With the ending of a year coming, I want to share with you a short compiled list of the best practical “advice” I have given out over the year 2017 as a Marriage and Family Therapist.
As a therapist, I do not believe in advice per say, but I do know that couples need some practicality in their lives.
Many of the things on this list may seem obvious, but it is necessary to constantly remind yourself of the small things you can do to improve your relationship and your happiness…
- Always say goodbye to each other before you leave. Life is stressful and when you are in a relationship, you need to know that your partner’s last thought of you before venturing out is that they care about you. It is very simple, but a powerful emotional boost. Regardless of how you are feeling at that moment, you taking time to acknowledge your partner gives both of you a sense of connection before one or both of you takes off.
- When in an argument with your significant other, follow this template: “I think___, I feel___, I want___.” We often get tied up in complicated arguments that end up with neither person remembering how it started. “I think you really disrespected me with what you just said. I feel hurt by your words. I want an apology and to know you will try to not use that language with me again.” Breaking things down by thought, feeling, and action moves the argument to a more productive place.
- Your significant other does not define who you are. They can and should be a huge piece of your life, but do not let them define all of you. Have your own things going…your own career, job, hobbies, friendships, etc. Too often couples mold themselves into what they think their partner wants them to be. Your partner should love and respect you for who you were BEFORE the relationship started. If you only have each other then not many new things can permeate your lives and bring enrichment to your relationship.
- Have conversations about your future: “Where do you see yourself one year from today?” Or “What will your living situation be like in five years?” Something that surprised me with a lot of my couples is that they never discussed their future together. Many couples talk about the idea of marriage or living together, but not much outside of that. Successful long term relationships are created based off of goals and ideally both partners support the collective goals and the individual goals.
- Develop a list of deal breakers for your relationship (create the list separately, then discuss it together). I have posted about this before and will continue to post about it because it is important. At any stage in any relationship, you need to be crystal clear of what your boundaries are around respect. Setting clear expectations for both people individually and as a couple will create rules of how you expect to be treated and how you will treat each other. Create a list of boundaries around your relationship as well like, “If someone tells one of us a secret, we will share it with each other.” Trust is the foundation in any relationship and it is created by rules and expectations around respect.
Relationships are work and no one who has ever been in a meaningful one can deny that fact. When I look back on my year of therapy work, these five “ideas” or “suggestions” seem to have come up many times.
I have helped create room in session for couples to have conversations around their future together and individually and have watched that conversation create hope.
Recently, during a family session, I had a young child ask me,
“Did you tell my parents to get divorced?”
My answer came much more quickly than I ever anticipated: “Your parents came to me because they wanted to work on becoming happier. That’s my main goal is to help people figure out how to be happy. I can’t tell your parents what to do or what not to do, but I can help them figure out what would make them happy and your parents feel a divorce will make them happier than staying together.”
She looked at me and said, “Everyone should be happy.”
It really is that simple, but somehow incredibly complex.
The list I created here is a small way of me extending my wish for you to be happy in your relationships. Your relationship with someone romantically, your relationship with your family and friends, and your relationship with yourself. Surprisingly, a lot of couple’s work is about the two people as individuals.
Let me know your thoughts! Do you already do these things in your relationship? Do they help?