No matter how great your partner is, or how well you get on, some relationships just don’t work out.
That’s sometimes down to core issues, like differing values or past experiences, but there can sometimes be a very thin line between a healthy relationship that works, and an unhappy one that is destined to end.
There are some pretty straightforward steps you can take in order to make your relationship work – these are things that both you and your partner can do, so chat to them and really commit to the process.
1. Communicate honestly. Apologize often.
Open and honest communication is vital to a healthy relationship. This is what really makes the difference between a working relationship and an unhappy relationship that eventually leads to a breakup.
Learn how to communicate with each other. Have a conversation about what works best for the both of you. It might feel weird or silly, but it will pay off in the long run.
Understand that communication is not just about talking at each other; it’s about talking with each other. There’s a big difference.
The former isn’t really a conversation – it’s just two people offloading their thoughts onto the other. A true conversation is a back and forth exchange of thoughts, questions, and emotions that requires both open ears and open minds along with an occasionally closed mouth!
Listening – genuine listening – is required so that you both feel heard. This involves putting your thoughts to one side whilst the other is talking. Don’t allow your mind to sit there planning how to respond whilst your partner is trying to express themselves, because this will stand in the way of you really listening to what they are saying.
And turn off any possible distractions such as phones, televisions, or loud music. Focus on what each other has to say and you’ll find that you feel much better afterwards.
When it comes to serious conversations, you may like to discuss a topic as soon as it arises so that you get it out of the way. Your partner may prefer to leave the conversations for a few days so that you both have time to process and collect your thoughts. Neither is right or wrong, so you have to find a middle ground that works for you both,
There are so many things you can learn about each other’s communication style that will help you work better together as a couple.
Communication allows you to have a deeper understanding of each other, as well as a healthier relationship altogether. It gives you the chance to bond on more of an emotional level too.
Learning to apologize is also very important when it comes to having a healthy relationship. Taking ownership of your mistakes, having an understanding and some empathy for how you have made someone feel, and proactively improving yourself is key!
Show your partner that you value them and respect them enough to admit to making a mistake. And, equally importantly, commit to showing them that it will not happen again.
This works both ways – you also need to accept apologies sometimes. You might not be over what happened, but you have to give your partner some credit for taking responsibility and vowing to change for the better.
2. Maintain a sense of self.
A lot of people, especially those new to dating, seem to think that making a relationship work means throwing everything at it. All of your time and energy; being with each other 24/7, and really being a couple.
This just isn’t how it works…
It is crucial to maintain a life outside of your relationship if you want that relationship to succeed. It might sound backwards to some people, but trust us on this.
If you are only ever focused on your relationship, you will find flaws in it because you’re constantly analyzing it. In fact, you’ll probably create flaws.
If you do nothing unless your partner does it with you, you will resent them sooner or later. Every time a friend invites you somewhere alone, for example, you will secretly hate your partner for the fact that you can’t go.
If you give up your hobbies and interests, you become totally reliant on your partner to fulfill every need you have. But they will never, ever be able to do this, and you will become frustrated by that, as well as worried that they are not right for you because you feel like you’re incompatible.
The more you have going on in your life, the more you can give to your partner. Again, it might sound strange, but it really works, and it is so often what distinguishes a healthy relationship from one that is destined to fall apart.
Don’t place so much pressure on your partner, don’t look to them to satisfy every aspect of your being, and don’t shut out everything, and everyone, else in your life.
Instead, stay busy, do your own thing, and continue to be independent. That way, you will feel like time with your partner is quality time, and you will enjoy each other’s company so much more.
3. Work on yourselves independently.
Similar to the previous point, there is a lot to be said for independent progress.
That means not just working on the relationship in order to make the relationship work.
If you want to be in a healthy relationship, you need to be two healthy individuals.
That doesn’t mean you need to be physically fit, in great mental shape, and never get stressed! It just means that you both need to make time to focus on yourselves and your own self-improvement.
You might be very aware of commitment issues you have, for example, that will not get better simply by committing to someone. Instead, you can continue to work on yourself, seek counseling to address the root cause of those issues, and apply those changes to your relationship.
There might be other things you want to work on outside of the relationship. Maybe you have anxiety that may or may not directly affect your relationship. Either way, it’s important for your well-being that you work to reduce it.
It’s so crucial that you feel you have the freedom to do this, and that you have the support from your partner to see it through. Just because a goal doesn’t directly impact the relationship, doesn’t mean the relationship shouldn’t be part of reaching the goal!
Equally, your partner may want to focus on a personal goal of their own. Again, be supportive, and acknowledge its importance to them.
By taking the time to work on yourselves, you are showing each other that you are able to take responsibility for your actions.
This also shows that you are willing to put in the effort needed to make the relationship work. Again, this is what will make your relationship stand the test of time, and any other challenges you face.
Strong relationships are made from strong individuals, so focus on getting to that stage as separate people so that you can be strong together too.
4. Establish and respect boundaries.
If you want to create a healthy relationship, there needs to be some boundaries.
Make the time to talk about this with your partner early on, or when you’re approaching the next stage, such as moving in together.
If you’re newly dating, you can set boundaries around exclusivity – that might be that neither of you date other people, or you delete the dating apps from your phones. This is a very simple boundary, and it is your way of saying that you want to commit to each other on some level.
You might also want to ensure you both keep your own lives going, as we’ve mentioned. This kind of boundary might sound like, “Football on Tuesdays is really important to me, and I want to stay committed to that.”
This is a fair boundary to suggest, and it also shows your partner that you take commitment seriously!
It lets them know that you respect yourself too – how worrying would it be if someone dropped literally everything (including something they’d been doing weekly for the past ten years) for you?
It’s attractive when someone cares about something enough to commit to it, so you should also have respect and admiration for your partner if they suggest a similar boundary for themselves.
Boundaries you may want to establish later down the line could be about personal space. Maybe you like to go for a walk during an argument to clear your head, but your partner hates it and wants to just get the argument out of the way.
A boundary here might sound like you saying, “Sometimes, I need a bit of personal space to cool off so that I can properly commit to resolving this issue.”
This shows that you respect the relationship and want to make it work. It lets them know that you are doing this for their sake, because you care, and that you are not abandoning them or storming off because you’re fed up.
Remember that they will see your actions differently sometimes, so it can be helpful to explain why you’re doing what you’re doing. This is a good way to let them know what you need, and you can invite them to let you know what they need in return.
Remember that they may also want to suggest boundaries – you might not like them at first, but you owe it to them to be respectful and listen.
For example, their boundary might be that you don’t go through their phone. Don’t jump to conclusions and assume it’s because they’re cheating on you. Give them a chance to explain why this matters to them – maybe they had a very controlling ex who was paranoid, and all they want is some freedom and trust.
By giving them a chance to explain the importance of their boundaries, you are showing them that you care and respect them. You are also both opening up to each other more, which can strengthen your emotional connection even further.
The more honest you can both be about your needs, the better compromises you can make and the healthier your relationship will be overall.
5. Work toward goals and plan a future.
One of the best ways to keep a relationship healthy and stable is by committing to goals together.
The fact that you are making plans for the future together will help you both feel secure in the relationship.
Having something to aim for forces you to come together and actively work to find solutions to any challenges you face.
You will feel stronger and more accomplished as a couple if you have something to work toward, because you will also have things to tick off your to-do lists.
Set different types of goals – like saving for a place to live together, booking a holiday, both getting fit, etc. Having a range of goals will activate different aspects of your relationship, and create or strengthen bonds.
For example, saving up for a place to live together will encourage more emotional bonding. You’ll be sharing the excitement of the next step in your relationship, and you can both work toward this together.
Working on a physical goal will push you in different ways, and you’ll face challenges together. Working out together is great for your relationship, as you get pretty instant gratification and can celebrate the wins along the way. For example, smashing a workout gives you both an instant high (thanks to those endorphins), compared to saving for a house, which you won’t really benefit from for months, if not a year or two!
Mix up your goals, commit to working toward them together, and make time to really celebrate your successes along the way.
6. Make compromises.
Part of any healthy relationship, making compromises is key if you want to build something that lasts.
This doesn’t mean that you or your partner always get your own way, or that either of you have to make huge sacrifices and be miserable.
Instead, it means that you commit to having a good relationship and accept that you have to meet in the middle sometimes.
It’s good to talk about what kind of compromises you both feel would be beneficial, just as you would with boundaries you want to implement.
There might be some things that are non-negotiable for you, which you need to be upfront about early on for this to be fair. If you know that you can never have a relationship with someone of a different belief or faith to you, or you absolutely will not be with someone who takes drugs, you need to be honest about this as soon as possible to avoid wasting both of your time.
For other things that you are more relaxed about, it’s still important to express how you feel. If you are not honest about what you want or expect, you will never be happy – your partner cannot read your mind!
Take the time to express how you feel and why certain things are so important to you, and be open to them doing the same.
Be prepared for them to have some opposing views to you, and be calm while you find a middle ground. This isn’t a ‘tit for tat’ contest, but it is fair to say, “I have compromised on this for you, and I would appreciate you considering compromising on this for me.”
It shouldn’t be about someone ‘owing’ the other person anything, or about guilt-tripping each other into going against your values! It should be about honest communication and mature agreements.
The reason this is key to making a relationship work is because it sets everything out on the table. There is no room for confusion or blame if you both know where you stand on issues that could be controversial or rocky.
7. Commit to quality time.
Too many of us give up on date nights when we’re in a long-term relationship. We spend a lot of time with our partner anyway, and we’ve got the dating bit out of the way, so… why bother?
Well, it keeps the romance alive, for one! By committing to date nights or setting time aside to spend with each other doing something fun or romantic, you are showing each other that you care.
You’re invested in the relationship and you want your partner to know how much you value them – and it’s lovely to know that they also value you!
Life can get pretty mundane, even if you’re in the wildest relationship ever. There will always be bins to empty, dishes to wash, and bills to sort out. It’s very easy to slip into a routine and somehow get bogged down in arguments about who’s putting the kids to bed, or why dinner isn’t ready when you get back from work.
By focusing on quality time and adding it to your calendars, you are committing to enjoying couple-time – time where you’re not a mom or a dad, a worker or a boss, just two people who love each other.
It also provides some stability and security for you both. If you’re always busy but your partner isn’t, for example (either through work or friendship groups etc.), they might worry that you don’t have enough time for them. They might be sitting at home feeling a bit lonely or abandoned while you’re off seeing one group of friends in the morning, and another in the afternoon – or vice versa!
Either way, if you’re both living different lifestyles, one of you may worry that there won’t be enough time set apart to enjoy being a couple.
By committing to quality time together, you are letting each other know that you are actively making an effort because you care. Knowing that they will see you for dinner twice a week, for example, will make your partner feel secure – they have something to look forward to, they have something scheduled, and they feel like you value them and take them into consideration.
8. Don’t be scared to disagree.
The ‘perfect relationship’ that we see in TV shows or movies seems to be centered around two people who get on amazingly well. Maybe too well…
Couples argue! And that’s both normal and healthy. Firstly, how boring would life be if you agreed on literally everything? You wouldn’t have big discussions, you’d never really see how passionate your partner gets when they’re defending something they love, and you’d find it pretty dull and predictable.
To keep a relationship healthy and functioning, it’s actually quite important to argue sometimes. Having a difference in opinion shows that you’re being honest about how you feel, and that is so important for your mental well-being and their understanding of you and your wishes.
If you’re both agreeing all the time, one of you is probably lying – and that’s worrying for a number of reasons.
They are either lying because they’re just desperate to please you and think that hiding who they really are, and going along with whatever you say, is the best way to do that.
Or they’re lying because they just don’t feel comfortable expressing how they genuinely feel, which could mean that they’re silently simmering away with resentment and repressed anger.
Either way, having a lively debate or getting angry sometimes is not a bad thing! In fact, it’s often the difference between a healthy relationship that works, and an unhappy relationship that’s headed for a breakup…
Just try to fight fair, because conflict in a relationship can be healthy or unhealthy depending on how both partners approach it.
Remember that all relationships go through ups and downs, so doing these things might not ‘fix’ anything overnight. By committing to long-term change, however, you are investing in your partner and your relationship, and you’re more likely to see genuine improvements.
Equally, not every relationship will last forever, and that is okay to admit and accept, however sad or scary it may feel. Sometimes, you can both give everything to a relationship and it just doesn’t work out. That could be because the challenges are too big to overcome, or because the timing isn’t right, one of you has personal issues they need to address on their own, or just because it wasn’t meant to last.
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