What the Years Have Taught me About Maintaining Relationships
I am notoriously bad at maintaining relationships. I don't know why. Maybe it's because I'm an introvert and covet my alone time. Maybe it's because I view my life (and relationships) as sections rather than one continuous journey. Either way, I have let a few too many close friendships fall away over the years, and it's kinda sad. The only relationship I have been successful at maintaining long-term has been my relationship with my partner. He and I have been together for 13 years, married for nearly 10. It has taken an immense amount of work and effort on my part to "stick with it." Especially considering my track record of letting relationships fade. Staving off the time-to-move-on mentality that has plagued me so often in the past is what helped me realize what it takes to maintain relationships and has given me new strategies going forward when forging friendships. Here, in my opinion, are the 10 behaviors that can foster healthy relationships with friends, romantic partners, and even family.
Relationships are a lot of work
HARD WORK. It is easy to grow complacent with someone you see all the time. It is easy to take them for granted, to ignore their needs and to make everything their fault. In a partnership or any close relationship, you have to try. Being in a happy, fulfilling relationship doesn’t happen on a whim. It happens through putting in time, changing hurtful behaviors and learning to listen to the other person. A sense of humor doesn’t hurt.
Relationships are not static
The people in a relationship are living, breathing humans. We change, and grow, and learn new things. It is important to create a relationship that can grow and change with you. If you expect the 10th year of your friendship to be the same as the first, you are going to be disappointed. You and your friends, partner, or family members are not the same people as you were back then, why would your relationship be?
Your friends, partners, or family are not you
We hear all the time that you should treat people how you would want to be treated. And while, yes, I believe kindness and courtesy go a long way in life, this thought process can lead to miscommunication in relationships. What I mean is, what brings me joy isn’t necessarily what brings my partner joy. How I show love is not necessarily how my partner receives love. Following me? We have to learn to show our love and support in ways our friends, partners, or family members are receptive to. Treat them the way they want to be treated.
If you can make it through the hard times, you’ll be ok
I know this sounds obvious, but trying to get through the hard times is where a lot of relationships break apart. This is because we grieve, experience anger and sadness, and come to solutions differently than others. This harkens back to my previous point; a relationship is made of individuals who have different needs. It can be easy to ignore your friend's emotions when you are inundated with your own. But learning to balance your feelings so you can give a little comfort to your friend but still honor your pain can mean the difference between making it through, or not.
Honesty and trust are crucial
We have all had friends that we just couldn't trust. No matter how good you were to them, they managed to deceive you over and over again. That kind of mistrust cycle can be incredibly painful to live through. Big lies are easy to spot, but even the smallest deceptions can plant a seed of mistrust. Once your friend or partner doesn’t trust you (or vice versa), it might be impossible to work your way out of that hole. So, just be honest. All the time. About everything. Even if you think it doesn’t matter, even if you are afraid they will be mad, don’t lie. And in case you aren’t sure, an omission of information is a lie.
A girls weekend, a horror movie marathon on Halloween, or even a homemade friendship bracelet, traditions give you something to look forward to. Traditions give you a secret to share with each other and help you show your commitment to the relationship. Creating a tradition means you plan on being there when it comes time to do it again next year. Traditions add a touch of whimsy to your relationships. They don’t have to be big, and they don’t have to make sense to other people, they just have to mean something to all of you.
This seems to be a gesture that is fading away in our society. We have become so attention hungry with the desire to fulfill our own needs that we forget how to put others first. In a relationship, selfishness can be a slippery-slope. If you aren’t willing to sacrifice your own needs or desires to help out your friend or partner, resentment can build. Sacrificing aides in your friends and partners joy and life satisfaction. Don’t be selfish. Let them pick the movie from time to time, choose to go to the concert they've been dying to go to instead of that party you want to go to, go to the beach instead of the mall, etc. Just remember, it’s a two-way street. Relationships are made up of equal give-and-take.
Say thank you, show appreciation
As I mentioned before, it can become really easy to take for granted a person who is there all the time. It’s tempting just to assume they will always be there and will always be willing to do things for you. But I can tell you, saying 'thank you' every time they do something nice or take the initiative on something you don’t want to do, goes a long way. When they treat you to a nice dinner, remember your favorite movie and rent it for your weekend sleepover, or share their favorite jeans with you, say 'thank you.' Showing your appreciation for someone will never go out of style, and they will never get tired of knowing it.
Be Authentically You
When it comes to relationships, some people are natural game players. They put on a mask and manipulate you into liking them. But, inevitably, their true colors will show and you may not like what you see. So, be sure you are not compromising yourself to make someone else like you. Be you. Feel your feelings, enjoy your likes, share who you are. I know it can be tempting to play a few games yourself, especially if you like that person or really want an "in" with a particular "crowd," but being yourself from the beginning will help you attract those friends and partners who are worth having around for the long haul. Because they like you for you, you won't have to waste your beautiful energy on being someone you're not.
Kindness and respect are all that matter
When my partner and I first started fighting in our relationship, our disagreements resembled something of a school-yard spat, filled with low-blows and name calling. It didn’t take long to learn that if we wanted to stay together, we would have to change the way we argued - and the way we treated each other. Being objective, calm-headed and fair in disagreement not only makes it easier to work through any problems, but it also leads to positive changes in your day-to-day interactions. Treat each other gently, respect their opinions, don’t take it personally if they disagree, and be kind, regardless of how angry you are. You can’t be in a loving relationship if you are willing to name-call, degrade, or disrespect your friend or partner. Trust me.
I could keep going, but I think I've made my point. Relationships, whether romantic or platonic, take a lot of effort. But whether you are one year, eight years or a lifetime into them, the connection you make with another person can be the biggest life fulfillment of all. Being able to predict what the other is thinking, picking up the phone to call them only to have them call you first, or knowing what's wrong without them having to say it are things that only happens when you are connected to a person on a deeper level.
Allow yourself to shine, continue to learn about yourself, your friends and partners, and enjoy growing together as friends and as individuals. Have adventures. Be playful. And choose kindness.