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People say relationships are work, and I agree with them. But it doesn’t have to be hard or difficult work. Anything worth doing right is worth putting some time and work into it. I couldn’t build furniture if I didn’t spend countless hours in the shop, making countless mistakes.
I think the goal of relationships, of all kinds, is to make each other feel good. Sometimes we get lazy, and sometimes we’re not sure what the other person needs or wants.
Every once in a while, it’s good to review the basics of relationships, so we can build the best foundation. This is especially true during the pandemic. We aren’t meeting as many people, going on as many dates, or having the social opportunities we had before, so each meeting, date, or interaction is worth more these days.
Let’s make sure you’re making the most of every relationship!
I’m going to start with the most important aspect in any relationship: self-love. One of the most frustrating “romantic” lines in a movie was the sentence in “Jerry Maguire” “You complete me.”
Nobody should be completing anybody. This implies that a person is not whole to begin with, and that this someone or relationship is filling that void. That’s not a good look. We should be complete before we meet our other half.
This doesn’t mean we don’t have space for more within us, but people shouldn’t set out looking outwardly to try to fill something they lack. I have met many people over the years who would rather be in a bad relationship than no relationship. Their self-worth is wrapped up in the fact that someone wants to be with them.
It’s important to continue growing individually in a relationship and to learn more about who you are and accept yourself. This doesn’t mean it’s all going to be roses and candy, but know that only you set your value.
I know everyone has heard the phrase communication is key, and it’s listed in every relationship article for a reason: Nothing is more important in any relationship than communication. You can survive (almost) anything if you have a good open line of communication.
Look, I’m a relationship and communication expert, and this morning my wife and I had a fight. What was the fight over? Mistaken communication regarding who was taking the kids to school. Nothing major. But at its core were assumptions that both of us made without clearly communicating. It’s something that all of us can work on.
The best way of communicating your thoughts and feelings is to speak in “I” statements. If you use a lot of “you” sentences, the other person can get defensive. For example, “You didn’t listen to me!”
Don’t blame the other person, even if you feel you’re justified. Instead, talk about what you feel. For example, “It makes me frustrated and sad when I explained many times why I wanted it done this way and it wasn’t.”
It doesn’t mean you are going to avoid all fights and problems, but hopefully you can do it effectively and with your eyes and ears (and heart!) open.
I think humor is super important in any relationship. Jonathan Miller in “Laughing Matter: A Serious Look at Humor” suggests “humor was selected by evolution in order to keep our facility for categorization flexible. When we have a good laugh, we are looking at the world in a topsy-turvy configuration, which exercises our facility to flexibly redesign our relationships with one another and with reality.”
Whatever the reason for it, we like humor. People who laugh together stay together. There are many important functions of humor, particularly in a relationship. It can be a release valve. There’s so much craziness going on right now that sometimes you just need to laugh.
Humor releases tension and floods the brain with dopamine. Humor is important, too, because it is a demonstration of shared values. If you see somebody slip on the ice and fall, and one of you starts laughing and one of you rushes to help, the value systems are out of whack. (I’m not saying it’s good to laugh when someone falls, but man, “America’s Funniest Videos” would have been cancelled years ago without them!)
Humor also keeps things fresh. Humor is a side effect of misdirection or unexpectedness. We laugh when something contrary to our thought process happens. If we, in a relationship, are constantly trying new or unexpected things, there will be some unusual results, which can lead to lots of laughs.
I am insatiably curious. For instance, currently I’m reading “Find, Remind, and Bind: The Functions of Gratitude in Everyday Relationships” by Sara Algoe; “Relationship Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (ROCD): A Conceptual Framework” by Doron, Derby, and Szepsenwol; and “Minimal Social Interactions with Strangers Predict Greater Subjective Well-Being” by Gunaydin, Oztekin, Karabulut, and Salman-Engin.
I know, I know, so much excitement! But the point is I’m curious. Curious as to why things are, what they could be, etc. So I’m always trying to learn and grow. Part of it is my ADD, and part of it is that I think when you stagnate, you decay.
If you, say, married at 23 and are still together 20 years later, are you still the same person you were way back when? Of course not. Or rather I should HOPE not. It is good and natural to grow and change.
Memories are attached to emotions, and emotions occur when chemicals and hormones flood our body. When you do or learn something new with your partner, you feel excitement, fear, curiosity, happiness, adrenaline, and a host of other feelings and emotions. This makes the experience memorable.
When you continue to create new memories with your partner, you continuously update your happy memories.
Included with emotional support are intimacy and trust. I think these emotions fall under this umbrella.
At the very least, relationships exist to help support us. Familial relationships, friendships, and romantic relationships all support us in different ways. In a healthy relationship, you support each other through rocky times, tough days, emotional rollercoasters, and lockdowns, to name a few.
I met my wife when I was unemployed. Neither of us expected anything to come out of it, but here we are. Throughout the years, there were tough times for me. Times when even I didn’t have faith in myself. But, because she could see what I couldn’t, she supported me and encouraged me, and, boy, was it needed.
Part of this is about being happy for the other person. In a relationship, we are constantly using emotional bids — a variety of verbal or nonverbal behaviors one partner uses to gain the attention of the other. We can choose to respond to each other’s bids negatively, neutrally, or positively. For example, when one partner says to the other “Honey, look at that bird,” a negative response would be, “Too busy now.” A neutral response could be something like, “That’s nice, dear.” Reacting positively would sound like, “Oh, what color was it?!”
You are showing that you care about them and their emotions. Studies have shown that those who more routinely turn positively toward each other’s bids have a much higher happiness quotient.
The times people live in may influence what they seek in a relationship. In a brutal or dangerous society, you may look for protection. In a happy, healthy, joyful society, you may look for intelligence or spontaneity in a partner.
Now, with COVID-19 and who knows what else on the horizon, what we looked for previously in a partner may be different than what we look for today. I think the world, and our country, is going through a great deal of turmoil. I think people are looking for partners and other relationships who possess emotional intelligence they can use to help them process what’s going on.
It will be interesting to look back on my articles and see what has changed as the years and decades progress.