Monday, February 15, 2016

Relationship Advice 2016: Maintaining a Relationship

I'm currently on my fourth year of my only (so far) successful relationship, so any advice I give regarding maintaining a relationship should be taken with the knowledge that I'm working from a lack of long-term data.

This advice is also predicated on the understanding that your relationship is with a reasonable, non-abusive partner. If you're in a toxic relationship, your goal should probably be escape, not maintenance.

That said, as far as I can tell, relationship maintenance comes down to three basic concepts: communication, forgiveness, and gestures. I assure you that none of what I'm about to say is ground-breaking.


As I've often said, I struggle with this a lot. Not so much in my writing, which is much easier for me since I can carefully consider my words, read them back, and edit as much as I need. But though I can hold an actual conversation, doing so effectively takes a lot of energy on my part. I generally prefer to listen intently to everyone else and only pipe in every once in a while to remind people I'm there.

That said, I actually put effort into communicating with Laura as much as I can. Luckily, she talks way more than I do, so I can usually stay silent until I have something substantial to say. (Though she's definitely been on a receiving end of several of my impassioned speeches.)

Constant communication about the little things helps to make you comfortable talking about deeper things and basically gets you into the habit of confiding in your significant other about everything. Such confidence is itself predicated on a certain level of trust between you and your partner, which makes honesty vital. Lying is a bad habit to get into in the first place, but lying to someone you're planning to spend a lot of time with simply isn't going to be worth the trouble; either they're going to discover the truth, or you'll end up putting in a lot of effort to hide the truth. Either one will have consequences for your relationship.

Also, it's important to know how to listen to your partner and comprehend what they're saying. Don't be afraid to ask for clarification if there's something you didn't hear or understand: asking for clarification demonstrates that you're interested in understanding them.

Listening is especially important in arguments. Every couple argues, and arguing a lot does not mean you're in a bad relationship. However, the way you argue may indicate a bad relationship. You've got to listen to what each other is saying, understand, and respond. Even if things get heated, if you're responding to each other's arguments then that's still just communication, which is good. If you're getting personal or simply talk past each other, though, then you're not actually communicating, which is bad. Listen, understand, and respond. And then give each other space, because even the most well-reasoned arguments aren't likely to end with everyone agreeing with each other and moving on.

On a related note,


We're all human. We sometimes say things we don't mean, act petty, and hurt people we love. This is unavoidable, no matter how careful you are. You've got to accept this about yourself, and you've got to accept this about your partner.

It's okay to be angry when someone makes a mistake, so long as you're not destructive about it. It's a natural response, and it's not going to go away as soon as someone apologizes to you. However, though it may feel weird to consider your partner's feelings while you're angry at them, it's important to let them know that forgiveness is forthcoming, even if you're not sure when that will be. You and your partner need to know that you won't hold grudges against each other. A grudge spells doom for a relationship.

Just as you need to be able to forgive upon receiving an apology, you likewise need to be able to apologize when you make a mistake. Be self-aware and aware of your partner's feelings. If you've hurt them, recognize it and apologize. Don't qualify your apologies; don't say, "I'm sorry, but..." Simply apologize and, if needed, give your partner time and space to muster up some forgiveness.

Sometimes one of you will make a mistake, and the other won't recognize the mistake as being a mistake. This is when communication comes back into the forefront, as this is the likely source of most arguments, in my experience. Again, you won't necessarily come to an agreement, but if you're listening to each other and communicating your perspective, at least you'll both be learning something valuable about each other.

In that case, you might need to be able to forgive even without an apology, as such arguments often involve core values and characteristics of you and your partner. At some point, you have to understand that you can't change people's values, at least not quickly. Instead, you learn to live with these differences and figure out compromises. If it helps, think of compromise as a sort of perpetual forgiveness. It's kind of a condescending perspective, but it might help until true acceptance kicks in.


Of course, relationships aren't all just talking and dealing with each other. You also have to do things with and for each other. In other words, you have to actually demonstrate your affection every once in a while.

It doesn't have to be big gestures all the time, like dates, gifts, and romantic getaways. It's the small things that keep a relationship going: doing chores before being asked, cooking meals, compliments, surprise kisses, small favors, and so on. Sometimes I offer Laura a bite of my food before she (inevitably) asks for it. Figure out what sorts of small things your partner appreciates, and use that knowledge to demonstrate your familiarity.

With all of that, you might be able to maintain a loving relationship. I suspect these things will continue to hold true as my relationship continues, but I'll keep you guys updated any of this turns out to be bad advice.

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