5 Real Life Relationship Tips.
Have you noticed how much relationship advice there is on the internet? Well in my FB feed there is! So much about toxic relationships, gas-lighting, signs of this, signs of that. Ah, the plethora of pop psychology is perhaps the bane of the connected world. But in this connected world where relationships should matter more than money and politics and being scared by an increasingly mis-informing media I thought I would add my pound’s worth on relationships – well I do have a degree in Psychology and I have had many relationships (we won’t go anywhere near some of them!) so here is a bit of Swiftie-wisdom on the matter.
1.Relationships take work. No matter their origins – a slow gentle coming together of like minds and bodies or a passion worthy of Cathy and Heathcliff – all relationships, including friendship, need work and effort to keep them going and to make them actually work. In fact of all the bits of relationship advice out there this is the only one to remember. All of the following points are really just a sub-set of this.
We seem to have some sort of romantic notion that once we fall in love and get married (or commit to someone) then the happy ever after takes over and we’re fine. But as anyone who has been in a long term relationship will tell you that’s bullshit. You won’t like everything about your partner/friend, you won’t agree with everything they say and the decisions they take, especially when they affect you! This is where compromise kicks in, where you need to talk about things, need to keep in touch with the other person, make sure you do still know them and what matters to them.
This is where we have to toughen up and get through the hard times together, and a life together does mean a share of hard times: having children, money, moving/buying houses, extended family, friends, career choices all impact on your relationship. Life takes the romance out of love, it changes everything and if you are to continue together, continue feeling the love then you have to work on things. Together. Sometimes the vows taken in church do have some real life applicability: love and honour; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health. These are the testing areas and you need to work through them. Together. Working through the tough times makes your relationship stronger, your love deeper and truer. Nothing worth having comes that easily, and so it is with relationships too.
2.You must be kind. This means being patient, forgiving and taking the time to listen to your partner/friend. Kindness is a simple and under-rated activity. A simple act of kindness can undo all sorts of wounds and hurts. Making a cup of tea for someone, knowing how they like their coffee brewed, asking them about their day and listening to them, not shrugging off their issues, or rushing to give advice or tell your own stories. Little things show you care, kindness is about awareness of the other person – that they’re tired, upset, need some space, some time to themselves. A small act of kindness is its own reward but it will etch into your partner’s being and they will love you more for it, grant you kindnesses too and let your relationship recover from injury or remain as smooth as possible.
Kindness is often over-looked because it seems too small scale to make a difference. But it’s not and it’s one of those things that if you practice it daily then it becomes a habit and a good habit that builds a positive attitude between you. Kindness is awareness of the other person and their needs: it shows you are paying attention. It’s as simple as thank you for dinner, washing up without being asked, going with them to the doctor’s, buying their favourite flowers, or chocolates for no reason at all.
3.There needs to be balance – give and take is a central plank of good relationships. It’s not always entirely equally proportioned but the relationship cannot be too imbalanced for too long. We do not want to be Frida Khalo to Diego Rivera, we need to be Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Robert Browning. We do not want one partner to subsume their life, their passions, their needs to the other, to the exclusion of their own needs. This is getting close to ideas about toxic relationships. If you are doing all the giving, all the caring, making too many sacrifices for your partner it is a poisonous mix. Over time you will feel resentment that will grow into bitterness that will kill the relationship.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t devote yourself to your partner during some periods of your life together. When one is seriously ill, when one is consumed by a particular project, be it study or art, or during other times of life. There are times when one person needs more than the other, and that’s what love and kindness is all about. Balance is not about strict equality, it’s about ensuring each person is giving as well as taking. But if you’re the one giving all the time…
Make sure you are listening as well as talking, make sure you are cooking as well as eating. Make sure you are doing things that he/she likes as well as you – watch the movies they like, go to places they want to go. Let them make decisions, don’t run everything; listen to them, ask them questions about their life, their world that shows you care, that you are interested. Make sure your life is as important as theirs.
4.Don’t lose yourself in the other person. This is related to the give and take, the ebb and flow of relationships. It’s so easy at the beginning to merge, to be some sort of two headed, one minded being. You begin to think the same, finish sentences, know what the other wants before they do, know how they will respond to a given situation. This is wonderful, it makes you feel connected, as if you have found your missing bits: it’s as if you’ve finally met the person who gets you. But too much togetherness can be dangerous too. Especially if you lose your connections to the rest of your life. This is where the famous gas-lighting can creep in. A wicked controlling partner will take advantage of your devotion, your closeness, your sameness and they will manipulate you and you will lose who you are, which could be fatal, as we know from many real life horror stories. Togetherness is wonderful but you can’t function in a relationship if you lose yourself. You must keep your friends, your interests, your family, your self-respect. You need some distance.
5.Walk away if you have to. We don’t live happily ever after, even those who want to, who work for it, who do their best. Sometimes relationships fail. Sometimes they simply run their course. A violent, abusive relationship is not to be tolerated. But a relationship that makes you unhappy on most days isn’t any good either. I’m not saying give up when the relationship gets tough, no, not at all – I believe in working at it. But sometimes there comes a time to call it a day. Be brave, you will know when that time comes, it will feel right. To walk away from a failed relationship does not make you a failure. It means you are free to try again. But make sure you learn from the relationship’s failures and don’t hook up with the same person in a different skin and walk the same path.
Look after your loved ones. Take care of your family and friends. Work at your relationships, be kind, be yourself and most of all nourish what matters to you. Mostly, I’m sure you’ll find it’s the people in your life. (Images from Private Collection)