The One Thing You Need To Do To Keep Your Relationship Going Strong
There are so many essential elements to a strong relationship. Trust. Communication. Romance. Sex. Not murdering each other over dirty dishes. But there's one thing that's seldom talked about directly that is really at the core of all the things you need to do to keep your relationship strong. That thing is effort. Effort means more than trying hard to please each other. It means pulling communication our of your body when you'd rather sleep. It means digging deep to find patience when your partner won't stop talking and you're trying to Netflix. It means planning something sweet and romantic even when you're afraid it won't be perfect or big enough.
When I worked with couples, as both a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, effort was a running theme for couples who had a lot of problems. It wasn't so much that their partner did things wrong, but it was they they didn't do things at all. They didn't appear to try. When you show effort, even in a small way, like doing an extra chore, you're saying something bigger. You're saying that you're willing to do the work that is required to make a relationship work. Here are some examples of how effort translates into common relationship scenarios, and how you can make sure your partner always feels like you're a full team member.
1. Responding Well
Psychology Professor Shelly Gable from the University of California found that the way we respond when our partner shares good news with us has a big impact on our relationship satisfaction. As you can probably guess, those who gave the kind of responses that required what seems like the most effort, called "active, constructive" responses, not only improved their bonds, but showed their partners that they were there for them, and that they'd continue to be a support, even when times were bad. Active, constructive responses congratulate the partner positively, acknowledge their feelings, and reserve doubts for a later time. Think of it like being a cheerleader instead of a doubter.
2. Being Patient
Patience is something you can't necessarily learn overnight, but it is something you can practice. If you're like me, and you have limited patience, it can take a tremendous amount of effort to be patient with your partner. You have to find that calm place inside of you and learn to let things slide. Your partner will know when you've worked hard to become more patient. It's one of the types of effort you can put forth that will reduce bickering and arguments.
3. Being Kind
If you think it doesn't take effort to be kind in a relationship, I would love to meet you and possibly dissect you. No matter how kind and gentle your personalities are, there will be times when you're faced with digging deep and being kind even when you're annoyed or angry. I'm not talking about burying your feelings, which leads to resentments. I'm talking about acknowledging to yourself that you're just cranky and that your partner deserves respect and kindness. It's taking a breath and thinking before you say something snappy. It's giving each other room to be annoying and imperfect.
4. Being Romantic
Romance is different for every couple, but feeling loved and feeling like your partner goes out of their way sometimes to make you feel loved and special is important to all relationships. It doesn't matter so much that you plan the perfect, grand, romantic gesture. What does matter is that you tried. There's no one-size-fits-all way to be romantic. Your partner might love it if you bring flowers, book a cruise, buy them a video game, or send sweet texts. Whatever it is your partner likes, make the effort to do it.
5. Being A Team Player
Being a team player in terms of effort, basically boils down to not being lazy. It's cleaning up your fair share. It's getting up off the couch to help when your partner is loaded up with tasks and you're just lounging. It's both walking the dogs, both helping carry in the groceries, and both trying to to do housework. Even if you come from a dynamic where one person is responsible for a majority of the home and family tasks, you both still have to roll up your sleeves and put in the effort to help each other out.
6. Being An Advocate
When you're out in the world and nowhere near your partner, they would never know what you did or didn't say about them (in that moment). This is your chance to be an advocate for your partner. The path of least resistance is to just nod and say "they're fine" when people ask you about your partner. Those moments are perfect times for you to take the effort and opportunity to brag about your partner, talk about their good qualities, express pride in their accomplishments, defend them, and just be in their corner.
7. Being Present
Being in the same room together isn't the same as spending time together. If you're both on the couch, but you're in your phone, absorbed in TV, or just mentally absent, your partner will be able to tell. It takes a lot of effort to be physically present. It's not realistic for you to give up all your alone time or down time to be present for your partner, but you must make it a point to create that connection when you can. Even if you just put your phone down for a moment when your partner wants to ask you a question instead of just answering it without looking up, it will make a difference.
Showing effort will definitely stretch you in new ways, but it will make you and your partner closer than ever. So, from where I'm sitting, its win-win.