post written by: Marc Chernoff

11 Old-Fashioned Relationship Habits We Should Bring Back


11 Old Fashioned Habits that Will Save Your Relationships

Love is great when spoken, but greatest when shown.  Do little things daily to show your loved ones you care.

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting on a park bench eating a sandwich for lunch when an elderly couple pulled their car up under a nearby oak tree.  They rolled down the windows and turned up some funky jazz music on the car stereo.  Then the man got out of the car, walked around to the passenger side, opened the door for the woman, took her hand and helped her out of her seat, guided her about ten feet away from the car, and they slow danced to a song under the oak tree.

It was such a beautiful moment to witness.

This morning when I opened my laptop to write, the elderly couple immediately came to mind, and I spent a few minutes daydreaming about them, wondering how long they had been together and what their best relationship advice would be.  And just as I caught my mind wandering even farther off, a new email from a reader named Cory popped up.  The subject of the email was a question:  “Any good, old-fashioned advice for a struggling relationship?”

The synchronicity of my daydreaming and Cory’s question made me smile.

So in honor of that beautiful elderly couple, and in service of Cory’s present relationship situation, here are eleven old fashioned habits we need to bring back into our relationships:

1.  Spend quality time together with no major agenda and no technology.

Put down the smart phone, close the laptop and enjoy each other’s company, face to face, the old fashioned way.

There are few joys in life that equal a good conversation, a genuine laugh, a long walk, a friendly dance, or a big hug shared by two people who care about each other.  Sometimes the most ordinary things can be made extraordinary just by doing them with the right people.  So choose to be around these people, and choose to make the most of your time together.

Don’t wait to make big plans.  Make your time together the plan.  Communicate openly on a regular basis.  Get together in the flesh as often as possible.  Not because it’s convenient to do so, but because you know each other are worth the extra effort.

2.  Be fully present when you’re in the presence of others.

One of the best feelings in the world is knowing your presence and absence both mean something to someone.  And the only way to let your loved ones know this, is to show them when you’re with them.

In your relationships and interactions with others, nothing you can give is more appreciated than your sincere, focused attention – your full presence.  Being with someone, listening without a clock and without anticipation of the next event is the ultimate compliment.  It is indeed the most valued gesture you can make to another human being.

Your friends and family are too beautiful to ignore.  So give them the gift of YOU – your time, undivided attention and kindness.  That’s better than any other gift, it won’t break or get lost, and will always be remembered.  (Read A Return to Love.)

3.  Express your sincere appreciation for loved ones every chance you get.

No matter how sure you are of someone’s appreciation and admiration, it’s always nice to be reminded of it.  So if you appreciate someone today, tell them.  Just because they are reliable and there when you need them, doesn’t mean you should fail to give thanks and appreciation on a regular basis.  To value someone too lightly is to risk missing the depth of their goodness before they’re gone.

Sadly, it is often only when we are tragically reminded of how short life is – that today could easily be our last with someone we love – that we start to appreciate every day we have together as if it were.  Let this lesson sink in now.  Don’t wait until it’s too late to tell the people you love how much you appreciate them.

4.  Work together and help each other grow.

There is no soul mate or best friend out there who will solve all your problems.  There is no love at first sight that lasts without work and commitment.  But there are, however, people out there worth fighting for.  Not because they’re perfect, but because they’re imperfect in all the ways that are right for you.  You compliment each other’s flaws in a way that allows your souls to unite and operate more efficiently as one.

You will know when you meet one of these people, when through them you meet the very best in yourself.

5.  Focus on inner beauty.

When you get to really know someone, most of their prominent physical characteristics vanish in your mind.  You begin to dwell in their energy, recognize their scent, and appreciate their wit.  You see only the essence of the person, not the shell.

That’s why you can’t fall in love with physical beauty.  You can lust after it, be infatuated by it, or want to own it.  You can love it with your eyes and your body for a little while, but not your heart in the long-term.  Thus, when you really connect with a person’s inner self, most physical imperfections become irrelevant.

6.  Tell the truth.

Too many prefer gentle lies to hard truths.  But make no mistake, in the end it’s better to be hurt by the truth than comforted by a lie.  Relationships based on lies always die young.

Lying is a cumulative process too.  So be careful.  What starts as a small, seemingly innocent lie (possibly even with the intention of not hurting anyone) quickly spirals into an mounting false reality where the biggest factor preventing you from sharing the truth is the unwanted reputation of being known as a liar.  We lie to one another, but even more so we lie to ourselves most often to protect our “oh so fragile” ego.  We may even be inclined to lie to ourselves while reading this, not wanting to admit how often we have eluded the truth.  (Read The Four Agreements.)

7.  Apologize when you know you should.

Take personal responsibility for your wrong doings.  If you know your actions or words have hurt someone you care about, immediately admit your faults and face the reality of your actions.  An apology is the super glue of lasting relationships.

And make sure your apology is sincere too.  Say it and mean it.  Don’t bother apologizing if you’re just going to continue doing the things you said sorry for.  Never ruin an apology with an excuse.  Excuses are NOT apologies.

8.  Work out your relationship issues with each other, not with others.

This may seem obvious, but these days it’s worth mentioning:  NEVER post negatively about a loved one on social media.  Fourteen-year-old school kids post negatively about their boyfriends, girlfriends and friends on social media.  It’s a catty way to get attention and vent, when the emotionally healthy response is to talk your grievances over with them directly when the time is right.

Don’t fall into the trap of getting others on your side, because healthy relationships only have one side.

Furthermore, relationships don’t always make sense, especially from the outside.  So don’t let outsiders run your relationships for you.  If you’re having a relationship issue with someone, work it out with THEM and no one else.  (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)

9.  Be a force for positivity and encouragement.

Elevate your inner game.  A negative attitude is way below your horizon.

Our way of thinking creates good or bad outcomes.  It makes a big difference in your life and the lives around you when you stay positive.  So be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic.  If something is not to your liking, change your liking and carry on with smile.  Always turn a negative situation into a positive lesson and move forward.

Encourage the best possible results with your thoughts and words.  And teach this philosophy to those around you too.

10.  Over-deliver on your promises.

Be committed.  Commitment means staying devoted and keeping your promises, long after the time and mood you made the promises in has left you.  Doing so is vital to your relationships and long-term success in every imaginable walk of life.

So don’t just say it, show it.  Don’t just promise it, prove it.  Better yet, over-deliver on all your promises.  Supply far more than what’s required.  As Anne Frank once said, “No one has ever become poor by giving.”  Whenever you can, go out of your way and do something nice and unexpected for the people in your life, especially those who are in no position to repay you anytime soon.

11.  Be loyal.

Stand by those you care about in their darkest moments, not because you want to stand in the dark, but because you don’t want them to either.  Brave the shadows alongside them until they’re able to find the light.  On the flipside, stand by these same people on their sunniest days, not because you want to scorch your skin, but because you’re not afraid to let them shine bright.

In other words, be loyal.  Remaining faithful in your relationships is never an option, but a priority.  Loyalty means the world to the people who love you.  When someone believes in you enough to lift you up, try not to let them down.  You can’t promise to be there for someone for the rest of their life, but you can sincerely be there for them for the rest of yours.

The floor is yours…

What are some good, old-fashioned habits that have helped strengthen your relationships?  Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

Photo by: Alice Popkorn

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45 Comments

  • Great post. It’s been awhile since I’ve commented, but I’ve been reading. Just wanted to let you know I resonate and struggle with several of these relationship habits at times, but the first two stand out the most because those are the relationship traps I fall into most often. I need to be more present when I’m with the people I love. It’s so easy these days to distract ourselves with iPhones and handheld devices and every other shiny object.

    So 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.

  • Great reminders. I don’t think these should be thought of “old-fashioned” in any sense. They need to be carried out now as much as ever. Reading through the list made me feel great about my relationship, especially the point about being a force of encouragement. And I wish that for everyone.

  • These relationship tips are terrific! I am a couple’s therapist and will bring some of your ideas into the sessions I have this coming week with people struggling in their relationships. Keep up the good work. You are helping so many!

    PS: I, too, loved The Four Agreements. And I’ll have to check out your book now as well. Have a great one!

  • I fully agree with your first two points. So spot on! It’s the art of actively and consciously listening which we also struggle with. People today seem to not be present with so many distractions and with narcissism creeping in we tend to only think of what we want to say next rather than allowing someone to speak and be completely heard.

    Regular conversation is the key to success of every relationship and it is the first action I recommend for any issue ‘have you spoken in person about this’… no text or email.

  • Marc, this is fantastic! I know you and Angel have shared lots of relationship advice over the years, but this particular post hit the nail on the head.

    In my mind, it’s all about paying attention to one another - being present as you’ve said. Over the long haul, that’s what makes a good relationship great.

  • My husband still opens the door for me when I get in the car. My friends just smile.

    Don’t turn on the TV when you get home. Talk to each other. Often times, we get so wrapped up in what time a show is on that we forget or put off and important subject that should be talked about.

    If there’s something you enjoy together, take a class on it, or many. For my husband and I, it’s horses. Both of us grew up with them but even the most basic of classes have taught us something or introduced us to amazing friends and acquaintances. Often times, we find fund raisers that we can participate in that incorporate date night. Date night is important, too! We try to have 2 to 4 of those a night.

    And once in a while…holding hands or some subtle PDA is fun.

  • I love it! Old-fashioned, respectful ways of treating the people who matter to you.

    I’ll add: Help them grow. Work with them to learn and explore. Share in each other’s development.

  • I lose myself in technology when I don’t want to confront an issue that is bothering me with my husband. I’m afraid of his yelling and justifying and it’s easier to look busy. The problem only gets bigger. Sadly, we are busy losing the value in our relationships using technology.

  • NICE is what I have to say! When you are in a committed relationship, being spontaneous is another great show of your love! Also, laughter makes it even sweeter! Wish the world could read this post - would be a lot better place! :)

  • Great post. Another relationship habit is: Always dress very tastefully out of respect for yourself and each other. Dressing decently has almost been forgotten and this is a very worrying trend. It is always best to be appropriately covered and attired no matter the current raging fashion because decent dressing will never go out of fashion.

  • Good stuff. I would add holding hands, opening doors for each other, never going to sleep upset with each other and just being kind.

  • Superb and inspiring!

  • susan van den bergh
    July 10th, 2014 at 9:06 am

    I practice all the old-fashioned ways, habits. Not out of ‘obligation’, oh no, but rather spontaneously, out of true appreciation, gratitude, love & altruism. Brings such joy to oneself & others. Extend that to ’strangers’ too, chance encounters are wonderful…everyone has a tale, story to tell & the need to be heard.

    Don’t mind if others don’t ‘treat’ you likewise. In other words don’t expect same back, but rather have compassion for their ways, business, or whatever…love them anyway ! But by all means, let go of the ‘vampires’, good riddance hahaha!

    Happy day & progress to you all, Sue

  • HUG. HUG. HUG.

    My marriage made it through the rough 10-15 year patch, when we weren’t so sure it could. The kids were the center of everything and work took the rest of our energy. There were days we said out loud that we’d never make it into old age together.

    And then I read somewhere, to just hug.

    Hugging felt repulsive at that point, but we hugged. We hugged just past the point we felt the hug should end, and magically over time, that time expanded.

    Just celebrated our 25th Anniversary and I just hugged my husband as he left for a business trip. I mentioned that I didn’t want to wrinkle his shirt and he responded that he didn’t care. We now laugh about what will come as we grow old together.

    Hugging saved our marriage.

  • My husband and I have lived in many different cities during the 30 years of our marriage. Wherever we live, we always find places to exercise walk… SF, Pasadena, Dallas, Walnut Creek, etc. Sometimes they’re energetic exercise walks. Sometimes simply a good walk. It’s a great time to talk… or just be together and enjoy the moment. I also love it when we hold hands whenever we’re walking together somewhere… malls, parking lots, these walks.

  • Love the bit about appreciating each other. I think it should be like the first commandment of relationships

  • Thanks M&A. Another great post. Last two (10 and 11) are outstanding. Wordings and thoughts are superb in last two paras.

    Loved it :)

  • Dude - this is the best article I’ve read in months. I’ve been telling people some of these truths my whole life and you just gave me the perfect link and more to add in those conversations.

  • Two mantras that our marriage now lives by:

    1. Being nice matters
    2. The magic of ordinary days

  • WOW!!! What great information. A friend shared this with me and I’m so glad she did.

  • Bravo! #5 in particular!! How I wish I could have internalized this knowledge when I was taken over by my eating disorder. I just kept believing “being thinner” = “Being Loved.” Now someone loves me for my Inside Beauty and they would have long ago, if only I would have let them. Thank you!!

  • Yes, yes, and yes! The important part overall (taken from #1) “Not because it’s convenient to do so, but because you know each other are worth the extra effort.” My husband and I both work out of the house and it’s shocking how many days we barely connect because work is more important(?) good grief…

    Thank you for these terrific reminders.

  • The other night I saw an older couple pull over on the side of a country road and get out to watch the sunset together. She stood in front of him while he embraced her and they leaned back on the car. It was beautiful. Next time you see something beautiful, alone or with company, stop and watch for a while instead of instagramming or commenting as you speed past.

  • “So be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic.” This has its time and place. There is a reason we have ‘negative’ as well as ‘positive’ emotions, like a yin and yang. There is a benefit of allowing yourself to fully experience both.

    That being said, the overall points are well taken. My spouse and I could both do better on making the small efforts for each other, and I don’t let anything more serious go for long, without talking about it. We’ve been married for 22 years and overall do pretty well. I would like to find good ways to keep the romance alive and mutual interest high when either one or both of us is under a lot of stress. We tend to go into our own shells when that’s the case.

  • This is a Great Post! Some times we take our relationships so for granted. We get struck in the quicksand of Life and forget about nurturing our most prized relationships. I’ve been married for 40 years and it requires a lot of work, thought and commitment. In my travels thru life and my relationship ups and downs I found a list of “Love Nutrients” that I posted on my fridge ( Boy does it look grungy ) It consists of:

    *Caring
    *Trust
    *Understanding
    *Acceptance
    *Respect
    *Admiration
    *Acknowledgement
    *Appreciation
    *Validation
    *Approval
    *Reassurance
    *Encouragement

    These all correspond to all the points made in your post, and having this quick list to look at gave me many moments of reflection to access my actions and thoughts toward my husband and others that I love. Have I done these things? If not, it gave me a nudge in the right direction. Learning to truly apologize was hard. I learned that a true apology can never contain the word “but.”

    We have been going thru a lot of relationship changes, due to my husbands forced retirement, and it has been difficult. But we are working thru it all and are coming together towards a new and exciting time in our lives. We are learning to be together for and with each other. We are also new grandparents, which brings us such Joy and re-commitment as a couple and family. This post was very timely and I thank you both for all the info and encouragement that you give us all.

  • I have watched other couples who are so in love and loving with each other. The “thing” that struck me is acceptance. She accepts his help. He accepts her family. She accepts his goofy sense of humor. They embrace each other just as they are and don’t want to nor attempt to change anything.

  • Thank you. This is why my 25 year marriage has suffered so, every single one of these has been broken and stomped on. I have now had an affair, he multiple ones. We have been separated for 3 years. In this three years I have stopped drinking, my Mother has died and my house sold, I have been caring for my wicked step father while my husband has worked in another state. I have done hundreds of hours of Soul Searching and Reflecting, reading book after book. Forced myself to grow. I am going back to him as I just don’t know how to leave. And yes it all started because slowly, ever so slowly we just forgot about each other.

  • One of the best posts. So many people are so caught up with modernism, and many younger people think the “old fashioned ways” are long gone. This post is just wonderful.

    Being nice, honest, trustworthy. Every relationship is a give and take effort. Some days are good, others could be better. Work it out, don’t just throw it all away. Each of us has something.

    And remember, one day each of us will be that older person that will want to dance, or sing or whatever, the old fashioned way.

    Thank you so much. Totally agree.

  • That’s powerful WOW…”we don’t have to look to the shell but inside” - I am going to apply these old fashioned, smart methods to my marriage.

  • Great list!
    Points# 5 & 3 really resonated with me. I believe as with everything else in life, if you do not work towards making relationship better, it will deteriorate.

  • Loved reading this post. Excellent relationship advice!

  • Great post! Very true for relationships of all types. I see these tips as vital to building strong relationships with students in an educational setting ( with some adjustments). Strong relationships are key to student success!

  • I love this post. Every single tip is on point. I especially love #8. Very fitting in today’s world since social media is such a big part in today’s society. Working together and finding a common ground on a solution makes a relationship stronger, meaningful and a deeper connection.

  • @Ava, I know that under stress people withdraw, I withdraw. But the best thing is that I can withdraw *to* my boyfriend and say “I’m stressed, I need a hug.” We have learned what helps each of us deal with stress, and tried to be supportive. On the flip side, we also have to be accepting of the other person’s support, and accepting that they will actually help. Learning that requires listening to the other person’s needs and figuring out how best to help them in that time, if it is hugs or laughter or watching cute cat videos (cheesy I know), just sitting with our arms wrapped around one another, or even helping out around the house to take some stress off. But it all starts with communication… being able to be open and to say “I am stressed and here is why” and “I would like to help you deal with your stress, what can I do?” and “I would like X” and “Y isn’t helping today.”

    Thank you for this article, it is really good!

  • Marc,
    I bet that elderly couple were on their 3rd date. They probably met on a dating website for seniors. ;-)

  • AMEN, on #1 and #2. My wife of 28yr. feels it is cool and acceptable to be on her iphone almost most of her waking moments…because her professional daughter and the new husband do it. I feel it’s rude and totally abusive to her relationships. There is a proper time and place even for an iphone.

  • The Silent Knight
    July 11th, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Good post. I can firmly say I do some of those things, sort of do a few and definitely don’t do others.

    I live with some people who often don’t apologize. We are a tight knit group, but the way they don’t fess up irritates me sometimes. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, as a result I am very mindful about apologizing for my actions and words.

    On the other hand, I am practically a compulsive lier. Your description of people who lie a little to shelter other people and then continue in order to preserve their ego fits me to a T. I’m a lie addict. If I swear it off things get better for awhile. No longer allowing myself to hide my activities I live a better life. But everytime I succumb eventurally.

    Thank you again, this post is going in my bookmark bar.

  • While I’m still very young and rather relatively inexperienced, my only suggestion is to make sure to make the extra little effort to keep the intimacy fresh, whether it be holding hands as you walk together or kiss each other as you leave for the day or spicing it up in the bedroom. A stale, dull, sexless relationship is no good for anybody.

  • My partner of 8 years passed away at the end of February. He was only 48 years old, and me, 46 years old. So many of these things that I wish we would have done.

  • @Farhana: You’ve taken the first step and acknowledged that there’s a problem. What are some small steps you can take each day to make a positive difference? Think about it.

    @Gretchen: Beautiful and simple. I love it! Thank you for sharing your personal story.

    @Carol: I love the “Love Nutrients” hanging on the fridge… great idea! :)

    @MysticTraveler: It’s never to late to make a change. Look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I love you, and from now on I’m going to act like it.” It’s important to be nice to others, but it’s even more important to be nice to yourself. When you act as your own best friend, you allow yourself to be happy. When you are happy, you become a better family member, and you inspire others to be happier too.

    @All: As always, great insight. The bottom line is that every single one of our relationships starts within us. Before we point fingers we need re-evaluate how we’re contributing daily to our loved ones’ lives (and our own). Start with the basics.

  • I love this list. thank you so much. the ones that really stood out to me were #2 and #10.

  • Wise Woman in the West
    July 18th, 2014 at 1:58 am

    Hold hands….. count the days until you are together again. Right this minute my husband and I have been married for 157,730 hours…. it is 40 hours until I am with him again.
    Be kind to each other….

  • I love this. Its soooo true. And more people need to live authentically. Love!!

  • Boy do I miss living my life with someone romantic and true to what they claim to be. I’m a hopeless romantic who longs for finding someone same, Someone who likes living it that way you described here. It does make for intimate relationships and I am really so tired of talkers who give much less than they say they’re about. Immature people shouldn’t try to lead on those ready for intimate relationships.

  • Hi,

    Interesting advice. All these resonate strongly with me because I believe in and practice them, most of the time, at least.

    Just this morning, I was thinking of what you mention in #8 (speaking negatively about the important people in your life) . Very often, people say unflattering things about their parents; this was something I could never do as a child and I am still determined not to do, even as an adult. I share a strong relationship with my parents/ siblings, and we do have an occasional difference of opinion, but I believe nothing would justify speaking less than respectfully of one’s parents or family.

    Outsiders do not know everything about your relationship and they may be more judgmental about your near and dear ones than you. And like it or not, by speaking ill of them, you are betraying their trust. The same goes for all relationships, be they close ones like family and spouse or friendships and colleagues. But sadly, I would say less than 10% of people take this seriously.

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