Have you ever noticed that when you are having relationship problems, all of a sudden everyone around you is a relationship expert? Friends, family members, work colleagues – the stream of well-intentioned relationship advice seems to come at you from every angle. And most of the time the conflicting advice you receive can leave you feeling more confused than before you brought it up with any of them.
With all the different sources of information we have access to now, seeking advice can get overwhelming. So to make what can be a complicated area of life simpler, we have gathered the best pieces of relationship advice from around the world, and put them all in one place.
1. It’s Not Your Partner’s Responsibility To Make You Happy
How often have you heard people in relationships say “he just makes me feel so bad about myself” or “she makes me so angry”?
The truth is, nobody can make you feel anything.
It is up to you to accept responsibility for how you feel. This is an important part in owning your personal power. Amy Morin, licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and author explains that:
“At some point, almost everyone has given someone else power over the way they think, feel, or behave.”
She goes on to explain that one of the most effective ways to retain your personal power is to accept responsibility for how you feel.
“Don’t let other people’s behaviour dictate your emotions (and) instead, accept that it is up to you to manage your emotions, regardless of how others behave.”
Not only are you giving away your own personal power when you outsource your happiness, you are also setting expectations of your partner that are unrealistic, and that will put a lot of unnecessary pressure on your relationship. Now repeat after me:
“I am in control of my own happiness” and “My partner is in control of their own happiness.”
2. Effective Communication Is Not Just About What You Say
The most common issue couples have is miscommunication. With this comes frustration and disconnection resulting in a lack of intimacy and trust.
Tony Robbins explains that:
“People often confuse communication for talking or making conversation, and this is the root cause of why many of these same people are so unsuccessful in communicating with their partners.”
Robbins continues that everyone has different ways they give and receive information:
“Communication in relationships, at its core, is about connecting and using your verbal, written and physical skills to fulfil your partner’s needs – not just making small talk. Some people like to talk, some prefer touch and others are more visual or respond better to gift giving than an outward discussion of feelings. You probably know which communication style you prefer, but what about your partner’s?”
Effective communication in relationships is not only about being aware of how we send out information, but also how we receive it. Scenarios such as one partner thinking everything is fine and the other thinking “he/ she never listens to me” are all too familiar.
Active listening is integral in the communication process, this involves being fully present to your partner. Put down your phone. Turn off the TV. Get closer to your partner when they want to speak with you (no yelling to each other from another room).
Give your partner your full attention so they know they are your number one priority and that what they are saying matters. Also, clarify that you have heard them properly, and that you understand what they have said by repeating back what you have heard in your own words.
3. Identify Your Love Language
Not only do we all communicate in different ways, we all experience love in different ways. One person’s way of giving and receiving love can be completely different to their partner’s. Because we usually give love the same way we receive it (because that’s our love language), often we are not giving love in a way our partner likes to receive love / feel loved.
Dr. Gary Chapman, speaker, counselor and author of The 5 Love Languages® series says:
“Everyone experiences love differently, and it’s easy to miss the mark when it comes to showing that you care.”
Dr. Chapman called these ways of expressing and receiving love the “5 Love Languages.” They are Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch.
His books and his free online The 5 Love Languages® quiz helps couples to understand each other. Each individual has at least one language that they prefer above the other. And once you and your partner know what each other’s love language is, it takes the guesswork out of how to give and receive love in meaningful ways.
Underpinning everything we’ve covered so far is one of the most important elements of any successful, healthy, long-term relationship — Respect.
The couple that holds the world record for the longest marriage, Zelmyra and Herbert Fisher (86 years) said the best piece of marriage advice they ever received was “Respect, support, and communicate with each other. Be faithful, honest, and true.”
On the website loveisrespect.org, respect is explained in a thorough, easy to understand way:
“In a healthy relationship, partners are equals, which means that neither partner has “authority” over the other. Each partner is free to live their own life, which can include deciding to share some aspects of their life with their partner. Respect also means that, while we may not always agree with our partner/s, we choose to trust them and put faith in their judgement.”
How do you show respect in a healthy relationship?
“Respect in a relationship is reflected in how you treat each other on a daily basis. Even if you disagree or have an argument, you are able to respect and value each other’s opinions and feelings by ‘fighting’ fair. Respect isn’t about controlling someone or making them do what you want them to do. Respect is actually about the freedom to be yourself and to be loved for who you are.”
5. Have Clear Boundaries
Setting and sticking to clear boundaries can be the difference between a healthy, happy relationship and a toxic, dysfunctional relationship.
Loveisrespect.org exlplains that:
“Talking about your boundaries with your partner is a great way to make sure that each person’s needs are being met and you feel safe in your relationship.”
Some boundaries to consider are how much time you spend apart, when you will be physically intimate, who you will talk to about your relationship, what details of the relationship you are comfortable sharing.
6. Know Your Values
Tony Robbins explains the importance of values in his book Awaken The Giant Within:
“To value something means to place importance on it. All decision-making comes down to values clarification.”
Values bring energy and direction; they’re at the heart of what makes an individual tick. When you know what’s most important to you, making a decision is quite simple – individually, and as a couple.
So to start the process of working out your values, Robbins suggests answering one simple question “What’s most important to me in life?” then brainstorm the answers. Once you have a list of answers, arrange them in order from most important to least important (these are your “moving-towards values”).
The flip-side of the exercise is making a list of what Robbins calls “moving-away from values”. These are the things you actively avoid in life. Arrange these in order too. Seeing these will help you get clarity over your avoiding behaviours, and have greater clarity in your decision making.
Robbins’ next step is a big one, something most people may not have done before. Now ask yourself “What type of person do I need to be in order to achieve all that I want in life? In order to be that person, what would my values need to be? What values do I need to add / eliminate?”
Think about all areas of your life when you answer these values questions, paying special attention to your relationship. What sort of person do you need to be in order to have the relationship you want?
7. Let Go of the Small Stuff
After the honeymoon period is over in a relationship, it can become easy for couples to slip into “the comfort zone”. In this comfort zone are things like laziness, lack of effort and nit-picking over things that you may not have even noticed in the blissful getting to know each other stage.
In their book “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff – in Love“, Dr. Richard Carlson and his wife Kristine Carlson explain how couples can avoid letting the little everyday irritations in life get to them, and how to appreciate each other. Their top tips include:
- Let It Go Already – in summary, make the decision to forgive, forget and move on.
- Throw Away Your Scorecard – don’t keep score of what you do and what your partner isn’t doing.
- Allow Your Partner To Be Human – remember that you are in a relationship with a fellow human who is doing the best they can.
- Learn To Laugh At Yourself – learn to laugh at yourself and diffuse potential arguments with the power of humour.
8. If You Can’t Avoid the Fight, Fight Fair
No relationship is perfect, and part of any healthy relationship is the ability to have discussions and air concerns with your partner to avoid “bottling things up” and potentially having outbursts about unrelated issues later on.
Another gold nugget from “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff – in Love” is ‘Don’t Fight Unless The Mood Is Right‘. When someone is angry, you are not going to be speaking to the person, you will be speaking to the mood. Giving each other space when one of you (or both of you) are in a bad mood, and coming back to discuss your concerns when feeling more level-headed is a more rational way to deal with disagreements.
The site Love Engineer with relationship experts from around the world has a list of Do’s and Don’ts when fighting (how to fight fair) including:
- Do not attack or give insults
- No yelling, throwing, hitting or pushing
- No blaming, criticizing and / or judging
- No giving the silent treatment
- Do take responsibility for what you can change or how you can improve the relationship
- Ask for what you need in the relationship
- Work on seeing the other person’s perspective.
9. Parents – Don’t Forget About Your Partner!
Relationships Australia, Inc. has a range of advice sheets to help with different aspects of relationships, with one focus area being Parenting and Relationships. Their sub-topic in this focus area is ‘Don’t forget about your partner’:
“If you are feeling overwhelmed by caring for children, working and doing a million other things, it’s easy to start taking your partner for granted. Try to find time for yourselves, even if you are busy and tired.”
Which brings us to the next important piece of advice…
10. Make TimefFor Date Night
Drs. John and Julie Gottman of The Gottman Institute advise that “The plain and simple truth is date nights make relationships.” And in case you’re wondering what a date night is, they explain this as “A date night (or date afternoon or morning) is a pre-planned time where the two of you leave your work life and work-in-the-home life, and spend a set amount of time focusing on each other, and really talking and listening to each other.”
The Gottmans go on to list the most common date night obstacles, and how to overcome them:
TIME – scheduling / blocking out time in your calendar and showing up no matter what.
MONEY – dates don’t have to cost a thing. Going for a walk along the coast or in the bush, sitting in a park watching the world go by, or taking a trip down memory lane going through old photos – you are only limited by your imagination!
CHILDCARE – “Trade childcare with other couples (in your friends group). If that’s not possible, see if a trusted family member or close friend will help you in your quest to spend sacred time together. Look for inexpensive babysitters in your neighborhood, or ask friends for recommendations.” suggest the Gottmans.
11. Don’t Neglect the Importance Of Intimacy
Intimacy is something not always discussed openly, a topic often linked to sex can sometimes even be seen as a taboo subject. However, intimacy is much more than just physical intimacy.
Relationships Australia defines intimacy as:
“Intimacy is about loving trust and support; accepting and sharing in your partner’s feelings, being there when they want to let their defences down and knowing that your partner will be there for you.”
According to Brené Brown, an expert on social connection, the key to unlocking intimacy is the ability to be vulnerable. Brown says:
“if you want to cultivate deeper relationships, you have to take your “armor” off, no matter how vulnerable it makes you.”
An article in Psychology Today titled “The Real Secret To Intimacy (and Why It Scares Us)” also explores this connection between vulnerability and intimacy:
“To know that you are seen and loved for who you are, and to perceive someone else in all of their vulnerability and love them as they are, may just be one of life’s most fulfilling experiences.”
12. Leave a Toxic Relationship
So far, we’ve covered advice relating to staying in a healthy, loving relationship. But sometimes relationships just aren’t made to last – toxic relationships. (If you are unsure about whether you are in a toxic relationship you may want to check out this article: 8 Signs of a Toxic Relationship)
Ending any relationship is not a pleasant process, however ending a toxic relationship has a whole new level of complexities and things to be aware of. You will need to be mentally, physically, emotionally and financially prepared to end it otherwise (as most research will show) you will continue to go back to the toxic environment.
However, according to Power of Positivity, there are many ways to get out of a toxic relationship peacefully. We have listed the top 3 below:
- Surround yourself with positive social support
- Identify and express your emotional states
- Find a lesson in the distress
13. Long-Distance Relationships Can Work
With so many people meeting online as well as a lot of people working away from their partner or family, it’s no wonder this is one of the most searched relationship topics. The old saying goes “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, and in the case of a long-distance relationship, never a truer word has been spoken.
Having a strong support network around you is important to you. And this video offers some helpful advice including communicating regularly and creatively, making plans together and having a goal (end date) for the long-distance element of the relationship in mind:
14. Maintain Your Sense of Self
If your entire world revolves around your relationship and you become all about the other person, chances are you are not taking time to nurture hobbies, friendships or taking care of yourself. Maintaining your sense of self in a relationship is critical, after all, your partner fell in love with you and everything that makes you unique.
Sharon Martin, licensed psychotherapist and co-dependency expert, explains that there are many ways you can maintain your sense of self in relationships including:
“Knowing what you like and what matters to you; Asking for what you want, rather than always deferring to his/her wants; Not keeping yourself “small” or hidden to please others; (and) Staying true to your values”
15. Keep the Spark Alive
In an article published in Self, several couple’s therapists explain ways to keep the spark alive in a long-term relationship. From making a game out of it, to checking in with each other every day, all the way through to downloading a special app to help reignite the flame in the bedroom – there is sure to be something in this article to help everyone.
16. Regain Broken Trust
Dr. Magdalena Battles says it best that
“Trust is the rock upon which all relationships exist. If that rock is chipped away by deceit, over time the foundation crumbles.” She continues with “When something more serious happens such as infidelity in a marriage, the trust and foundation are broken in an instant. It is not easy to rebuild trust, but it is possible.”
She suggests the COME FORTH method to overcome broken trust in a relationship.
For the offender:
- C: Come clean
- O: Open yourself emotionally
- M: Make meaningful conversations
- E: Engage in full transparency
And for the person who has had their trust betrayed:
- F: Forgive
- O: Open conversations
- R: Request what you need to get back to a healthy relationship
- T: Talk about the betrayal to a confidant or professional
- H: Heal yourself to heal the relationship
17. Be Supportive in Stressful Times
Robbins Research International has published just how important being supportive of our partner during stressful times really is:
“When we routinely provide our partners with the emotional support they need, we can create a new depth of love in the relationship. Because as ironic as it may seem, when stress makes your partner more ornery, argumentative, or distant, that is when he or she needs you to show up the most.”
18. Be Patient (And Realistic)
Patience is an important element in a healthy relationship, especially in the initial stages when old habits need to be ironed out or baggage let go. But what about later on in the relationship?
Monica Parikh, attorney, writer and dating coach, points out that we need to look at our partner’s actions – do they match their words? Has your partner committed to counseling or made a commitment to change? Or are they simply saying what they think you want to hear to get you off their back?
“You have only one life to live. Don’t waste it on a promise and a dream, especially absent a real commitment” — Parikh
19. Love and Fear Go Hand in Hand
Sheryl Paul, M.A., shares insight into her time as a love coach:
“Love is the biggest risk we take. When we love, we open our hearts, our minds, our bodies, and our souls to another, and as such, nothing renders us more vulnerable to being hurt and to experiencing loss.”
“Fear doesn’t often show up as pure fear (but instead as) irritation, doubt, numbness, and indifference. When these feelings show up, it doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong relationship. On the contrary, it means you’re quite likely in the right relationship, and the fear-based self—knowing the inherent risk of sharing love with an available partner—is trying to protect you from getting hurt.”
Relationships can be the most challenging, and the most rewarding part of your life. We have covered a lot of advice topics under the umbrella of relationships to help with the most common questions asked. By following this advice, and turning towards your relationship, giving it the attention it deserves, you will be pleasantly surprised with how deep your connection with your partner can truly be, and how fulfilled you will feel.
More Practical Relationship Advice
Featured photo credit: Candice Picard via unsplash.com