Want to keep your love alive? Listen up.
Relationships are hard work.
Yes, they can be magical, exhilarating, and give your life meaning – but they can also be frustrating, uncomfortable, and even downright scary. Once the infatuation stage wears off, which it always does, eventually, you’re left wondering how this person who you fell so hard for became so difficult to deal with.
If you think the ‘right’ relationship will be effortless and free of fights, you’re likely to find yourself disappointed time and again. And ultimately, you may end up alone, puzzling over why you never met ‘The One’. The truth is, lots of people could be ‘The One’ – but you have to be willing to work through thorny issues when they come up, and not get scared off when the going gets rough.
You’ll often hear people lamenting the fact life doesn’t come with an instruction manual; but when it comes to love and relationships, there actually is a remarkable amount of excellent advice out there. Really, it’s tantamount to hundreds of instruction manuals. So why not take advantage? Reading relationship self-help books and articles is a great way to give yourself – and your partner – a leg up on the hard work of keeping love alive.
But if you’re too busy to slog through a stack of books and articles, here are 13 of the best bit-sized pieces of advice out there, from some of the savviest relationship experts around. Reading these – and actually abiding by them – could be all you need to change your relationship for the better…
1. Learn how to fight
“Researchers have found that four conflict messages are able to predict whether couples remain together or get divorced: contempt, criticism, stonewalling, and defensiveness. Instead of resorting to these negative tactics, fight fairly,” says Sean M. Horan, PhD, assistant professor of communication at Texas State University.
2. Nurture your sex life
“Sex isn’t just about orgasms,” says marriage and sex therapist Kat Van Kirk. “It’s about sensation, emotional intimacy, stress relief, improved health, and increased emotional bonding with your partner.”
3. Take the pressure off performance
“Expand your concept of sex to include anything that involves close, intimate connection with your partner, such as sensual massages, taking a nice shower or bath together, reading an erotic story together, playing with some fun toys…the possibilities are endless,” says sex and relationship therapist Chelsea Holland.
4. Don’t be shy
“Many times people become increasingly shy with the person they love the more as time goes by. Partners begin to take their love for granted and forget to keep themselves turned on and to continue to seduce their partner,” says couples and sex therapist Sari Cooper.
5. Meet each other’s needs
“Loving relationships are a process by which we get our needs met and meet the needs of our partners too,” explains psychologist Jeremy Nicholson. “When that exchange is mutually satisfying, then good feelings continue to flow. When it is not, then things turn sour, and the relationship ends.”
6. Go to therapy while things are still good
“You can’t imagine how many people come to couples therapy too late, when their partner is done with a relationship and wants to end it,” says New York City-based therapist Irina Firstein.
7. Do your own thing
“No matter how in love you are or how long you’ve been together, it’s important to take an exhale from your partnership. Hang out with girlfriends until late in the evening, take a weekend trip to visit family, or just spend time ‘doing you’ for a while,” says Amy Baglan, CEO of dating site MeetMindful.
8. Don’t get scared off
“In long-term relationships, we often feel that the thing you most need from your partner is the very thing he or she is least capable of giving you,” says psychotherapist Ken Page. “This isn’t the end of love – it’s the beginning of deeper love! Don’t run from that conflict. It’s supposed to be there. In fact, it’s your key to happiness as a couple.”
9. Tread lightly
“Research has shown that the way a problem is brought up determines both how the rest of that conversation will go and how the rest of the relationship will go,” says couples therapist Carrie Cole. “Many times an issue is brought up by attacking or blaming one’s partner, also known as criticism, and one of the killers of a relationship. So start gently.”
10. Be good to yourself
“There is one major cause of relationship problems: self-abandonment,” says relationship expert and creator of Inner Bonding Margaret Paul. “When you decide to learn to love yourself rather than continue to abandon yourself, you will discover how to create a loving relationship with your partner.”
11. Be committed
“Both partners need to commit to making it work, no matter what. The only thing that can break up a relationship are the partners themselves,” warns Kelly Campbell, PhD, associate professor of psychology at California State University, San Bernardino.
12. Don’t expect your partner to be everything to you
“‘You are my everything’ is a lousy pop-song lyric and an even worse relationship plan,” says couples therapist Matt Lundquist. “No one can be ‘everything’ to anyone.”
13. Show your love in small ways
“Saying and doing small, simple expressions of gratitude every day yields big rewards,” says Terri Orbuch, PhD, author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great. “Make small gestures that show you’re paying attention: Hug, kiss, hold hands, buy a small gift, send a card, put gas in the car, or tell your partner, ‘You’re sexy.”
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Comment: What’s the best relationship advice you’ve ever gotten?
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Elizabeth lives in Brooklyn with two daughters, occasional mice and innumerable to-do lists. She runs a nine-minute mile, bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie, and can always be persuaded to sing at a karaoke bar. Follow her on Twitter.