These days, there’s no shortage of relationship advice out there. While we love a good in-depth relationship book, video or podcast, sometimes it can be helpful to just get back to basics. We’ve put together our favourite advice on how to improve your partnership, whether you’ve been together for 10 months or 10 years.
We all want healthy relationships; to feel happy, loved, supported, and part of a team. While every relationship is different, we often all have similar relationship goals. We aspire for intimacy, respect, open communication, shared responsibility and a sense of fun and adventure.
At the same time, it’s normal for relationships to change over time. As a result, they require ongoing work and attention. But no matter how long we’ve been with a partner, it is possible to improve a relationship with some tried-and-tested advice – whether through communication, changes to thinking and behaviour, and if needed, some outside help.
Here are some of the most important areas to work on when it comes to strengthening your relationship with your partner.
Know how to resolve conflict effectively
Some conflict is a normal part of any relationship. As our lives become more intertwined, we often have to compromise on big decisions, such as the division of housework, childcare, and changing goals we have for our lives, careers and finances.
Misunderstandings and arguments happen, but they’re not inherently bad for a relationship. They can be a way to clear the air, and finally resolve issues that may have been lurking under the surface for a while – as long as you manage conflict effectively.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure conflict doesn’t become damaging:
- Express your feelings honestly and stick to the matter at hand.
- Resist the urge to bring up a shopping list of everything your partner has done in the past.
- Resist name calling and insults.
- Don’t be hurtful or diminishing of the other person’s feelings.
- If your partner raises a concern, listen and try to understand what they’re saying without getting defensive.
- Ensure you’ve come to a resolution you’re both happy with at the end.
Above all, remember to be honest and compassionate – and keep in mind that the things that matter to us most are not always easy to talk about.
Be a good listener
It’s perhaps one of the most commonly-stated pieces of relationship advice, but many of us forget what being a good, active listener actually means. To be a better listener, keep the following in mind when you’re having a conversation with your partner:
- Keep comfortable eye contact.
- Lean towards the other person and make appropriate gestures to indicate genuine interest and concern.
- Keep an ‘open’ position – a relaxed posture with arms and legs uncrossed.
- Face the other person – don’t sit or stand sideways.
- Sit or stand on the same level to avoid looking up to or down on the speaker.
- Avoid distracting gestures, such as fidgeting with a pen, glancing at papers, or tapping their feet or fingers.
- Realise that physical barriers such as noise or interruptions are likely to make effective communication difficult.
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Take responsibility for your own actions
While it’s tempting to get caught up in the blame game, refocusing our attention on our own behaviour first and foremost is one of the most basic relationship tips that we often forget.
- Be supportive – don’t make judgments when your partner makes small mistakes or does things differently from how you would do them.
- Ask for help when you can’t cope with a situation.
- Show appreciation when your partner does something for you.
- Share the load – agree on who will do what in the household, and understand that these roles can change over time.
- Make time specifically for yourself – keep up your own hobbies, and do things that feel good for you, whether that’s soaking in a bath, reading, or talking to friends.
Small changes can make big differences
In long-term relationships we often assume we know all there is to know about our partner. But people change, and over time it’s easy to lose the sense of connection we once had.
That’s why it’s important to make an effort to do the seemingly small things that tend to just happen automatically when a relationship is new:
- Spend time alone together and continue developing common interests.
- Communicate your needs clearly rather than waiting for your partner to try guess what you’re thinking or feeling.
- Stay curious (but respectful) about each other.
Learn to recognise some of the warning signs of bigger relationship problems
Noticing early warning signs of relationship breakdown can help a couple resolve conflicts early before they become bigger issues. Some of these can be:
- Recurring arguments that are never really resolved.
- Overall feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
- Complaints of loss of feeling – one or both partners speak of no longer being in love.
- Abandonment of joint activities and a sense that you’re living parallel lives or have just become ‘roommates’ inhabiting the same space.
- Preoccupation with individual interests and activities outside the relationship, leading to one partner feeling neglected.
- Increased fatigue and reduced ability to meet responsibilities at work.
Realise it’s ok to seek professional relationship advice and support
If your relationship is displaying some of the early warning signs listed above, it can be useful to consider consulting a professional for some advice and counselling.
Seeing a relationship counsellor can help couples learn new ways of relating, communicating and resolving conflicts. Whether you speak to someone individually or as a couple, a counsellor can help you make sense of your experiences, develop ways of managing conflict and difference, and help you make decisions about your relationship’s future direction.
There are also relationship group courses available that can help teach you new skills, improve your current situation and prevent problems from occurring.
Remember: don’t be afraid to take the first step
For a relationship to be successful and satisfying, both partners must want to make it work and be kind to one another. Good relationships don’t just happen – they’re created by people willing to work at them as a team.
That being said, don’t always wait for the other person to make the first move. You may be surprised by how helpful even the simplest conversation can be.
Relationships Australia NSW offers a range of services and group programs for couples, as well as expert counsellors who can give you trusted relationship advice. Find out more about our services for couples.