One thing that each of us, across the world, have in common, is that we desire to have relationships. Of course, there are many types of relationships. In this article, I am referring to intimate relationships. The kind where we create a life with someone else and choose to spend the rest of our lives with them; for better or worse.
Now, I don’t think I need to clarify that we want to choose the “better” path. What is interesting, however, is that it appears that so many choose the “worse” path.
Couples fight, they give the other the silent treatment, they avoid each other, and some even cheat on the other. But why? Why would a couple choose to start a life together, only to end up quarreling, or avoiding the other, or worse?
After being married to my wife for more than twenty years, I have learned that the common reason has much to do with education and skill set.
What does education and skill set have to do with relationships, right?
Actually, a lot.
We can’t expect to survive on the same spark we had while dating, or during the honeymoon. Even if you don’t marry, the same applies. Eventually, the wonderful emotion we feel in the early stages of a relationship wears off.
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“Well, I’ve heard that the spark doesn’t actually leave,” some say
This spark is the good emotion we associate with our mate when we see them. When we first date, we talk about fun things, we dream, and we explore. Everything seems like an adventure. We don’t talk about negative stuff, and we often don’t show negative behaviors, mindsets, and habits, upfront.
Later, after we don’t need to impress anymore, the true sides of us start to reveal themselves. This has much to do with our behaviors being habitual; we can only hide it for so long if we haven’t changed the habit. So now, instead of only having good emotion associated with our partner, negative emotion starts to build, as more negative behaviors and attitudes appear. This is often when we start to do things to disappoint our partner. It may feel as though our behavior is coming out of the left field to them, or maybe it is our partner’s behavior that has taken us by surprise or both.
Soon, it can get to the point where there is more negative emotion than good emotion; goodbye spark!
But, the spark isn’t gone; the individual still has the good in them that we once loved. Unfortunately, there is some less-than-desirable stuff, too. To get the spark back, we must find ways to focus on the good of each other, and make some changes to the less-than-desirable habits, or mindsets.
When we get back to associating more good emotion with our partner than bad, or negative, then we effectively start to enjoy spending time with them again; hello spark!
Alright, so what can we do to make our relationship better this year?
Look, if the spark seems to be dead, and the attraction to our partner is bordering on, non-existent, then it is important to start making some changes. There is one roadblock, and if the couple can get past this roadblock, then all is possible, and the couple will be enjoying the good life together, again.Related: Marriage Resources proven to help when you need it most.
What is the roadblock to a better relationship?
It is two parts; pride, and desire.
If a person has some less-than-desirable qualities about them, it is possible that they won’t be willing to change, because they don’t believe that they have any issues. They can be stubborn, and refuse to even consider that there might be a flaw in their being.
And as for desire, even if both in the relationship are on the same page that there are in fact, flaws, but don’t both have the desire to do anything about it, improvement won’t happen.
Alternatively, if the couple knows things need to change, are able to accept that they might be part of the problem, and “want” the change, then the couple becomes a team working towards a common goal, and are virtually limitless together.
So, if you and your partner have agreed that your relationship could use some improvements, and that you have successfully made it through the common roadblock, then let’s look at education and skillset improvement.
We need to understand the elements of a relationship, and what makes them good. Our relationship education is necessary for improvement of the relationship. If we know where we come up short, and know what we must do to improve, we don’t need to let the relationship fall apart.
In addition to knowing that we must improve, we must also possess the ability to make the change. This means, we must develop the skills early on before we need them. We must seek them out, and practice them together, to develop them. It can actually be fun to read relationship-improvement books and attend relationship-building seminars or retreats together.
This is preventative maintenance at its finest.
5 ideas for what to improve, and why
Of the multitude of factors that are at play in the common relationship, I have picked five to get us started. If we find that our relationship could use some improvement, it is often beneficial to work through one issue at a time, so as not to become overwhelmed and discouraged.
1. Communication is vitally important in a relationship
Communication is an obvious one. Many couples don’t communicate, however. Their relationship has come to a point where the only interaction is time spent during dinner, while driving somewhere, or when shutting down for the evening in bed.
The relationship might not seem bad, but if the couple isn’t spending time talking with each other, and enjoying each other’s company, soon, the relationship will worsen.
Communication is when we tell our partner about the good and bad in our life, at work and at home. This includes our perception of the relationship, too. If we think something isn’t good in the relationship, we must say something.
If we just expect that our partner will figure it out, we might be disappointed when they don’t. It is possible for one partner to be living in complete hell, while the other believes that the days just keep getting sunnier.
We must be willing to communicate the good and bad to our partner. Don’t assume that they know. It’s not that they are lacking intelligence, but perhaps they just aren’t focusing on it.
And, one more thing to add here: pet peeves. Pet peeves are something that someone does that annoys us. Communicate it to your partner if they do something that gets under your skin. Don’t try to live with it. It will only get worse. By letting them know, they can at least attempt to make some changes.
2. Selflessness always makes things better
We all know someone who is more selfish than they should be. The hope is, it isn’t our partner. If a relationship has a selfish person in it, one will be demanding, and the other will be run down trying to please the demands of the other.
This doesn’t work for long. We need to be encouraged. We need to feel loved. So, what happens when we start to feel taken advantage of? It depends on the person, of course. But I can assure you, it’s not good.
Again, this is where communication comes in handy. Build up the courage, and tell them. If you don’t, it won’t stop. It is nice for a couple to spoil each other. But, only if both do it for each other.
Say, “Hey, I love you, and I love making your life easier for you, but, I’m feeling kind of run down; maybe we can do something I like to do, too.”
This is just an example, but as your partner cares for you, they will be willing to give back, at least for a while.
The best case scenario for a relationship, is one where both in the relationship strive to make the other’s life easier, in any way possible; “Sure I can drive the kids to practice tonight, while you take a break,” “How about I cook dinner tonight for you instead,” “Hey, I know you wanted to get that dress (or suit) you saw last week, and I just happened to set some money aside for it.”
It doesn’t take many selfless acts to show someone we love them, and that we are indeed interested in their well-being.
3. Conflict resolution skills will help keep the disagreements tolerable
This one skill alone could save many relationships.
Couples disagree; it’s going to happen. The severity of the disagreement is decided by the couple’s ability to recognize escalation. If they have studied and learned adequate conflict resolution skills, they are more likely to be aware when things are heating up to the critical point and back off to get the temperature back down. If not, the disagreement will continue to escalate too far.
I can’t expect to teach anyone about conflict resolution in a couple of paragraphs, however, if there was one piece of advice I could offer anyone, it would be to do away with pride and be willing to give in; at least for a while, to let each other breathe.
Whatever a couple is disagreeing about, it is likely that both will have a reason, backed with emotion. If they could keep the emotion out of it, then the disagreement likely wouldn’t even result in a raised voice.
But it isn’t so simple. So, what can we do to get through a disagreement that has emotion in it? In short, learn to take breaks. In calm, regular conversation, talk about ways that we disagree, and what it is that we do during those disagreements. Do we allow ourselves to get to the stage of yelling? How about throwing things and breaking things?
Whatever it is, it is important to set a level of intensity where we say, “Okay, this is getting out of hand, I am taking a break for thirty-minutes,” or whatever time you choose. The idea is, be willing to set a limit, and stick to it. This way, the emotion has a chance to return to a calm state. Then, the conversation can resume, as a conversation, and each can maintain a level of respect and dignity.
4. Household finances are the “make or break” for many relationships
I include household finances because it’s the primary reason couples split. Debt is a relationship killer. So are poor spending habits of one partner, while the other strives to keep the budget together.
In many instances, one person will be a spender, while the other is a saver. This is common. To keep things healthy, the saver must allocate some funds for the spender. How much? That depends on the income and the financial goals of the household.
There will be constant turmoil if no arrangements are made to accommodate the spender. But, the spender must have a limit, and both must agree to remain within that limit. This is a basic compromise.
If the spender keeps spending too much of the household income, then the logical solution is to limit the spender’s access to the household funds.
In a relationship, we don’t want to live in negative financial consequences, because of careless spending. It is easy to overspend, and therefore, we must set limits.
If the couple can set up some financial goals together, to save a certain amount each month, or to work together to pay down debt, the relationship will often improve. Money is an easy thing to measure. It is an easy way to see progress.
When we progress in our lives, we are generally happier. This is the same for our relationships.
For a quick boost in the relationship, look for ways together, to save some money, to start investing, or even to start paying down debts, if you have debt.
5. Mutual activities help bring the spark back
Mutual activities are what we, as a couple, do for fun. This doesn’t have to cost anything. Rather, it is the quality time spent with each other, doing something that is both fun, and maybe even beneficial to the individual’s health.
Hiking, biking, running, weight training, weight-loss and diet routines, learning skills together, hobbies, travelling, cooking, or whatever else you can think of.
If our relationship becomes only about our jobs, bills, and kids, the “spark” will die off. The focus moves away from the couple, and onto the pressures of life.
Keep the spark where it ought to be. Spend time with each other, doing things that make you laugh.
This isn’t the same as intimate-time. This is something else that helps the relationship to grow. When we improve, which is also known as progress, we get a rush of good emotion. If we can work with our partner to improve together, then the relationship will enjoy that rush of good emotion.
Can you imagine thinking fun, exciting thoughts, and having your mood lifted just by coming home and getting back into the presence of your partner?
This is not fairy-tale stuff. It is possible. Learn together, to create an environment of love and respect. Learn to put the other first. Make it important to do fun things together. And as for the difficult stuff that comes along, learn to tackle it together, and not react in a negative way.
By practicing these simple things, the couple truly can reserve their relationship for “good times,” and leave the pressures of life as a topic of conversation and problem-solving.
You are a team; do things together, like a team does. Rely on each other, help the other to succeed, and reach high achievement together, just like a team does.
I have talked about some common things in a relationship that are necessary, and vital for success. If we can educate ourselves on the condition of our relationship, we can make changes where necessary, and reap the benefits.
Don’t stop there. If you really want to kick your relationship up to a new level this year, ask your partner to sit down with you and set a goal to learn a new relationship skill. The idea here is to become a Master in your relationship. After all, the relationship is the one thing in life that can literally last a lifetime.
Aim to become proficient in one of the many critical relationship elements, such as; any of the five I listed above. If you and your partner agree to learn one critical relationship skill per year, what do you think your relationship would look like in only a few short years?
I can only make suggestions here. I want you to have the best relationship ever, and I want you to enjoy it for a life-time. But, that is between you and your partner to make that important for your relationship.
If you are in a relationship, then now is the time to start making it bulletproof. Don’t just hope it will get better; Go after it!