Strong Relationships and how to keep them that way

Strong Relationships and how to keep them that way

Strong Relationships and how to keep them that way

When I was growing up, I heard my parents say: “The couple that showers together, stays together.” I didn’t think much of it then. It seemed like a way for them to economize on water consumption, or get a few guaranteed minutes together. But as a kid, neither of which was interesting or pertinent to me as a young person. As an adult, having adult relationships and partnerships, I have often harkened back to that concept. Strong relationships are built on central tenets of togetherness.

We all know that strong relationships require effort and sweat-equity; you can’t just phone it in. Showing up for your relationship means making a million tiny commitments that all fit under the big umbrella of commitment. These are the unspoken sacred things. The ones that often get called “our thing,” mundane acts that through habit and comfort become primary touch points. These seemingly benign everyday actions contribute to the overall intimacy of strong relationships, so identifying what works for both of you is imperative. There are as many ways to express and reinforce that bond as there are couples so you’ll need to find what works for you. As a starting point, here are five things to consider that may keep you close (and they have nothing to do with sex!).

1. Agree About Sleep

Few things are more disruptive to energy, productivity, emotional health and rational conversation than a good night’s sleep. As a culture, we are absolutely obsessed with the romantic notion that sleeping beside someone is the ultimate bonding experience and that sleeping apart is detrimental to intimacy. Let me tell you, unequivocally: it doesn’t have to be a relationship killer and if you are not sleep compatible, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed. Sure, waking up with your love in your arms or falling asleep to their heartbeat against your back is lovely stuff, important stuff. But if you fail to live out this romance novel ideal on a nightly basis, either because you don’t co-habitate or because you sleep differently, there are ways to work around that.

There are many reasons that couples might sleep poorly together. It’s honestly okay to prioritize rest over physical closeness, especially if sharing a bed means either of you is sleep deprived. Don’t waste time debating if it’s okay to sleep apart, it is. Instead use that time and energy to hug, cuddle, nap together, hold hands, or otherwise connect in a similarly intimate, close, way that doesn’t keep you up at night.

2. Always Say Good Morning/Good Night

Life gets busy, doesn’t it? We all wish we had more hours in the day to do more, relax more, and spend more time with those we love. Whether you live together or not, bookending your day with good mornings and good nights can be an important ritual for staying close and connected. Send a text, wake them up with breakfast, draw their name in a heart on the bathroom mirror, or whatever makes sense for you. But make it a priority to start and end your day with each other. Even if it’s quick, and even if that’s all you can give or receive that day.

3. Create Something Together

Making something together can be a really valuable and deeply bonding experience. It may not seem significant to whip up dinner together, assemble new furniture, or make a great weekend playlist. But co-contributing to a project, negotiating, debating, compromising, and ultimately having something to show for your efforts, is an intimate way to learn about yourself and your partner. Seeing something through from beginning to end builds communication skills unique to your relationship and gives you an experience to look back on. Things don’t have to be perfect to be memorable or special. Not every mundane task needs to be a big deal just because you did it together, but the truth remains: Strong relationships require teamwork, and team work requires practice.

4. Stand United When Challenged

This may seem like a no-brainer, but stay with me. Lots of relationships suffer or end because someone doesn’t feel supported in the way they need to be, when they need to be. We’ve all felt the sting of disappointment when someone we love didn’t help or didn’t defend us. It may seem prudent to stay silent when your parents criticize your partner’s cooking, or a customer service rep takes “that tone”, or when they struggle in any number of small or big ways. If you two know that, no matter what, you will stand up for each other (which sometimes means sitting down and shutting up) then you can both be more courageous together and apart.

This is not a suggestion to chronically attempt to save and protect your partner. Nor is it a call to arms to take on more than your share of emotional labour. It’s a suggestion that solidarity, in whatever way is appropriate, is powerful and tangible in strong, successful relationships. You may drive each other crazy about how to load a dishwasher or whether talking at the movies is acceptable. But if you know in your heart that your partner has your back when the chips are down, the small stuff matters less and the big stuff goes more smoothly.

5. Be Apart, Together

So often relationships are discussed in terms of two halves meeting to create one whole. If that feels antiquated or uncomfortable, instead, imagine yourself, your partner and your relationship in terms of a Venn Diagram. You are one circle; Your Partner the other. The bit that overlaps in the middle is The Relationship. How much you overlap and how and when that overlap changes is between you and your partner. As a representation of your relationship, though, it’s a great analogy for creating healthy space for both of you.

Strong Relationships need breathing room

It’s totally okay to have friends that are not mutual friends and to do things without your partner. But take the time to first understand each other and agree on what that means. Clarity and consistency are not too much to ask for in any relationship. It’s also something you should be prepared to give.  That way the time you spend together isn’t just an analysis (or an argument) about the time you were apart.

Relationship intimacy isn’t static, and it certainly isn’t just about sex, which changes and morphs over time. It can be impacted negatively, or positively, through the words and actions within your relationship. It can be lost and then found, built or destroyed. In order to maintain it, you have to work for it. If you’re lucky, it will be happy work that feels worthwhile, with someone just as committed to making it work.

I'd love to hear your thoughts ...

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