Relationships must be worked on all the time, not only when they are broken and need to be fixed.
Every fairy tale, it seems, ends with the same predictable phrase, “happily ever after.” And yet every amazing couple I have ever known agrees that nothing about a healthy, long-term relationship is forever happy. There are moments of bliss, no doubt, and lengthy spans of fun-loving companionship. Yet these good times come at no small effort, and the guy or girl who reads such fiction and dreams his or her troubles will end when he or she departs the altar is well advised to seek at once a reality check from a real, rational couple who has stayed together through thick and thin.
And that’s exactly what I did a couple decades ago. When Angel and I were first falling in love, I went to my parents for some relationship advice. Their advice gave me some much-needed perspective at the time, but what really made a difference was the family ritual born that day. Every year since, I’ve pestered my parents (they love it) on their wedding anniversary and asked them for a relationship tip or two, and I’ve recorded their advice in my journal.
Today, on my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary, I want to share a cleaned-up, copyedited version of my parent’s relationship tips. These are the little things they do – the rituals – that have helped their relationship last 40 years and counting.
- Embrace each other’s flaws. – New couples always fall in love with the most perfect aspects of each other. Who wouldn’t? It’s easy; anyone can love the most wonderful parts of another person. But that’s not what works in the long run. What works is this: Accepting each other’s flaws. Looking at your partner’s faults, and honestly saying, “I can work around this. I can support them and make the best of it.” Because the truth is, good qualities are always going to be there, and they’re always going to be pretty and handsome and wonderful, but the small bits of hidden ugliness underneath can ruin you if you don’t embrace it.
- Give them a chance, and another, and another. – To say that one waits a lifetime for his or her soul mate to come around is a bit of a paradox. People eventually get sick of waiting. You have to take a chance on someone special, and by the art of commitment you become soul mates, which takes a lifetime of second chances and compromises to perfect.
- Expect there to be some bumps in the road. – When we face pain in relationships our first response is often to sever bonds rather than to maintain commitment. Don’t do this to each other. The course of true love may never run smooth, but it will always be worth the ride.
- Don’t let others decide what is right for your relationship. – One of the biggest mistakes is believing there is one right way to listen, to talk, to have a conversation, or to have a relationship.
- Give up control. – A relationship is twice as complicated when one person is running it. True love is about giving up control. It’s surrendering the desire to control the other person. Loving someone and having controlling power over them are mutually exclusive circumstances. If we are serious about loving someone, we have to surrender all the desires within us to dominate the relationship.
- Be willing to be wrong. – Sometimes we choose to be wrong, not because we really are wrong, but because we value our relationship more than our pride.
- Make peace with each other as often as necessary. – Again, most of the time being peaceful and compassionate is far better than being right. Even if forgiveness doesn’t perfectly equate to reconciliation, lay down the sword and let it be. Life is short.
- Forgive each other. – True love is an act of endless forgiveness – a tender look that gradually becomes a ritual. And remember, forgiveness doesn’t always look attractive until we get to the other side.
- Be patient with each other. – Patience gives your partner permission to be human. It’s an understanding that everyone fails. When a mistake is made, it’s choosing to give them the time they deserve to correct it. It gives you the ability to hold on during the tough times in your relationship rather than bailing out under the first sense of pressure.
- Build trust, and exercise your trust in each other. – Every couple has ups and downs, every couple argues sometimes, and that’s just the thing – you’re a couple, and couples can’t function without trust.
- Make plenty of time for each other. – An incredible thing happens when you pay close attention. It’s by participating more in your relationships that you breathe life into them. (Read Getting the Love You Want.)
- Pay attention to the little moments. – Truth be told, when you really miss someone, you miss the little moments the most, like just laughing together.
- Compliment each other whenever it’s deserved. – Do not miss a chance – not one single, tiny opportunity – to tell someone you love how wonderful they are and how beautiful they are, inside and out.
- Give more than you take. – When you shift your attitude from “how can I gain” to “how can I give,” you’ll be amazed at the gifts you receive from each other. In a way, when you give each other everything, it magically becomes an even trade; each wins all.
- Be willing to do more than your part. – You know it’s never 50-50 in a great relationship at any given moment. It’s always 75-25, or 60-40. Someone falls in love first. Someone gives a little more. Someone works very hard to keep things rolling smoothly when times get tough; someone else sails along for the ride for a while. And it flip-flops back and forth, depending on whose soul is stronger at the moment.
- Encourage each other, through thick and thin. – We have enough critics. Be an encourager. One sincere word of encouragement after failure is worth more than a day of praise after success.
- Be honest, always. – An honest, loving heart is the beginning of everything that is right in a relationship.
- Follow through with your promises. – When you make a commitment you build hope. When you keep it you build trust. So don’t just say it, show it. Don’t just promise it, prove it.
- Work together. – You can’t lose when your biggest fan is your teammate in life…who wants to see you have it all, and is willing to work with you to get it.
- Talk to each other, not about each other. – Lots of problems in our relationships, and in the world, would disappear if we talked to each other instead of about each other.
- Communicate, even when it’s uncomfortable and uneasy. – One of the best ways to heal is simply getting everything on the inside out in the open. Keep in mind that every healthy couple needs to argue now and then. Just to prove that the relationship is strong enough to survive. Long-term relationships, the ones that matter, are about weathering the peaks and the valleys. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Open up to each other about personal problems too. – Troubles and flaws are a part of your life. If you try to hide them, you don’t give the person who loves you a chance to love you fully. Remember, our wounds are often the openings into the best and most beautiful part of us.
- Admit your mistakes. – Mistakes are usually forgivable, if one has the courage to sincerely admit them.
- Be each other’s listening ear, or shoulder to lean on. – Sometimes we simply need someone who will be there for us. Someone who will sit there and listen. Someone who is genuinely concerned. Be that person for each other when you can. True love isn’t about being there when it’s convenient, it’s about being there when it’s not.
- Listen closely. – Don’t listen with the intent to reply. Hear what is being said with the intent to understand.
- Be willing to be silent when silence is needed. – If you can’t understand someone’s silence, you will have a hard time understanding their words when they arise.
- Keep an open mind. – Couples are still two totally different people with different ideas about the world. Expect differences of opinion. Always open your mind before you open your mouth.
- Focus on each other’s positive qualities. – Too many relationships fail because we spend more time pointing out each other’s mistakes and not enough time enjoying each other’s company.
- Behave like each other are worth it. – Time decides who you meet in your life. Your heart decides who you want in your life. But your behavior decides who will stay in your life. (Read The 5 Love Languages.)
- Accept each other without trying to change each other. – To be fully seen by someone, even at the lowest of moments, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on being truly divine.
- Be respectful and gentle with each other’s feelings. – The most precious possession that will ever come to you in this world is another person’s heart. When it arrives, show only love, kindness and respect.
- Don’t purposely bring each other down. – Don’t hurt someone you love just because you’re hurting at the moment.
- Use your words to lift each other up. – Be gentle and kind. Think before you speak. The words you choose can only be forgiven, not forgotten.
- Make each other laugh. – Hard bodies and conventional sexiness wears thin after awhile. Physical beauty fades. But to be in a long-term relationship with a man or woman who makes you laugh every day, ah, now that is a treat.
- Do little things daily to show each other you both care. – Go out of your way to show your affection. Knowing that the person you’re thinking of has you on their mind too means a lot.
- Express your appreciation. – Sometimes people don’t notice and appreciate the things others do for them until they stop doing them. Don’t do this to yourself or your partner.
- Encourage each other. – Encouragement requires empathy and seeing the universe from your partner’s perspective. We must first learn what is important to our partner. Only then can we give encouragement. With verbal encouragement, we are trying to communicate, “I know. I care. I’m with you. How can I support you?” We are trying to show that we believe in them and in their abilities. We are giving attention, credit and praise.
- Be there for each other, even when you’re apart. – When you love someone it’s not all about being with them every second; it’s about being there for them when they need you, even when you’re physically apart.
- Be loyal. – When it comes to relationships, remaining faithful is never an option but a priority. Loyalty is everything.
- Take care of yourself too. – Being kind to yourself in thoughts, words and actions is as important as being kind to someone you love. Because you can’t give them what you don’t have.
In your relationship with your partner, seek the love you deserve, but keep in mind that perfect is the enemy of good. Aim high, but do not aim so high in your relationship expectations that you completely miss the target.
What really matters is that your partner will love you, that they will respect you, that they will honor you, that they will be unconditionally true to you, that they will give you the freedom of expression and let you thrive in the exploration and growth of your own gifts.
They will never be perfect, but if they are kind and considerate, if they know how to work diligently and help provide for your family, if they are honest and full of goodwill, the chances are you will not go wrong, and that you will be tremendously happy in the long run, even if you have to go through some really tough times too.
The key, in any case, is to build rituals (like the ones above) that allow your relationship to adapt and grow through thick and thin.
The floor is yours…
Which of the relationship rituals above resonated with you the most? Which ones do you need to work on? What else would you add to the list? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Photo by: Kevin Fotografie