Building A Strong Relationship
A good relationship takes work. You always read articles that begin with “The Secret to…” and end with “relationship” or “marriage”. But, the truth is that there is no secret. There is no substitute for good old-fashioned hard work when it comes to making a relationship last.
That’s a good thing. It means that you know what you are in for at the beginning and what it will take to win and keep the heart of someone you love. Hard work isn’t all bad. In a relationship, it is also meant to be fun since we’re talking about romance and love.
In this report we will talk about relationships before marriage but the main focus will be on marriage. Couples don’t always have trouble saying “I do” but they do have some issues with maintaining the “’til death do us part” bit. Statistics still show that about half of the marriages created end in divorce. This doesn’t have to be the case with your union.
We’ll explore some reasons why couples don’t stay together and what can possibly be done to head that off. Also, there are a few tips to keep the home fires burning in good and bad times. So, without further ado, let’s strengthen that marriage!
What did he say? What did she say?
Communication has always been a two-way street. That doesn’t mean that both people talk at the same time. No one gets anywhere with that. If one person is talking, then the other person has to be listening if anything is going to come of the exchange.
Men may be from Mars and women from Venus but if you want to meet up on Earth, you’ll have to come to an understanding. Here are a few tips for effective communication with your partner.
1) Show respect – A person can tell right away when they are not being listened to. Continuing to read the newspaper or surf the internet when someone else is talking is a blatant sign of lack of respect. No matter what you say, your mind can’t fully concentrate on two different things at once. You will miss vital parts of the conversation from the beginning.
2) Remove all distraction – This includes the newspaper and the computer. If you have to, take a walk or sit at the kitchen table. Wait until the kids are asleep (if you have them) so you can have each other’s undivided attention. Just this effort sends a message to the other person that their feelings matter.
3) Learn to listen – You’d be surprised how many people don’t know how to listen properly. Most of us are preparing what we are going to say next instead of hearing what is being said. When that happens, we miss the point of the conversation and only latch on to what we interpret as the negative bits, planning our comeback words. Instead, hear what is actually being said.
4) Learn to interpret body language – This goes for both partners. If you are speaking, how would you feel if you noticed that your partner was fidgeting, crossing their arms and rolling their eyes? Your first thought would probably be that they weren’t listening or that they were disgusted with what you had to say. Be careful how you look to others when they are speaking to you.
On the flip side, watch the body language of the speaker. If they are fidgeting, it could signal that the topic is hard for them to discuss and they are nervous. You can ease that feeling with a reassuring glance as they speak. The body gives off subtle clues that are most helpful during communication if we are willing to listen and look for them.
5) Talk about something other than the kids or bills – Couples get into a rut where they automatically ask about each other’s day as a courtesy. Whether they are really listening to the response is anyone’s guess, but that is not construed as a conversation. Set aside time to talk about the two of you. It could be watching a news program and sharing opinions. Or, watching a game show and trying to guess the answers. To stay connected, stimulating conversation on other subjects is essential.
6) Show empathy – This is not pity, but opening yourself up to an understanding of what it is like to live in another person’s world. Empathy shows that you are trying to understand what it is like for your partner in their particular situation. It sends a message that you are willing to move outside of yourself and consider someone else’s feelings over your own.
When You Start Dating
For most people who date, the sun and moon rises in your mate’s eyes. It’s like “love at first sight” for you. Don’t mix infatuation with love. It is during this stage that we make our biggest mistakes that can ruin love down the line.
Now, everyone who dates is not looking for a forever love match. Dating is also about fun and meeting other people. When you meet the person who sparks more than a passing interest, you might decide to pursue it further.
Here are some of the mistakes we make during this time that can cause heartache.
1) Gazing and not talking – We are often blindsided by the person’s looks or their refreshing attitude, so we don’t communicate as fully as we need to in order to see if the relationship is even promising.
You don’t have to bombard them with a mountain of questions but this is the “get to know you” stage, so make it count. Ask about religious beliefs, marriage beliefs, kids, finances and the like. If the relationship goes no further, then fine. But, if it does, then you know what you are getting into.
2) Pet projects – This happens when someone says something that you don’t agree with but you decide that you will simply change their opinion as you get to know each other. These people become the partners that get married with the confidence that they can change their mate’s attitude later.
This is a big no-no. The only person you can change is yourself. If your potential mate has an anger problem or spends money like water, take that as a sign. No matter how good looking they are or how “into you” they seem, that attitude won’t change if they don’t want it to.
3) Take your time – We are often too quick to rush into a relationship because someone shows interest in us. No matter what your age, you can find the right person. Settling for less than you deserve demeans you and wastes your love on someone who won’t appreciate it. Get to know the person as fully as you can before moving to the next stage.
This also goes for sexual relations. Everyone won’t wait for marriage, but at least wait until you are sure that this person has something to offer. Sex has a way of muddying the waters and making you stay when you know you should leave.
So you believe that this person is the one. Now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. You are seriously thinking of becoming linked for life. Ask the hard questions. Do it because you love the other person. Sure, it’s scary because they might express an opinion that you don’t know if you can live with. But, it’s better to find out now than after you walk down the aisle.
1) Consider pastoral counseling – Every couple needs counseling before they say “I do.” Lots of ministers won’t marry a couple unless they have been through a certain number of counseling sessions with them. Counseling is not harmful and it can work to clear the air between you concerning certain issues: childhood influences, parental issues, looking towards the future, kids, religion and the like. It is there to help.
2) Explore your value system – You don’t have to be compatible on every point, but some are immutable. For instance, if your future husband believes that a woman’s place is in the home, then that will be a problem if you already have a career. They may expect you to naturally give it up when you take your vows.
These things are often not discussed and then both partners are disillusioned from the start. Discuss financial matters (who pays the bills, what gets spent, who manages the money), children (to have or not to have) and your family values now before you get into something that is hard to undo.
After you say “I do”
This is when the real work begins. But, you have already laid the groundwork if you have avoided the pitfalls mentioned above. You are going into the new phase of your relationship with your eyes open.
There are a few things that you will need to keep the lines of communication open here. After the vows is not the time to clam up and expect everything to work out magically. You are still two different people coming together to form a new singular life.
1) Commitment – This is a big word that can scare anybody. In a nutshell, it means that you are willing to work through differences, setbacks, challenges and whatever else may come your way. All too often, we give the relationship up as doomed at the first sign of trouble. Use your love for the other person and the springboard to take action to save what you are trying to build.
2) Positive vibes – It is easy to become negative. Have you noticed that? Each day won’t be wine and roses. You will have to dig deep to understand the other person. Here’s an example. The husband comes home from a hard day at work. The wife is miffed because he is late and dinner is cold. So, when he walks in and says hello, she starts right in with “Where have you been?” and “You’re late.”
This scenario can go one of two ways. He can respond in the same acidic tone and create an argument. Or, he can interpret that there is something wrong here and ask his wife what the problem is in a patient voice. As individuals we are quick to jump at a slight. As a married couple, we must dig a little deeper.
Now, this doesn’t negate the fact that the wife could have handled things better in this situation. But, we all have bad days and times when we are irritable. It will be her turn soon to show understanding. But, how you handle your interpretation of the situation can make all the difference to the outcome.
3) Acceptance of your spouse – We are all different. They say that you don’t know someone until you’ve lived with them. That’s true when it comes to the little things like leaving the cap off the toothpaste or never closing drawers or leaving dirty dishes around the house. You may laugh, but it can become a real bone of contention – especially if one partner is a neat freak and the other is a slob.
Accept that your spouse won’t do things just like you do and refrain from criticism. You can affect them more by asking them to put the cap back on or to pick up their clothing instead of making snide comments.
4) Honesty – When something bothers you, talk to your spouse. It could be that the problem is just a misunderstanding. Don’t cover up your feelings or mistakes that you’ve made. Coming clean shows how much you trust the other person, not only for help but also for forgiveness if you need it. Become part of the solution, not part of the problem.
DEVELOPING A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP
If it’s one thing women know about it is expressing feelings. Men are generally different. They are usually taught that it is not manly to cry, complain or show your true emotions. When women want to talk, men usually clam up.
Both can learn to “keep it real” in this situation. Women can state their point concisely so that men understand and men can listen attentively without retreating. Feelings are not fatal when you get them out in the open.
One of the main causes of divorce is money issues. It doesn’t have to be a lack of money as many suspect. The problem could center on who holds control of the money or how it is spent. When you are dating, it is important to know how the other person manages their finances. The last thing you want is to begin your marriage with debt incurred by one or both partners.
Don’t dismiss financial counseling. It can help you to get on the same page with how to budget your monthly income, put away savings and also invest for the future. A healthy view of money can take away the bone of contention in your marriage.
Children are blank slates when they are born. They learn their attitudes, values, moral center and the like from their parents. You are their first teachers, so take your job seriously.
Start discussing how to discipline and raise your kids before they appear. Standing in front of them is not the time to hash out how you feel about child rearing. Parents need to present a united front when it comes to their children. Otherwise, the children will pit one parent against the other whenever they want something.
Also, see your children as individuals and avoid comparing one to the other. This can promote unhealthy animosity between them that can lead to resentment and accusations that you are playing favorites.
Spending Time Together
Don’t think that family and work means that there is no time for husband and wife. Plan for time spent away from everything else. It could be lunch together one day a week or early mornings on the porch. Create a special time when the subject is the two of you.
Many believe that absence makes the heart grow fonder. It does if you are on a trip away from your family. But, it can build a wall if you become strangers living in the same house. Married couples should not be glorified roommates, raising kids and paying bills. Keep in touch with each other on emotional, physical and spiritual levels.
Yes, everyone has them, but all of them are not so nice or accommodating. Do you live closer to one set of in-laws then the other? This can seem great at first. You have a babysitter whenever you want one.
But, it is also a two-way street. Some in-laws can become intrusive. Either they are always dropping by unannounced or they are interjecting their opinions into your marriage.
Take a stand in your relationship early on to establish parameters for your interaction with them. Set ground rules. A marriage is a relationship between two people. The opinions of in-laws do not figure into the decision-making process. You have a duty here as well not to run to mom and dad as soon as you have a problem. That is what your spouse is for. Stay united. When talking to the in-laws, do it together.
Supporting Each Other
Your spouse is the other half of you. This doesn’t mean that you will share all the same interests. Each person has to express their individuality – even in a relationship. Your spouse can’t provide all that you need and don’t expect them to.
As you build your life together, take time to seek your individual interests. Establishing who you are makes you less dependent on your spouse to provide things that are not for him or her to give you, like a sense of satisfaction in life or a purpose.
To that end, learn to support your partner’s goals in life. Their success as an individual doesn’t diminish or demean your relationship. In fact it enhances it. As they grow and understand themselves better, they can give more to the relationship in proper perspective. While they love you, they don’t have to hang their identity on you. It is our individual talents that keep us interesting and special to one another.
KEEPING THE ROMANCE ALIVE
Intimacy is more than sex. It is connecting on a deeper level. This is generally what women need more than men when it comes to sexual relations. Women need to connect in order to express themselves fully. Many men can have sex without it.
The good thing about intimacy is that it can heighten the experience for both partners in ways they never knew possible. So, how do you cultivate intimacy? Here are some suggestions.
Spend time together – Walk hand in hand in the park; share a milkshake and talk over lunch; lay in his or her lap and watch television; talk about your deepest desires in life.
Touch – Touch is highly underrated. Brush his hair out of his face; give him a foot massage at the end of a long day; brush up against her while she cooks dinner; kiss him or her longingly after a hard day at work. Simple caresses can put you in the romantic mood long before romance is even on your mind.
Have fun together – There is nothing like laughter to feed the soul. And, sharing a laugh or special moment with your spouse is even better. Watch a funny movie together. Do something silly like go roller skating. Push each other on the swings in the park.
You may have heard some of these but never tried them to see if they work.
Weekend getaway – You can check into a nearby hotel and spend the weekend alone. Have breakfast in bed or stay in bed all day. It’s your choice.
Date night – Go someplace you’ve always wanted to try once a week. Create a truly unique experience for you and your partner. Take turns picking the activity and the place.
Explore your fantasies together – Many couples are embarrassed about discussing what they want from sex and intimacy. Lessen that fear with a conversation. Tell your spouse how much you love them and trust them with your most intimate needs before launching into the subject of sexual needs. Set the stage for a healthy exchange and see what happens. It is often the lack of conversation that can lead to hidden porn addictions and other unhealthy expressions.
Marriage and relationships are more than just words on a paper or vows spoken in a church. To keep the dream alive requires hard work, sacrifice, love, commitment and understanding. It sounds heavy but it is meant to be a fun journey that you take together down whatever road you choose. Use this information to begin strengthening your marriage today.