“To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.”
Several years ago, on their 50th anniversary, my 87-year-old grandfather looked at my 84-year-old grandmother and said, “This right here, our relationship, this is my greatest accomplishment.”
My grandfather’s words have always remained with me. They were beautifully romantic, but more importantly, they were delightfully true. Healthy relationships are accomplishments. They take commitment and work, and two people who are willing to meet in the middle and put in the necessary effort.
If you’re in a relationship, intimate or platonic, that could use a little help, the tips below will come in handy…
1. Let go of old wounds through forgiveness.
Every moment of your life you are either growing or dying – and when you are physically healthy, it’s a choice, not fate. The art of maintaining happiness in your life and relationships relies on the fine balancing act of holding on and letting go. Yes, sometimes people you trust (including yourself) will hurt you. Being hurt is something you can’t avoid, but being continuously miserable is always a choice. Forgiveness is the remedy. You have to let go of what’s behind you before you can grasp the goodness in front of you.
2. Come clean when you make a mistake.
An honest heart is the beginning of everything that is right with this world. The most honorable people of all are not those who never make mistakes, but those who admit to them when they do, and then go on and do their best to right the wrongs they’ve made. In the end, being honest might not always win you a lot of friends and lovers, but it will always keep the right ones in your life. (Angel and I discuss this process in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
3. Stop gossiping and start communicating.
A good rule of thumb: If you can’t say it to their face, you shouldn’t say it behind their back. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people.” Life is much too short to waste talking about people, gossiping, and stirring up trouble that has no substance. If you don’t know, ask. If you don’t agree, say so. If you don’t like it, speak up. But never judge people behind their back.
4. Give others the space to make their own decisions.
Stop judging others by your own past. Never act, judge, or treat people like you know them better than they know themselves. They are living a different life than you are. What might be good for one person may not be good for another. What might be bad for one person might change another person’s life for the better. Allow the people in your life to make their own mistakes and their own decisions.
5. Do things that make YOU happy.
If you want to awaken happiness in a relationship, start by living a life that makes you happy and then radiate your happiness into your relationship. If you want to eliminate suffering in a relationship, start by eliminating the dark and negative parts of yourself, and then radiate your positivity into your relationship. Truly, the greatest power you have in this world is the power of your own self-transformation. All the positive change you seek in any relationship starts with the one in the mirror. (Read The Four Agreements.)
6. Show your loved ones your kindness in small ways every day.
Aesop once said, “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” Nothing could be closer to the truth. Always be kinder than necessary. You never know what someone is going through. Sometimes you have to be kind to someone, not because they’re being nice, but because you are. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
7. Say less when less means more.
It takes some courage to stand up and speak; it takes even more courage to open your mind and listen. Pay attention and be a good listener. Your ears will never get you in trouble. The people in your life often need a listening ear more than they need a rambling voice. And don’t listen with the intent to reply; hear what is being said with the intent to understand. You are as beautiful as the love you give, and you are as wise as the silence you leave behind.
8. Let your love and trust overpower your fear.
You never lose by loving; you lose by holding back. No relationship is impossible until you refuse to give it a chance. Love means giving someone the chance to hurt you, but trusting them not to. Without this trust, a relationship cannot survive. You cannot just believe what you fear from others; you have to believe in the good faith of others. If you are ever going to have someone trust you, you must feel that you can trust them too.
9. Accept, don’t expect.
Unconditional acceptance is something we want, but rarely ever give out. Remember, people never do anything that is out of character. They may do things that go against your expectations, but what people do reveals exactly who they are. Never force your expectations on people, other than the expectation that they will be exactly who they are. Who they are is not what they say or what you have come to expect, it is who they reveal themselves to be. Either you accept them as they are, or you move on without them. (Read Getting the Love You Want.)
10. Let the wrong ones go.
Know your worth! When you give your time to someone who doesn’t respect you, you surrender pieces of your heart you will never get back. All failed relationships hurt, but losing someone who doesn’t appreciate and respect you is actually a gain, not a loss. Some people come into your life temporarily simply to teach you something. They come and they go and they make a difference. It’s perfectly okay that they’re not in your life anymore. You now have more time to focus on the relationships that truly matter.
Remember, even the healthiest relationships have small flaws. Being too black and white about the quality and health of a relationship spells trouble. Accept the fact that there will always be difficulties present, but you can still focus on the good. Instead of constantly looking for signs of what’s not working in your relationship, what you need to do is look for signs of what is, and then use this as a solid foundation to build upon.
Which of these relationship tips do you sometimes struggle with? What else would you add to the list? Please leave us a comment below and share your thoughts.
Photo by: Hamed Masoumi
Jeremy Day says
These tips could not come at a better time for me. One of my toughest friendships just hit another big bump and I’m struggling to get over it. My biggest issue I have in my relationships is my expectations and learning to trust other people in spite of how much I’ve been hurt in the past. This post gives me a few good reminders of what I need to keep in mind and do to make this friendship and other relationships work.
Great post. I resonate and struggle with all of them at times, but 1, 3 and 5 stand out the most because those are the relationship traps I fall into most often.
Also, I want to thank you again for posts like this, the beautiful wisdom in your 1,000 Little Things book, and all the inspiring emails you send. Your positive reminders are keeping me on a positive path in life.
Susan Rae says
Number 8 is exactly what happened in my last relationship. If only I had read this beforehand. Its such simple advice that I totally overlooked and ignored. Thank you for this wonderful insight.
Love this one… I do expect a little too much from a relationship on occasions, only because I give a lot and try and be honest and caring all of the time. I have to remember that not everyone has the same standards and needs as me.
#10 hit home. I traveled across the country to visit a friend I loved, only to be torn to pieces and left alone in her apartment. But I’ve also given all I could give, money, my time, heart & soul… only to come home to an unbelievable woman who is now the LOVE of my life! I’m so blessed and grateful! Sometimes good things take time.
Fantastic read – like always…
But something I have been struggling with and wondering about – what if your ex wants to stay friends, due to having such a tight bond.
However, due to that you don’t let anyone else into your heart because you still love that person.
And letting other people pass by, and never getting more than just a certain percentage…
Oh love, what a funny silly thing 🙂
I have been wondering the same too, as my ex and I recently became friends again. He was always too busy for me, so I had to let him go, which apparently came as a huge shock to him because he thought everything was going well between us. I still love him too much to make room for another, even though I’ve begun dating again. Marc and Angel, could you offer some words of advice for this situation?
Gloria T. says
I sometimes struggle with number 4, giving others space to make their own decisions. I find that I often exert my opinion and beliefs on my loved ones because I care about their well being and, in my ignorance, I believe I am doing something good by them.
I know now, I must realize that sometimes, what may not work for me will be perfect for them.
Claudia Schmidt says
You two are SO WISE! How did you get so wise at your age (I’ve said this before) 🙂 I love absolutely your posts!
I struggle with all of them. I’ve been married 19 years and after reading this, am realizing that I can actually start fresh again today, if I so choose. Thanks for the reminder. Keep the wisdom comin’ 🙂
Dear Magnus – perhaps the best way forward with your ex is simply to be honest and tell them exactly what you’ve said here. This is not about not ‘forgiving’ or not ‘trusting’ this person, this is about your own emotional and mental health. If the bond you shared is tight they should respect that and there is no shame in admitting you still have strong feelings for them…because that is allowing yourself to be open, vulnerable and still trusting them…regardless of how things turned out.
I wish you love.
Penny Fischer says
Only if I knew firsthand what real love felt like… 🙁
Nice and read – I like the tips you share… I do struggle with many of them. Thanks.
My opinion is to let go of that relationship completely. Some bonds are so close in a romantic relationship that even their shadow of friendship makes new romantic bonds harder to find and weaker. Unless there is something keeping you in contact like a child, do not let this person take your ability to form a romantic bond again. Perhaps years later after you have a new bond that is stronger you can again communicate without giving away part of yourself.
That said, don’t just toss a strong relationship either. If there is a real chance of reconciliation and you want to work toward it. Work toward a reconciliation for a set period of time. This is not the same as working toward being friends.
David Rapp says
This whole list applies, or has applied, to me in detail. My marriage has degraded with me doing most of the damage. I just ordered the books recommended in this post. Hopefully I can turn myself around.
Donpeter Moses says
Wow! I must confess you are wonderful. Sometimes one may believe ‘After all I know more…’ and this mindset interferes with relationships and happiness. Great reminders.
Alex R Murphy says
Thank you Marc for the wonderful post 🙂 The “Accept, Don’t Expect” point is especially powerful to me. I’m just now learning the value of truly being present, and accepting each moment as it is, not as I want it to be. This applies to relationships, but also all situations in life, both external and inside my own head.
These are terrific! I am a couple’s therapist and will bring some of your tips into the sessions I have with people struggling in their relationships. Keep up the good work. You are helping so many! I , too, loved The Four Agreements. Have a great weekend!
#8…OMGoodness #8. Courage. I need some courage. How does a woman know the difference between actions from a heart in love, & actions from a heart with friendly kindness? Depending on the persons upbringing, actions I would understand as only kindness could actually be actions of love. I used to be very open with my heart & soul. This man makes my soul want to dance, & I haven’t danced in 4 yrs. I’ve lost my groove thing 🙁 I pray for a sign from the good lord above to help me with this moment. I guess its a “don’t think, just do” time? Maybe… lol.
Good job! This was definitely worth the read. Thank you for this. 🙂 I talk to many people who have some issue on your list. It is great to read it here as you have done.
#10 has taken some time to actually FEEL my worth. I agree that even the healthiest of relationships have some differences that we view as “flaws”. Sometimes it’s best to really let go than to continue stepping out of each other’s boundaries. I stayed too long in a relationship where there was no compromise. Technology ruined our ability to communicate effectively. The back of his head was way too familiar. Although we were not lacking in love for one another we also weren’t willing to change enough for it to work out. To accept and respect one another completely. In the end it was imperative that we RELEASED one another to continue with our own individual journeys.
Although it was painful at times it does get better. I feel so much lighter and sometimes i even catch myself smiling…for no particular reason.
Yvonne I Wilson says
Excellent tips! Taking action in the areas of shortcoming is definitely worth the try. As always thanks for sharing.
8, 9 & 10. But all are good. I’m embarking on a new journey with a love from way yon back. Neither of us are exactly the same people we were from 25 years ago, but we fall into the trap of thinking we know the other one.
Being present in just this moment, and not extrapolating out my fear that the next moment won’t be good is my biggest problem. I love him dearly (sometimes too much) that just “accepting” what he can give me back is hard. I have a meltdown sometimes because I fear the future, and the heartbreak I anticipate. “Borrowing trouble” is what that is.
Love your posts Marc and Angel, look forward to the next one always.
Larry Hochman says
11. Laugh more. It undresses mistakes and takes their power away. 🙂
I married my high school sweetheart, and were togeter many years, 36 married. We loved each other more and more each day. We were true soulmates. Planned to grow old together. We both learned how to give and take. Very important, and to listen to each other. Sometimes it is best just to listen and be there for your partner.
Sickness got in the way of our happiness and plans. He passed in 2011. So my problem now, at 61, is all of these points. I don’t want to compare, but only have the one experience to learn from.
From reading other comments people are lonely. How do I start again? I still have much love to give.
Enjoy these blogs very much, thank you.
Practical truths, which are not studied as curriculum but experienced for higher elevation. Thanks for posting wonderful information which energizes and gives support for all those lost in the relationships.
All very good rules to live by. It’s odd how even though I know all these things, it still is good to read it to make myself think about how I can use each one to improve both my life and the lives of those I care for. Thanks for the reminder to do these things.
I really hated that I missed the Austin meetup. I read my email just hours before the event, so it was too late to RSVP. I sure hope you have another one soon!
Number one is exactly what im going through now. I recently got divorced and I’m struggling to pick up the pieces and move on. I’m still holding on to my past hurts and just can’t give love another chance yet. All the same, thank you so much for these tips; they do really inspire me a lot.
Melissa Webster says
Magnus, I have to agree with Debbie. Logically, it seems like it would be unhealthy to hold onto a relationship that’s over, even for the friendship. I don’t see how it’s possible to have a healthy, happy relationship with someone new with one foot still in the past. At the very least, it might be wise to establish boundaries and give yourself the time and space to develop a happy relationship with a new person without all that extra baggage, and then maybe re-visit the friendship down the road. The drama can’t possibly be worth it. And holding on to something like that is bound to create drama.
Then again, what the hell do I know. I’m completely inept at relationships, so I probably need help with all of these things. I definitely have major trust issues I’m trying to work through, and I’ve dealt with relationships in the past where my integrity was questioned to unreasonable degrees due to their past experiences. It erodes any relationship.
I have given my time to a man I’m still living with. He goes out, gets drunk, smokes, comes home with no remorse. He’s dysfunctional in the “cycle of abuse.” I’ve worked as a counselor for over 30 yrs. and live the program. Before I moved in he told me everything I wanted to hear, but doesn’t live what he states. Has hurt me emotionally beyond repair. I’m leaving as soon as I am able. My trust has been so broken by him to the point I no longer trust a man. Am hurt and struggling to comprehend it all. This article says it all. He’s everything stated here not to be involved with.
Vanessa Nunez says
When are you doing another chat time in Austin? I l would truly love to connect with y’all… missed the Opa event due to prior commitments.
Martin Haworth says
Listen authentically without your ego driving you.
Kaye Swain says
Kudos to your wise grandparents! I was blessed to have parents, grandparents, and aunts & uncles who set the same excellent example for me and my kids. And what a sweet blessing that is! Thanks for the lovely thought and sweet memories.
Marc Chernoff says
@Gilly: You’ve got it right. Tempering expectations of others is the first step. We all think differently, and therefore do not respond to stimulus in the same way. Best of luck to you.
@Glen: I’m a firm believer that difficult events sometimes happen just to help us grow. So glad to hear your relationship situation worked out in the end.
@Magnus: I think the others have given you excellent advice already. My two cents: Whatever you decide to do, make sure you aren’t hurting yourself. Be completely honest with yourself and your ex. If your friendship is hurting you, take some to heal first.
@Claudia Schmidt: We read a lot. Ha! Actually, Angel and I have been together for close to 14 years now. We’ve had ups and downs like everyone else. We try to share as much as we can, openly. Thanks so much for the kind words.
@Penny Fischer: Keep being your awesome self. Focus on your passions, and the things you love. The right person will eventually find you.
@David Rapp: Both third party books a great reads. Informative. Let me know how you like them.
@1968Michelle: I’d say, take is slow. One step at a time. Communicate with your love interest. It won’t take long to get confirmation of where he stands.
@NoCinLa: Thank you for sharing a bit of your story with us. It’s sad to hear that technology and distractions interfered so drastically with your relationship. I’ve seen this happen to many others as well. It’s a great reminder for all of us to keep our priorities in line.
@Kathy: Knowing what you know is the key. Be present. Stay present. Fearing something that has never happened can only bring unnecessary frustration.
@Larry Hochman: Love that!
@Betsy: Again, I’m sorry to hear about your loss. You do have a lot of life left to live. I think the simple advice I gave Penny above applies to you as well. Get yourself involved in something that moves you. Follow through with activities that inspire you. Join meet-up groups with those who enjoy the same things. By doing so, you will begin to meet the right network of people.
@Stan and Vanessa Nunez: We will host another Austin meet-up soon in the next few months. We will get in touch with you via email as soon as plans develop. 🙂
@precious: It’s a process. Take it one step at a time. Healing a broken heart doesn’t happen in a week or a month. You will get there.
@Brenda: Thanks for sharing your story. Sorry to hear this. It sounds like you know you need to make some decisions for you own mental health and well being. Best of luck to you. Check back in with us please.
@Martin Haworth: Excellent advice.
@All: As always, it’s truly a treat to read your replies. So many beautiful, insightful thoughts. Thank you for sharing with us.
S Templeton says
Thank you for this post. I think you have a great list here of the main contributors to a long and happy relationship. Although I do think that these points will be ranked in different orders by different people.
I would certainly put ‘Not Judging’ as the top tip.
Thanks for sharing.
Sandy Peckinpah says
Wow…Number 10: All failed relationships hurt, but losing someone who doesn’t appreciate and respect you is actually a gain, not a loss. I never thought of it this way before! Somehow I always thought I had failed to make my self appreciated and respected, so I counted it as my failure. Your perspective is very freeing and absolutely true. In our relationships, we’re not always on the same learning curve at the same time. I can let those relationships go without feeling as though I’ve failed.
Marc – I am in the same situation as Magnus.
Your reply: Whatever you decide to do, make sure you aren’t hurting yourself. Be completely honest with yourself and your ex. If your friendship is hurting you, take some to heal first.
I am torn between the pain of letting go and not having this person in my life, but also the pain of having them in my life because it is painful, but blissful at times. It is SO hard to let go, especially when they don’t understand, or think about it.
What is your position after listening to all of this great advice? Have you made any new changes?
I think the value of a relationship is also embedded in how you serve each other. I like a woman to inspire me, and be a source of inspiration to her as well. Also, a relationship is bound to confront both people with their subconscious. When you help and support each other to grow, I believe that is one of the biggest values any relationship has to offer.
Trust is what I really lack in my relationship. Although, it’s a new relationship. I feel that there is infatuation somewhere
Wonderful tips and great insight! I have a really tough relationship with a manic mother and struggle with no. 2, I moan to my DH and brother but don’t tell her she has upset me because its too difficult to discuss without making the situation much worse. I am generally positive but I avoid a lot of issues in this relationship because its easier to ignore.
Nichole Rawie says
For me, I’ve done most of these, by no means is my relationship perfect.. but reading this again reassures me that I’m doing things right.. and again from a previous comment on another part of this blog, my concerns are for a very close friend of mine.. again she’s stubborn and won’t read something like this, even though it’d help her see some of the things that are making her relationship a bit strained. I do wish she would take the time and re-evaluate the way her life and her partners life is heading, especially because they have a baby on the way…
Dawie Mostert says
Great post and I cannot agree more with all the points as I’m married for 50 years, there is just one thing more I learned over the years and that is: “Yes Dear” 🙂
Much of this resonated with me. A few months ago, I hung up and departed from a 30-year friendship after too much dishonesty, compromises of time and the realization that our standards of living, towards ourselves, our children, family and friends were vastly too different. I struggle with #10, to a point. Once the limit is reached, tge door shuts and i have no regret, just forgiveness without “forget.” She couldn’t accomplish #2, and I tired of being one who overlooked it. I don’t worry about #3, because there’s nothing I haven’t said about the situation that I haven’t said to her. I appreciate all of this list! I do apply much of this already to my marriage. It’s a very useful, realistic set of food for thought, that I entirely agree with!
I think a really good tip that is often hinted at, but never really specified, is to keep making an effort. In other words, don’t slack off. If you made an effort to take out the trash by at least the second reminder in the beginning, why are you waiting until the twelfth now and getting an attitude? And always try to speak kindly, even when you don’t feel like it. Always think- How would I react if someone spoke to me in the tone I’m about to use? If you wouldn’t like it, don’t use it.
I’m struggling with #10. It’s really hard… You’re right. “Some people come into your life temporarily simply to teach you something. They come and they go and they make a difference.”
Lisa Rudy says
Day in, day out, you guys nail it. I honestly don’t think a day goes by where you two don’t validate or teach me something important.
Much thanks <3
Even the best relationships take work. So, thank you for reminding us that we need to put effort into building strong, healthy relationships. I definitely need to work on #1, Communication!! Well, I actually me. There are times when we interrupt each other while we’re in the middle of something. I’d like for us to either recognize that the other is in the middle of something or at least ask when is a good time to have a conversation.
Personally, I also need to work on being more present when in conversations. Oftentimes my mind wonders about my business, what I’m doing next, etc. I really need to practice being present. I think it will greatly help me build relationships.
Definitely struggle with #5. I’ve been in 2 relationships in my entire life and in both I gave all of me away to love them. In the first relationship He willingly took every ounce I would give him until I felt used and cheated out of wanting more for myself. In the second, I was left empty-handed, alone and broken when he left. I learned the hard way that giving ALL of yoursel doesn’t make them love you more. It only means you love yourself less.
My boyfriend and I are back together after about a year of being apart. So many people think that once a relationship is over- that it’s over. During that year, I discovered my self worth and realized that I had a huge wall up. Vulnerability has been my biggest struggle and my greatest accomplishment. After months of not talking to him, I called him and told him how much I missed him and that he had left a huge empty space in my heart. It didn’t happen over night, but after a few attempts to get back together- it finally clicked for him. We both had to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and to trust one another to treasure each other’s vulnerability. Once we did that- things have turned around and we are happier than ever.
David Ingham says
Yes relationships can be tricky and do need work. thanks for you post as I can take some valuable lessons from the points you have shared.
Forgiveness is a great one and move one on not getting hung up on the past.
And let the wrong ones go can also be enlightening advice and to focus on relationships that do matter.