Relationships are complicated things and there are no hard and fast rules that will work for every couple.
That said, there are still some things that most people can benefit from, so we talked to a bunch of relationship experts to get their best advice.
1. You can definitely go to bed angry.
Just forget the old advice that tells you not to, because it’s bullshit. “Saying you can’t go to bed angry ‘or else’ places way too much pressure on finding a resolution that could more easily be obtained the next morning,” Rachel DeAlto, a relationship and communication coach, tells BuzzFeed. That, and there’s actual science that proves why staying up to hash out your problems instead of sleeping is terrible advice.
2. Make sure you’re getting enough ~you~ time.
Needing space from your partner is NOT a bad thing. In fact, for a lot of couples, giving each other plenty of time to themselves is a huge factor in their relationship success, Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., relationship expert and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great, tells BuzzFeed. “Time alone gives partners those vital moments to process thoughts, pursue hobbies, and develop new topics to talk about,” she says.
Obviously, too much space isn’t good — there’s a reason you’re a couple — but in general, partners who have their own hobbies, interests, and friends are happier than those who depend on each other for everything, says Orbuch.
3. If you want to do one thing to improve your relationship almost instantly, start saying thank you more.
Pretty much every expert we talked to brought up the importance of showing sincere appreciation. “It can mean so much to a partner to get a thank you for the usual everyday thankless task,” marriage counselor and psychotherapist Jean Fitzpatrick tells BuzzFeed. Like making small talk like a pro at your work party or picking up your favorite beer without you even asking.
4. Actually tell your partner about things that annoy you, even if they’re little things.
“Contrary to popular belief, couples need to sweat the small stuff in their relationship to be happy and together over the long haul,” says Orbuch. It might seem like a good idea to keep a seemingly minor pet peeve to yourself, but over time, you’ll wind up ruminating and it can turn into a nastier kind of irritation and resentment. Bring up the annoyances in a constructive way when they’re still not a big deal so they don’t become problems later, says Orbuch.
5. Make sure your “I” statements are actually helpful, NOT passive-aggressive or argumentative.
You’ve probably heard that “I” statements are important in effective communication and that’s definitely true — but only if you use them correctly. “I feel that you’re a massive dick,” for example, is an “I” statement, but it probably won’t get the job done.
The point of “I” statements is to communicate your feelings in a nicer, more compassionate way that’s more likely to be heard, couples therapist Elisabeth Lamotte, founder of DC Counseling and Psychotherapy Center, tells BuzzFeed. “Don’t say: ‘YOU are so checked out, we haven’t had a date in weeks!’ Instead, say something like, ‘I’ve been feeling less connected lately and would love to spend a night out just the two of us.’”
6. Have more conversations that don’t involve home, friends, work, or your relationship.
You probably think you and your partner talk all the time, but how much of that communication is just about day-to-day, surface-level stuff? Probably a lot. “In order to build intimacy, be happy, and really communicate with one another, you need to share personal thoughts, feelings, goals, and desires with each other,” says Orbuch.
Don’t assume you know everything about each other even if you’ve been together for a long time — instead, ask off-the-wall questions you may never have talked about, like what good memory your partner would use to conjure a patronus. (Or, you know, if y’all aren’t Harry Potter nerds, any of Matt Bellassai’s first date questions.)
7. Turn your phones off around each other sometimes.
Phones are great and all, but going technology-free every once in a while can really go a long way in making you more available and accessible for your partner, couples therapist Irina Firstein tells BuzzFeed.
8. Fight. Just make sure you’re doing it correctly.
A lot of people assume that a good relationship = a relationship with no conflict, but that’s not true at all. Obviously, you don’t want to fight all the time, but it’s important to get stuff out in the open and work through it. The key is to fight fairly, dating coach Tracey Steinberg tells BuzzFeed. “Everyone gets disappointed from time to time and has disagreements, but do you both communicate in a respectful way with the goal of trying to understand each other?”
For more info from couples therapists on how to argue in a way that won’t destroy your relationship, check out these tips.
9. Check in with your partner about decisions, even if they seem small.
“People neglect considering the impacts of their actions or choices on the other person before they go ahead and do it,” relationship expert Jane Greer, Ph.D., author of What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship, tells BuzzFeed. “For example, instead of saying, ‘I’m going out for dinner Friday with friends,’ say something like, ‘I’m thinking about dinner with friends Friday — how does that work for you?’”
Keep in mind that checking in ≠ asking for permission. Instead, you’re keeping your partner in the loop in a way that doesn’t leave them feeling unimportant, ignored, or hurt.
10. Give to your partner what you want to receive back.
“Treat others the way you want to be treated” is a golden rule for a reason, and it works in relationships too, according to Susan Winter, relationship expert and author of Allowing Magnificence: Living the Expanded Version of Your Life. If something is lacking in your partnership, try making the first move to inject it back into things. “You’ll soon discover the entire nature of your interactions shift to the positive,” she says.
12. If you’ve been together forever, date like you haven’t.
No, this isn’t about ~reigniting the spark~ or whatever. It’s about continually reinvesting in your relationship so it can continue to grow, says Winter. Make sure you don’t fall prey to what Orbuch calls “silent dining syndrome” — going out to the same old restaurants and barely talking — by doing genuinely fun, stupid, adventurous things together and continuing to ask questions and learn more about each other.
13. Communication is as important as everyone says it is, but only if you’re doing it right.
“Communication is touted as the pillar of relationship protocol, yet few people use this tool effectively,” says Winter. “[It’s] commonly misunderstood as permission to unload our grievances.”
Which, not helpful. According to Winter, constructive communication that will actually help your relationship is non-accusatory in nature and is used to share your emotions. Basically, giving them a better picture of yourself and really communicating all that important stuff that makes you you.
14. Do things that make you feel good, happy, and confident.
There are lots of little things you can do to be a better partner, but one of the easiest (and most enjoyable, tbh) is to treat yourself well first, psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman tells BuzzFeed. Do whatever makes you feel good about yourself, because the more you love yourself, the happier and more confident you are, and the more good vibes you can bring to the relationship.
15. Do the little things, because they’re the unsung heroes of successful relationships.
In Orbuch’s experience, couples who give affirmation to each other regularly are the happiest — that means compliments, encouragements, gestures, things that show in small ways that they’re special to you. Here are a bunch of little things you can do to make your relationship stronger.
16. Don’t get caught up in whether your partner is ~the One~.
“In a real relationship, over years of connection, conflict, mutual support, shared experiences, and learning about life and each other, each partner grows into the One,” says Fitzpatrick. “So we don’t choose or find the One. We become the One to each other.”
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