Habit #9 Make Time To Be Apart-Have a Healthy Independent Life
At the beginning of a relationship (aka limerence) it can feel great to be with each other 24/7. Don’t be fooled, that’s just hormones impacting your judgement. Sometimes time apart can be as important as time together. Developing independent friendships, hobbies or interests can add vitality and liveliness to a relationship. Try to have some balance from the beginning. Having a healthy independent life will ultimately make you more attractive to your partner, give you a healthy foundation for your relationship and give you time to take care of yourself outside of time with your partner.
Habit #10 Be Creative Together
Creativity is sexy! Make things, build things, design things together. This can be part of #3 (creating shared meaning) or it can just be about creating things together that mean something different for each of you. Also, supporting your partner in their creativity is a very loving thing to do. Singing, dancing, drawing, knitting, sewing, welding, candle making, gardening, programming, cooking are all generative acts. Enjoy them together.
Habit #5: Fight fair and kind
Conflict is inevitable and often healthy in relationships. It’s how we resolve conflict and disagreements that make a big difference to the quality of a relationship. How do you approach your partner when you are unhappy about something or you need to bring up a difficult topic? Gottman talks about the “soft start-up” and points out that most arguments end the way they start. If you approach your partner gently, without attack or criticism, chances are you will have a more positive outcome.
Also consider what you are fighting for. Do you just want to be “right” or “win”? Or, do you feel strongly about something that really impacts you? How can you communicate your need in a way that your partner can hear? I can guarantee that shouting at them doesn’t help them hear your point.
If you feel so frustrated that you want to yell, take a break. Walk around the block (tell your partner that is what you are doing—don’t just walk out), drink a glass of water, put on some music that relaxes you. Do something that will ground you and deescalate the conflict.
Mean fighting creates scar tissue and everybody loses. Remember too, that if you have children they are learning from you about how to resolve their own conflicts. They will most likely do what you do, so stay conscious about what you are teaching your kids about how to resolve disagreements.
Habit # 6 Appreciate your partner more than you criticize
Lately I have been hearing a lot about the concept of a “feedback sandwich”. You start with the positive, talk about the behavior that you hope to change and then end with a final, positive, encouraging word. People tend to respond better when they don’t just hear criticism. Gottman says that in successful relationships the ratio is about 5:1. For every negative word or criticism you say to your partner you should say five positive things.
If this is difficult for you to do, start slowly. Appreciate one thing about your partner every day for a week. Then notice two things every day that you appreciate. Keep doing this until you can think of five things that you appreciate. It’s like a muscle. As you practice appreciating your partner it will become easier to notice and to say your appreciations out loud.
While you’re at it, you might want to appreciate yourself too. Sometimes we have a hard time giving to others what we can’t give to ourselves.
Duet Relationship Services grew out of a desire to help people create solid, sustainable relationships from the beginning. Part of that is making good choices about who to date and develop intimacy with and part of it is being aware of how solid relationships are formed and what helps keep them healthy and sustainable.
It turns out that people do research on this stuff so we have some experts to turn to. In particular John Gottman who works out of the University of Washington (http://www.gottman.com/) has studied thousands of couples and has some very good ideas about what creates strong, loving relationships that last. Drawing from of Gottman’s principles and my experience as a therapist, I have created this list of good habits. Here are the first two.
Good Habit #1: Be nice.
Kindness goes a long way in supporting relationships. Every time you act with meanness or mal intent toward your partner you make it harder to create trust and intimacy. Meanness causes scar tissue and too much scar tissue makes it hard to recover from small things and almost impossible to recover from big things. Likewise, every act of kindness in money in your relationship bank.
If you are not sure what meanness is I will spell it out here: Name calling, belittling, eye rolling. Lying. Yelling in a way that scares your partner, throwing things, breaking or destroying things that matter to your partner. Putdowns, expressing lack of confidence in your partner, making fun of your partner. I think you get the idea. All of these behaviors are mean spirited and corrosive to your relationship.
Good Habit #2: Care about your partner and love them for reasons that have nothing to do with you.
Know what your partner loves to do, loves to eat, where they love to go for fun. Know their dreams and hopes and help them come true even if you don’t benefit. Notice the way they are in the world and appreciate them for that. Loving someone just because they love you often isn’t enough. It’s important to love and respect them for them, not just for what they do for you.
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Martyred saints, bloody pagan rituals - Valentine’s Day has a long fascinating history way before Hallmark got a hold of it. These days most people either love it or hate it. The lovers are, well, usually the lovers. The haters are often single people who don’t want their noses rubbed in their aloneness, and partners who forget (or don’t care) about this holiday.
For those of you who are in the second category, I am writing to you today. If you are single and want to be in a relationship, I have some ideas for you this Valentine’s Day. Instead of moping around and feeling sad that you don’t have a sweetheart, take this day as an invitation to love yourself. Do something special for yourself: get a massage, buy a bouquet of beautiful flowers, go out to dinner at your favorite restaurant with a dear friend, take some time to be in nature and get some perspective on your life and situation. I want you to give to yourself what you will give to your lover when you have one. Love your self the way you want to love and be loved.
And one more thing…remember back in elementary school when you made little valentines for everyone in the class. I want to reinstate that ritual in the adult world. Make simple, sweet valentines to give to the people around you whom you love and even like. Spread the love: co-workers, the person who makes your latte every morning, the person who delivers your mail, friends and family. Let’s bring back Valentine’s Day as an inclusive, loving holiday.