Does this sound familiar? You don’t see a world outside of your relationship and the passion is so intense that life couldn’t possibly be any better. You can talk about everything, gaze at each other for hours… it doesn’t matter where you are as long as you’re there together.
And everything’s going so well that he proposes. She’s elated. There are tears of joy, an engagement ring, and great hope that everything will turn out perfectly. Nothing could ruin this feeling. You know each other inside and out and you support each other… right?
But when you started reading this text you already knew that, in a moment, the tone would change. You knew that it sounded too sweet, that something upsetting, something bad had to happen. When? After a few months when you’re still riding the emotional high, or only after a few years, after your brain adapts to the existing stimuli and stops noticing them? Looking at a naked body starts to become routine. There are more absent minded smartphone evenings. You talk to each other less often and ignore each other more. This doesn’t happen overnight. More like over years, or longer. Finally, you start doubting whether you should be together at all.
According to Polish government statistics 27% of marriages end in divorce. 33% of these cases are caused by a personality mismatch, and 25%—cheating and emotional involvement in other relationships.
Is it possible to avoid this? Yes, but you have to know how. Just like the best prevention against obesity is consistent exercise and a healthy diet so is, in the case of romantic relationships—conscious building. Here are 24 small things which will help you do this. They are the small bricks that build the stable, long term wall of your relationship.
1. Doing the laundry
There are times when she doesn’t feel like doing it. Maybe because she’s tired, because she wants to take it easy, because the couch is so comfortable… Or maybe she doesn’t feel like going to get the mail. So you, altruistically, do everything that she doesn’t feel like doing. Why? Because she doesn’t want to, so you respect that and take care of it for the time being.
This makes you feel better about yourself and makes your partner feel grateful.
And gratitude creates a desire to repay the favor.
2. Waiting for your partner to come home
From the typical “I’m waiting for you,” to picking him or her up from the train station, to staying up late so you can go to bed together. Waiting for someone has unique power. It says, “You’re important to me”, “I’m thinking of you”, “I want to be with you”. It’s not about sacrificing your own life—because suffering isn’t noble—but about actively showing that you’re interested and about carrying out an important ritual: greetings and goodbyes.
The brain, because of the effect of priority and freshness, most readily remembers what happens at the beginning and at the end.
3. Feeding each other
Here’s a guaranteed flashback to your childhood. As children we were fed by our parents. Feeding is associated with a feeling of safety, love, and caring. It can also be a way of joking or playing. It’s so intimate that adults—infected with the feeling that it’s “not normal”—approach this idea defensively, scoffing at it. Why? Because they’re embarrassed by intimacy. But this doesn’t change the fact that cooking for someone and serving them food shows great care, and caring for someone is a brick that builds the house of marriage.
4. Being interested in each other
How was your day? What did you learn today? What was interesting about your day? Sharing each other’s experiences allows us to relive them and to learn about each other.
Don’t let yourself be ignorant of what the most important person in your life is feeling and thinking.
It’s enough to just ask questions everyday, and to share your experiences regardless whether your partner is interested in the subject matter or not. It’s not about the topic of conversation, but about building your relationship.
5. Going out on dates
It doesn’t matter what excuse you might come up with. There aren’t any interesting movies playing, I don’t have time, it’s better to relax at home, etc. This doesn’t change the fact that you should be going out on dates. It’s chance to be together without having to talk about the kids or work, and to get to know each other more deeply. A well planned date once every week or two is an excellent way to be together. It’s also a good example for your kids, who understand that outside of mom and dad there’s also the role of husband and wife.
6. Introducing negative elements into the relationship
Relationships are strengthened through conflict, just like muscles are strengthened by lifting heavy weight. Avoiding conflicts is like sweeping dirt under the rug. That’s why one of the foundations of a successful relationship is introducing your shadows into it, your negative thoughts, behaviors, or emotions, and learning how to talk about the them.
If you don’t do this you’ll be changing your partner like you change socks. You’ll retreat from every relationship at the precise moment when something negative happens.
Don’t be afraid to talk about even the most difficult things.
7. Time for yourself
Regardless of how much you love each other and love spending time together, everyone needs some time alone. That’s ego time—time for caring only about yourself and your own needs. You forget about your job and family and only think about what you want to do and how to satisfy that desire. The effect? By balancing out altruism, you won’t feel like you’re being used when you’re later doing something for your partner, boss, or kids.
What’s more, you’ll become more attractive—we consider the things we can’t have or can’t control to be sexy.
Ego time is time just for you.
8. Set an example for your child
If a marriage is dysfunctional children don’t have access to positive models. The way you treat your wife is how your son will treat his future partner. It will also model the type of man your daughter be with. The same holds true for women. Are you setting a good example for your children as a wife? Do you want to see yourself in your son’s future partner?
Children learn by observing reality, in other words, your actions.
Make sure that you’re setting an example that you yourself would want to follow.
Couples most commonly argue about money. But sex is number two on the list, and especially the lack of it. Don’t explain the lack of passion by saying that it faded with time when really, you just stopped being attentive and seductive. Don’t say that you don’t feel like having sex. That just means you’ve got your priorities mixed up. According to research done by Happify, the happiest couples have sex 2-3 times per week, and having sex once a week increases positive emotions by 44%! So get to it!
According to Business Insider, almost 50% of men cheat because they’re emotionally unsatisfied. They’re looking for admiration and compliments which they don’t get at home. They want admiration to the point that—in the majority of cases—they cheat on their wives with a less attractive woman. On the other side of the coin, women cheat because their partner’s “pissing them off”. If you want to decrease the chances of infidelity, remember to pay attention to each other and give each other real compliments.
11. Communicate your needs
Pretending that everything’s OK, when it really isn’t, or expecting your partner to figure out what you want, is a childish way of communicating. Each person in a relationship is responsible for their own thoughts, feelings, and desires and should appropriately communicate them to their partner. Are you in need of love? Cuddle up together. Do you need to be listened to? Ask for a short conversation without interruption or advice giving. Do you want to have sex? Talk about it in a flirtatious tone. In adult relationships telepathy gets replaced by open, precise communication.
12. Agree instead of trying to be right
When a couple gets asked why they argue, they’ll start blaming each other. But if they’re asked, what do you get out of arguing, they won’t be able to consciously answer without realizing that they’re just trying to be right. My way is the best! I told you it would turn out like that! I always knew what you were really like! This type of thinking creates winners and losers, which is a dysfunctional arrangement for both sides.
When talking, think about what you want to achieve and what your common goal is.
You can either be right or be happy.
A vacation trip to the same place or the same hotel, having breakfast at your favorite restaurant every Saturday, a seductive text message every other day—these are good habits which become an invisible builder of a feeling of safety.
Whatever is familiar and repeated gives long term momentum and certainty that you have something to lean on during difficult moments.
That’s why, speaking metaphorically, it’s better to give your partner a gram of gold every day instead of a kilogram once a year.
A private nickname for your partner which no one else has the right to use; a celebratory dance in the morning that no one else sees; the way you cuddle up to each other so you can calm down—these are examples of rituals, or the intimate language of couples. No one else knows them, knows what they mean, or has a right to use them.
Because you have something reserved just for yourselves, you build intimacy, which is one of the foundations of a successful relationship.
Monogamy represents certain, fundamental values of being together. You agreed to it. You committed to being honest with each other and open in your conversations. And even though you can repair the damage caused by infidelity, and flirtatious smiles can be trivialized, it doesn’t change the fundamental fact that an authentic and conscious relationship can’t be built without loyalty. There’s no such thing as, “it was just meaningless sex”. You can’t feel good about yourself with the knowledge that you’re a liar. There’s no certainty that the betrayed person still wants to be with you. Every affair is a conscious decision.
16. Your own opinion
There are many ways to get love. Some people consciously rebel because that’s the way they’ll get their partner’s attention. Others will adopt the role of a defenseless victim looking for a care taker, still others will agree to everything. Without our own opinion we become predictable and stop challenging our partner; we don’t offer him or her our own worldview; we don’t exist as a unique individual.
That’s why you should openly communicate your own opinion in such a way so that it’s palpable to your partner.
17. Paying attention to roles
If you’re mothering him (“Remember to call when you get there!”, “Did you eat your breakfast?”), then your partner will either rebel or change his personality into a castrated boy. You’ll start competing with his original mother—your mother-in-law—and you’ll lose, because she has an idealized image of her son. If you’re giving your wife advice as if she were young and stupid then she’ll either leave you or, after some time, she’ll start to suffer from learned helplessness and won’t be able to make any decisions without you.
A husband should be husbanding his wife and a wife should be wifing her husband.
Be a mother only for your children, be a boss only at work. Don’t confuse your roles.
18. We instead of you and I
When Brad Pitt got together with Angelina Jolie the media dubbed their relationship “Brangelina”. From that time on he started playing more ambitious roles than just a sex god, and she started doing more charity work and being a role model for deeper values (having a preventative mastectomy which was a signal to the world that health is more important than beauty). They’re both developing thanks to their relationship, because it’s more important than either one of them separately.
Thinking in terms of “what do we, as a partnership, gain” (instead of, “what can I get out of this”) builds a strong foundation, which will support both partners during hard times.
A strong marriage can make it through powerful storms.
19. Conversation, touch, compliments
Take a few moments every day just to talk about yourselves. What’s going on? What did you learn today? What did you discover? Touch your partner at least a few times every day—hugging, sexual prodding, kissing. Tell him or her a few nice words everyday which focus on the positives.
You should feel like you’re noticed, important to each other, and loved.
These small actions count for a lot in the long run.
When she gives birth to a child her attractiveness will change. When he starts working more he won’t have enough energy to be Casanova. At a certain point, you’ll start getting more wrinkles, advancing age will make it more difficult to burn off that spare tire and the idea of a prince and princess will fall into ruin.
That’s why you should make fun of these types of things—vices, problems, your own foolishness, and of getting older.
Having a bit of positive distance to yourself will make it easier for you to get through difficulties.
Does it feel nice when you hear others say that a mutual friend was praising you? It’ll be even nicer when your partner starts doing the same. Especially in Poland—where praising others is far less common than criticizing—this custom will be good for everyone. He’s proud as a peacock that his partner wants to be with him, and she feels honored that he chose her for his life companion. You don’t have to make speeches when you’re socializing.
It’s enough to introduce your partner by saying, “this is my amazing wife”, “this is my extraordinary husband.”
22. Be by their side for important moments
An important speech at work? Having surgery? A birthday party? During those important moments—both good and bad—we need our partner by our side. Everyone will appreciate this, your children who are in a play at school, or your friends who are going through rough times.
During those moments, you should make sure you’re fully engaged, supportive, and that your partner knows they can count on you.
23. Give feedback
It doesn’t matter how badly you don’t want to hear his interpretation of events. It doesn’t matter that her opinion is completely different from yours. Give each other feedback. Tell him or her, in a nice way, what you like about a given behavior and what can be improved next time.
Don’t attack people, help them change their behavior.
You can learn anything, but you need consistent and positive support to do it.
When was the last time you spent the weekend together without the kids? When was the last time you bought him a present? When was the last time you gave her flowers just because? Don’t make the excuse that you don’t know what to buy, or that they might not like it. There’s something more important going on here. It’s all about communicating: I’m thinking of you, you matter to me, you’re important to me.
That’s why you should spontaneously surprise each other from time to time.