Each relationship we enter is like a puzzle we have to find the right pieces for. It takes time and experimentation to figure out what makes each person happy and what makes the overall relationship a healthy one. Take, for example, two past relationships of mine: the first was a very relaxed relationship, whereas my boyfriend and I talked fairly infrequently and made time to see each other a few times each week. This worked for us because we were both busy with school and work, and we simply didn’t have any more time to put into the relationship… which (ironically) is exactly why we decided to part ways. Now, my next relationship was much more involved. We talked all day and prioritized seeing each other whenever we could—but not at first. I entered the relationship with the mindset of my previous one. Talk on occasion, hang out here and there. Quickly, though, my boyfriend revealed that this didn’t work for him; he wanted and needed more.
These two opposite relationships showed me that relationship upkeep can change, depending on wants, needs, and abilities. They also taught me, however, that relationships don’t go without their similarities: they all require time, attention, and communication. That being said, there are a few foolproof ways to be a better partner, which don’t require an analysis of your given relationship. And Dr. Fran Walfish, leading child, family, and couples Psychotherapist, is here to tell us about them:
1) Have realistic expectations for your significant other.
Unrealistic expectations are sure to set your relationship up for failure, as explained by Dr. Fran Walfish: “Expectation is the road to disappointment and discontent,” she says. “Keep your expectations from your spouse realistic so you don’t set yourself up for more conflicts and huge letdowns in the relationship.”
2) Acknowledge your own downfalls.
We often focus on our partner’s negative qualities and downfalls, without paying mind to our own. “Be aware of your baggage. Self-awareness is fundamental in healthy, good communication,” she says. Acknowledging the fact that we all have our ticks, our ruins, our misfortunes, will put everything into perspective.
3) Practice effective communication.
Utilizing effective communication strategies, such as “I” statements, can work wonders for your relationship. Doing so, however, becomes next to impossible when we feel misunderstood, according to Dr. Fran Walfish. “Being misunderstood creates the frustration, shame, or anger that we have all felt at one time or another. Communicating our passions, whether intellectual or emotional, feels almost impossible when we’re misperceived, especially when the relationship stakes are high,” she explains. We need to instead really tune into our partner. “To be really interested in your lover means to pay close attention to what she or he says and does.”
4) Build and maintain trust.
Mistrust is often a huge issue in relationships. Hence, the importance of building and maintaining trust. “Trust is the #1 factor in all relationships,” explains Dr. Fran Walfish. “Talk openly about a mutually agreeable policy so that both partners feel safe, truthful, and comfortable.” Doing so will establish clear boundaries and prevent unnecessary and harmful arguments regarding betrayal.
5) Prepare to fight fair.
All couples fight—there’s no denying that. There are, however, effective and ineffective approaches to arguments. Dr. Fran Walfish says you should, “cool off and think first before attempting to talk it through. You don’t know how your affect, tone, resentments, and contempt may destroy the communication,” she explains. “Stick to the topic and don’t bring a laundry list of earlier mistakes or unsolved arguments. Be mad at your partner’s behavior without calling names or resorting to personal attacks. Laugh—using humor can lighten up an intense situation and bring you closer together. Listen—too often we are anxious to state our case and be heard and we neglect to give our spouse the same courtesy. Everyone wants to be heard, acknowledged, validated, and accepted.”