Relationships are hard. Anyone who’s ever been in a romantic relationship with another knows that despite all the wonderful aspects of a partnership, there’s also a lot of heartache involved as well. This is especially true when conflicts arise due to self-indulgent behavior, neglect, or just obliviousness.
Below are 8 words that form the foundation of a really solid, healthy relationship. A lack of adherence to these ideas is why many partnerships fall to pieces, so pay attention.
It has been mentioned before, but I’ll reiterate: until the magical day arrives in which people are able to read each other’s minds, we’ll have to rely on words to communicate with one another. This gets tricky when people don’t take the time to really listen to what the other is trying to put across, instead having knee-jerk reactions based on their own experiences and biases, or even just aversions to particular words.
The key to good communication is to try to leave one’s ego at the door, and listen actively and conscientiously – paying as much attention to the other’s tone and body language as to the words themselves. If you find talking difficult, write letters. If you find both difficult, find a therapist or other neutral intermediary who can help you negotiate these tricky waters. Most relationships fall apart due to lack of communication, so sort your sh*t out.
Your partner doesn’t exist at your convenience. If they’re with you, it’s because they care about you and there’s something special enough about you for them to stick around. Respect them, their space, and their belongings, and everything should work out just fine.
Oh, and if anyone ever talks trash about them, you had better be the first to stand up and defend them, even (especially) if the person trash-talking them is a member of your own family. If you have chosen this person to be your partner, then it’s important to reassure them that you have their back, no matter what.
Chances are that one of the reasons you were drawn to your partner is that you had a hell of a lot of fun in each other’s company. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend all your time console gaming or playing games down at the pub or whatever, but rather that there are activities and subjects that you get excited about doing together.
Keeping fun alive is one of the best ways to make sure your relationship continues to thrive, but that fun needs to take both partners’ interests into consideration. It’s likely that we all know a couple in which one partner’s passion takes precedence over the other’s, and the latter will just plod along halfheartedly in order to keep the peace, but that’s far from an ideal dynamic. There are undoubtedly plenty of interests that you both share, and if other passions aren’t agreed upon, then compromise can come into play.
As an example, while both partners might be really into their monthly rave parties, partner 1 can drum up a bit of enthusiasm for the other’s weekend football events, while partner 2 can try to put some effort into Friday evening board games with the neighbors.
…you get the idea.
To err is human, and we all err a lot. We’re all flawed creatures in many ways, so the key really is to recognize the fact that your partner is going to screw up on occasion. It might take them a while to learn your boundaries, or what you like in bed, and they might forget that you hate cucumbers or that one does not mention Aunt Diane at family gatherings, but you know what? That’s okay. You know why? Because you’re going to screw up too, and you’d prefer it if they were patient and understanding with you instead of losing their sh*t in your general direction.
Getting used to one another will take time, and since people are constantly growing and evolving, chances are that you’ll both have the opportunity to be patient with one another several (hundred) times over during the course of your relationship.
There are thousands of different ways to have healthy relationships, and loyalty is best defined by those in a partnership, rather than by expectations laid out by others.
For one couple, loyalty might consist of a devoted bond that involves complete sexual monogamy and transparent communication. That’s quite different from the loyalty that may exist within a polyamorous group dynamic, or a triad partnership. Ultimately, what matters is that all parties involved have frank discussions about what loyalty means to them, and once parameters have been established, it’s vital that everyone adheres to them.
Trust takes a long time to develop, can be obliterated within minutes, and is almost impossible to rebuild. If you ever find yourself in a position where you don’t know whether you can remain loyal to the restrictions that were established, see trait #1: communication. Talk to your partner(s) openly and honestly about what it is you’re feeling, even though it’ll be excruciating to do so. Parameters can often be re-negotiated, or if there’s a different root cause to your unhappiness, that can be addressed as well.
Remember how your partner doesn’t exist at your convenience? Keep that in mind. Also make note of the fact that if you’ve gotten comfortable enough with them that you’re living together in a state of totally authentic bliss, this doesn’t give you carte blanche to be a discourteous asshole.
Don’t just yell to them wherever they are in the house if you need something: walk over to where they are and, if you’re not interrupting whatever it is they’re in the middle of doing, THEN ask about whatever it is you need. Close the bathroom door when you’re in there (please), don’t leave dirty socks on the kitchen table (or anywhere except the laundry hamper), and ask before using, moving, selling, or discarding their belongings.
Does your partner bring you a cup of tea or coffee when they make one for themselves? Or do they have supper prepped for when you get home from work? Do they pick up after pets or kids without being asked to? Or cover you with a blanket when you fall asleep on the couch?
Recognize their little acts of kindness and don’t ever take them for granted. They do those things out of love for you, so be aware, and appreciative. Thank them often, with sincerity, and be sure to go out of your way to do kind things for them in turn – don’t be the idle half of a one-sided relationship.
This one may be last on the list, but it certainly isn’t the least important. Quite the opposite: it’s the most vital. Its placement as the last item on here makes it the last you’ll read, and hopefully it’ll make the most impact as well.
To love someone is to allow yourself to be vulnerable with them, and that can be terrifying… but also well worth the risk when that love is returned. Loving someone means accepting them and caring for them as they are, rather than as you’d want them to be, with all of their beautiful flaws and broken bits. You have the opportunity to build a wonderful relationship with a person who will be there for you when you need them, celebrate with you, maybe explore the world by your side. It’s a rare, wonderful thing to find, so if you’re lucky enough to do so, be sure to celebrate it as often as humanly possible.
What other words do you think are important in maintaining a healthy relationship? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.
Catherine Winter is a writer, art director, and herbalist-in-training based in Quebec's Outaouais. She has been known to subsist on coffee and soup for days at a time, and when she isn't writing or tending her garden, she can be found wrestling with various knitting projects and befriending local wildlife.