“You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” Epicurus
The average American spends 2160 days in school, and based upon the average life span, that’s 12% of all the days of our lives spent in school. During that time, we learn about things such as math, science, reading, writing, languages, etc. These are all important topics to help us function in the world and become productive adults.
But at the end of our lives, when we’re lying there close to taking our last breath and reflecting upon our lives, there will be precious little that will be more important than the quality of our relationships. Where was that class?
Where was the class that taught women how to set healthy boundaries?
Where was the class that taught men how to feel and express their emotions?
Where was the class on how to actively listen in order to understand our partners?
Where was the class on how to fight fairly and resolve conflict in a productive way?
Where was the class on how to take responsibility for our own happiness?
The short answer is that it didn’t exist. So we all enter into relationships with the best of intentions but precious little training outside of what we saw modeled for us at home, by others that also had no training. This forces us to use the trial and error approach and we end up making more mistakes than we care to admit. And then with each failed relationship, we drag our baggage with us from one relationship into the next.
We shouldn’t be surprised that approximately half of all US marriages end in divorce since we haven’t been set-up to be successful in this area of our lives. But here’s the good news: this is a learned skill and it’s never too late to learn it.
So in a few hundred words or less, here are 10 pieces of relationship advice that we all should have learned long ago:
Our Happiness is Our Responsibility. Our partners are not responsible for our happiness; we are. When we’re happy and fulfilled, we’re a better partner and more enjoyable to be around. When we’re not happy, it is our responsibility to figure out what we need to do in order to be happy – even if that means to leaving a toxic relationship.
Express What We Need. If we don’t ever share with our partners our specific needs or preferences, how are they supposed to know? They’re not mind-readers. We set our partners up to fail when we place our needs and desires on the back-burner and don’t tell him or her what we need.
Allow Emotions. When we suppress our emotions, they don’t magically go away; those emotions live beneath the surface and either erupt at a later date or like a cancer, fester and begin infecting everything around it. Emotions are there as guidance for our lives and are meant to be felt.
Fight More Productively. This looks like listening, agreement or compromise, and using arguments as an opportunity to see and understand our partners differently. Unproductive arguing looks like fighting about the same thing over and over again, needing to be right, and shutting down or walking away. Toxic arguing is name calling and personal insults; don’t do it.
Effort, Not Work. Contrary to popular belief, relationships don’t have to feel like work, but they do require effort. Just like every garden needs watered and tended to, so do our relationships. When we pay attention to it, nurture it, appreciate it and make it a priority in our lives, it can grow fruit.
Have each other’s backs. There will always be times when we need someone solid in our respective corners; it might as well be the person with whom we said we would walk through this life.
Take Responsibility. Our actions, choices and behaviors in the relationship are our responsibilities. It’s easy to blame our partners and off-load that accountability, but that is never the full story.
Touch each other. Yes, we’re companions, but we are also lovers and human touch is a basic human need for all of us.
Treat yourself with kindness. We teach our spouses how we want to be treated – not through our words – but by how we treat ourselves. We cannot expect others to do for us what we will not do for ourselves.
Forgive. Forgive again and again. Forgive ourselves and our partners. We’re each going to screw this up occasionally and so will our beloveds.
We’ve all made more than our fair share of mistakes in relationships, but it’s not like we had a lot of training. So rather than beating ourselves up, we can instead see it as an opportunity to learn and apply new knowledge and tools so that our relationships can evolve and feel good again.