wants instead of what you want. It’s about respecting your partner’s ability to make decisions, choose directions, and take the relationship to higher ground. So relax, and let your partner drive sometimes.
Much like the 7 habits of highly effective people, these practices are universal to highly effective relationship partners, and once acquire the habit of doing them (and break your old, unhealthy patterns), you will notice immediate results. You’ll feel like you’re a stronger partner and person. Your partner will respect you more. Your relationship will stop being a source of conflict and unhappiness and begin to be a source of sustenance and joy. And you’ll grow much, much closer to your partner, because you’ll be able to focus on the things you really care about instead of unhealthy relationship behavior.