Human life is about relationships – of all kinds, between parents and children, siblings, spouses and others. Of course, the one between spouses is what forms the basis of human civilization and makes it grow. Spousal relationships may suffer from all kinds of imperfections, with every couple facing its unique challenges. Yet, some couples flourish while others tend to flounder. The truth is that happy relationships do not happen by chance; they need to be worked on.
Human habits exert a powerful impact on a relationship, more so in a conjugal relationship. You can foster positive or negative habits and once you begin to practice them, they eventually become an unconscious act. Certain habits can have a powerful, positive impact on a relationship. Therefore, it’s important to be conscious about creating routines in a relationship. Of course, to make a habit second nature, you’ll need to make efforts to practice them daily for about 21 days.
I, being a life coach, often get to handle many cases involving troubled marriages. Therefore, I genuinely believe that marriage counselling should be taken much more seriously by would-be partners so that they truly understand what it takes to build a long-term, happy partnership. The sad fact is that in our society, most parents believe that people automatically learn the art of living conjugal life successfully. They do not!
As a life coach, I take them through the changes that are inevitable post-marriage and also expose them to the many adjustments they need to make. Many of the ideas about marriage harboured by would-be partners obviously come from the media, movies, literature etc. and are obviously distorted. And when their romantic, utopian notions conflict with hard realities, they feel jolted out of slumber. Effective marriage counseling can help avert such accidents by sensitizing the partners to what they should realistically expect and the adjustments they need to do to make a success of their marriage.
12 Habits To Keep Your Relationships Strong
Here’s on to my Top 12 List of the habits happy, healthy couples practice:
Show respect in your relationship
Anyone giving you relationship advice will tell you that showing respect is essential to a happy, healthy and durable relationship. Expressing respect equals showing love, acceptance, and warmth and conversely, your disrespect expresses the lack of acceptance for your partner on your part. Respecting a person is all about valuing them, including the differences and the imperfections they have. Your having a different outlook towards life doesn’t mean that you should disrespect your partner. Even to change the other one’s perspective, you need to accept it first.
Disagreements between marital partners are natural. But make sure that you respect your partner’s point of view and do not disrespect him/her publicly or in front of friends and family. Handling differences can make all the difference to your relationship.
During marriage counseling, this is one of the best pieces of relationship advice I could give anyone. Who doesn’t like to be showered with compliments? Praising your spouse before others will help deepen your relationship. Contrarily, criticizing your partner will only build a wall between the two of you. Always arguing and criticizing each other in public eventually destroys a relationship by creating mistrust and lack of connect and respect. So, make it a habit to express your spouse’s positive attributes to others to foster mutual admiration, fondness and love.
Healthy relationships work on positivity, intimacy and mutual connect. But its expression doesn’t have to be elaborate; just being sincere is enough. In my life coaching practice, I have encountered several such couples seeking relationship advice, who often complain of not being appreciated by their partners. Remember, we all love to be validated by our partners and expressing gratitude regularly goes a long mile in this direction.
Appreciate your partner any which way. Do it daily. It could be as simple as leaving a love note before leaving for work or bringing home flowers in the evening. You just need to find out your partner’s love language and express your appreciation in that language. If your partner loves quality time with you, “turn off” and focus your attention on your partner. Whichever love language your spouse speaks, try to speak the same language.
Accept in totality
YES! Mutual acceptance of each other- including their friends, families, imperfections, eccentricities, everything – is the key here. Your mother-in-law may irk you by repeatedly asking you about your oh-so-long-awaited pregnancy. Or your hubby’s best friend may be fond of cracking his favourite poor jokes on every occasion. It’s natural to get annoyed with our partner’s friends and family. But a happy couple also recognizes that it’s best to just smile and let it pass in the interest of their relationship (Except when the friend/relative is a toxic person.)
No exceptions here! Every couple disagrees and argues but sometimes it happens more often than we want it to. But regular disagreements do not always indicate an unhealthy relationship. Rather, how the challenges are handled by the couple determines its health.
My relationship advice – while fighting, try to stay away from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling as they all are proven to diminish the durability of relationships.
Criticizing your partner is different from offering a critique or complaining. Critiques and complaints are about specific issues, while criticism amounts to a personal attack at the core of one’s character.
Complaint: “You should’ve called me to tell that you were getting late. Did you forget that we had agreed on that last time?”
Criticism: “You are just being so selfish, you aren’t forgetful; rather, you never think of others! You never think of me!”
As you can see, the criticism above tends to be very sweeping, generic and over-stretched to the point of painting the entire person black. Such pervasive criticism leads to other, far deadlier horsemen and makes its victim feel rejected and hurt. It often makes both fall into an escalating pattern of greater frequency and intensity, ultimately resulting in contempt.
Contempt is the single greatest predictor of a divorce between partners. Contempt attacks the other one’s character using a position of moral superiority. And we are truly mean while using contempt and treat others disrespectfully. We shower sarcasm, ridicule, and abuses to make the other one feel despised and worthless:
“So you’re ‘tired?’ And me? I’ve been with the kids all day, working like mad. And all you do in the evening is slouch back on the sofa and watch that stupid TV. Can you be any more pathetic?”
Often, such contempt is fuelled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner, which show up when the perpetrator attacks others. It’s much better to open up more frequently with specific grievances instead of exploding in flashes to destroy a relationship.
Defensiveness is typically a response to some criticism. Feeling unjustly accused, we look for excuses and try to play the innocent victim. But the strategy almost never succeeds as our excuses tell our partner that we don’t take their concerns seriously and that we won’t take responsibility.
Question: “Did you call Rahul and Bela that we’re not coming tonight as you had promised me this morning?”
Defensive reply: “Oh! I was just too busy. You know how busy my schedule is these days. Why didn’t you do it?”
The partner not only responds defensively, but also projects the blame on the other partner. Instead, a non-defensive response could be accepting responsibility and understanding the partner’s perspective:
“Oops, forgot it! I should’ve asked you to do it as I knew the day would be packed. My mistake. Let me call them right now.”
Stonewalling occurs when the listener withdraws from the interaction, shuts down, and simply stops responding to the situation. Rather than confronting the issue, stonewallers can tune out, turn away, act busy, or engage in obsessive or distracting behaviors.
Stonewalling frequently becomes a bad habit and is difficult to stop. Stonewalling comes from feeling physiologically flooded, and we may not even be in a state to talk out things rationally. It’s much better to say:
“I’m feeling too angry to keep talking. Can we take a break and return in a bit? It’ll be easier to work through once I’ve calmed down.”
Take 20 minutes to do something alone that soothes you. Read a book/magazine, take a walk, run and return to the conversation once you feel ready.
Ask for it
“Had he truly loved me, he’d known what I really need.”
“I shouldn’t have to ask for this.”
“She should know about the wrong she did to me.”
These typical expressions show how misguided we can be. Remember, your partner is not a mind reader. Each one of us sees the world differently, has different expectations and experiences. It’s YOUR responsibility to communicate to the partner about what you truly want – your thoughts, needs, and feelings. And sometimes, you may have to repeat it many times.
Couples in a healthy relationship do not work on assumptions; rather, they make it a habit to ask for what they need from each other and make space for them. Happy couples talk about their desires openly and respect and honour their mutual differences.
Every healthy relationship has some boundaries fixed in it. Boundaries set the space between where your domain ends and another person’s begins. Healthy couples talk about and respect mutual boundaries – emotional boundaries (how much time to spend together vs. apart), physical boundaries (touch, sex), financial and digital boundaries (postings about the relationship, following each others’ friends on social media) to ensure that their needs are being met safely.
Forgive, forget and move on
A relationship runs on forgiveness and can’t survive without it. Therefore, learning how to sincerely apologize and forgive is crucial to peaceful existence and a strong relationship. An apology isn’t designed to crush a fight. Rather, it’s a sincere attempt to overcome an issue as a team and move on. Happy couples choose to be happy rather than being right and very often, doing so requires a sincere apology.
Don’t offer a qualified apology (“I’m sorry, but…”).
Rather, take the responsibility (“I’m sorry because I…”).
There are some folks who are more of grievance boxes. They hold on to every relational sin committed by their partner and bring them out at the time of big arguments:
“You had forgotten my birthday 20 years ago”
“You had run short of cash on our third date”
These statements are certainly not a mark of constructive conversation in any case.
Healthy couples express the feeling of hurt, do whatever they can to ensure it doesn’t recur, accept the apology, and let go.
A good part of the modern relationship advice is centred around talking regularly and updating your partner on your life and happenings, howsoever mundane some of them may seem. To make it even more enjoyable, send pictures, audio clips and short videos to make the other one feel loved and included.
Talk about the positive things in your life e.g. a new project you began working on, an exciting job offer, a trip you’re planning with your besties. Talking about your anxiety disorder or the job dissatisfaction is no fun but is important, nevertheless. Such conversations bring you closer to each other. Such couples feel that their distress is seen and heard, their bond strengthens and they become more resilient, leading to overall happiness.
Sexual desire is the glue that keeps both parties from drifting apart. In sexual matters too, communication can keep the fire burning much longer. Keep the flames burning bright by sending each other teasing text messages with sexual innuendos and emojis and communicating about what turns you on and gives pleasure.
Honesty and openness are the bedrock of any conjugal relationship. So, talk to your partner about your fears, insecurities, jealousies, apathy and other feelings. If you try to hide anything, it will sooner or later swallow you up from the inside out. Be open and honest and let your partner give you the support you need. It’s better to ferret out the problem in its initial stages than to only disclose it when it’s too late.
- Two to tango
The division of labour between the spouses is the topmost complaint couples bring with them. In my opinion, very few things create as much resentment between partners as one of them feeling like a housekeeper for the other. Healthy couples make it a priority to do chores together. One of them may hate doing dishes, while the other one may not like making the bed. Discuss how you can divide your tasks and then rally together to get them done. Doing them together creates trust, closeness, and keeps resentment away.
Similarly, you can play a game, watch a YouTube video or listen to a song together. You just have to be creative and spontaneous about it. Recommend books, TV shows, movies, music, news etc. to each other to have more common topics to talk about. This is especially useful if you are living apart from each other or have a long distance marriage due to some compulsions.
It helps to know when the other person is busy so that you can drop a message or call at the right time. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to disturb your partner in the middle of a class or a meeting. Make sure you are aware of small and big events in their lives.
Keep each other updated on respective friends and families. Talking about family and friends gives you more stuff to talk about later, may be even gossip or scandals.
Enjoy the difference
Initially, you may believe that you and your partner have got so much in common: both are introverts, aren’t party animals and love watching movies at home. But with time, it becomes clear that though similar in some ways, you’re definitely not the same person. These differences keep things interesting and help you grow.
Many couples have this unrealistic expectation that they both should have the same hobbies, the same opinions and the same tastes in politics, food, cinema etc.. If they don’t, they feel alone or abandoned. In contrast, happy couples appreciate their partner’s different tastes and responses and respect them:
‘What? You liked that actor in the play? I’m so curious to know what made you like him. I feel exactly the opposite.’”
So, learn to respect diversity and also learn how to agree to disagree on certain points to enjoy conjugal bliss.