As much as I love The Beatles, John Lennon was wrong about one thing: love is not all you need. Long-term relationships require hard work and compromise; falling in love is easy, but staying in love is hard. Relationship experts agree: love is not enough; it’s actually just the beginning.
With that in mind, I set three goals earlier this month for improving my relationship with my partner: appreciate, focus on the positive, and compromise. We have a great relationship already, but there’s always room for improvement. And one of the most meaningful ways to have a positive impact on the world is through your close relationships. Let’s check in on how it’s going.
- Appreciate. I originally thought practicing appreciation would mean doing things like saying “thank you” when my partner makes me coffee in the morning. While this is important, I’ve recently found myself appreciating my partner in terms of who he is as person, the experiences he has had, and the beliefs and values he espouses. We recently went through the New York Times’ list of 36 Questions to Fall in Love. This is a series of questions to “ask someone if you want to fall in love,” or I think perhaps more accurately, “to make your love even stronger.” The questions include everything from “What is your greatest accomplishment?” to “Tell your partner what you like about them.” Incidentally, this is a great zero waste date night activity. The instructions even tell you to grab some wine before you start (and if the instructions tell you to do it, you have to do it, right?!). Although I could predict quite a few of my boyfriend’s answers, there were others that surprised me. We got to know each other a little better, and in my opinion, grew to appreciate each other more.
- Focus on the positive. I don’t usually consider myself to be a negative person, but during the winter months, I tend to get a little down and the negative side of me comes out in full force. This leads to nit-picking and criticisms, and me just generally being the kind of partner I don’t want to be. That’s why it’s important to remind myself to be positive. The best (and maybe the only) way to do that is through practice. If I consistently remind myself to look for the positive attributes in my partner, and to find the silver lining in whatever circumstances we may be in, over time it will become automatic. Neural pathways in the brain are formed based on our behaviors and habits. When a behavior is repeated over and over, the neural pathway for that behavior strengthens, and the behavior becomes automatic. Responding in a positive or negative manner is just like any other habit. You respond in the way that you were trained, and if you want to be more positive, you have to train yourself to react positively. I really love this article from Tiny Buddha about how to train yourself to be more positive.
- Compromise. It was rather opportune that I chose this goal, because a lot of compromise has been required this month. Recently, my boyfriend’s family announced that they were going to come visit us next weekend. This really threw me for a loop because they live on the other side of the country, they rarely visit, and I’ve only met them twice. They also didn’t give us much notice. And did I mention there are six of them?! It’s going to be eight people in one small apartment with one bathroom for an entire weekend. Needless to say, I am more than a little anxious. Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone better, but preparing for their arrival has definitely been stressful. That said, my boyfriend is SUPER excited for this visit, and seeing him happy makes me happy. I may be giving up my weekend “me time,” but it’s for a good reason. It’s all about compromise!
There are obviously many, many more ways to cultivate healthy, loving partnerships, but these are just a few that I’m working on right now. Relationships are never perfect; they are always a work in progress. But with conscious effort, we can continually improve and enable them to thrive.