9 Ways to Be Better at This Relationship Thing

Maybe you’re a classic extrovert, while your significant other prefers to stay in and order pizza on Saturday night. Maybe he can’t stand that you check your email in bed. Maybe career success is central to your identity, whereas she thinks of work mostly as a way to pay the bills. Maybe you keep to yourself when you're going through a tough time, whereas he tries to connect.

Whatever the issue, relationships are hard, and we’re bound to make mistakes while in them. Here are nine tips for getting better at being a twosome:

1. Do: Accept that you are different people.

Unless you’re in love with a mirror image of yourself (and the last guy who was ended up turning into a flower), your partner is obviously going to be different from you. In some cases, you might be polar opposites. In others, you might disagree about the small stuff, like how often the trash needs to get taken out. Neither situation means the relationship won’t work out. In fact, as blogger Kayla Albert suggests, those partnerships are often great learning experiences and chances to do things we never otherwise would have. Come to terms with the fact that your partner isn’t you, and instead try seeing what their perspective and behaviors can teach you about yours.

2. Do: Prioritize alone time.

When you’re single, you have all the time in the world to sit on the couch in sweatpants and hold solo viewings of The Bachelor. Once you enter a relationship, it may seem like those days are gone for good. But if there’s one thing relationship experts are sure about, it’s that alone time is crucial to the success of any relationship. That means being honest about your need to spend an afternoon on your own — shopping, sitting in a café, or rereading Fifty Shades of Grey — and understanding when your partner wants to sit on the couch watching TV all afternoon instead of meeting up with you and your friends. Also keep in mind that people vary in terms of how much alone time they need, so don’t automatically be insulted if your partner seems to require more than you do.

3. Do: Choose your battles.

He or she left clothes on the couch, was rude to your friend, and left the kitchen looking like a tornado went through it. While it can be tempting to lash out and berate your partner for these mistakes, it’s worth taking a deep breath and considering whether each transgression is really worth an outburst. When you argue over everything that pisses you off, your significant other eventually starts to tune you out, meaning he or she may not be receptive when something serious is bothering you. The next time you feel inclined to pick a fight, stop and think about whether you’re really angry about this particular situation or about something bigger, like the fear that the other person is going to leave you. Also imagine how you’d want your partner to act if you’d made the very same mistake.

4. Don’t: Expect him or her to read your mind.

Um, hello? Obviously, the reason I’m upset is that I just remembered that time two years ago when you told me my dress was too tight. While a clairvoyant partner would be (sort of) cool, chances are you aren’t dating one. Instead of assuming your man can easily figure out why you’re sad or frustrated, try being straightforward and just telling him. Maybe you’re afraid that your honesty will hurt him or turn him off. But according to Psychology Today editor Hana Estroff Marano, if you always keep your thoughts and feelings to yourself, you’ll end up disappointed and angry that your needs aren’t being satisfied.

5. Do: Take care of yourself.

Because you’re worth it. Seriously. I'm not even trying to sell you makeup here. One huge (and common) relationship mistake is relying on our partner to make us feel loved and desirable, when in fact those feelings should come from within. After interviewing couples across the U.S. about what makes their relationships successful, Melissa Joy Kong realized that it’s mostly about “coming into a relationship already whole.” In other words, if you don't love yourself, there’s no way you can truly find and accept love from someone else.

6. Don’t: Keep score.

Even the mathematically challenged are often guilty of this relationship no-no. You slept over at her place last week, so it’s her turn to come to yours tonight. He spent Thanksgiving with your family, so you absolutely have to join his crew for Christmas. But keeping a running tally of everything you “owe” each other can drive both of you crazy, says blogger and happiness expert Gretchen Rubin. Instead, try making each other happy — not because you should, but because you want to. Maybe you just feel like paying for dinner tonight, even though you technically footed the last bill. Do it. Chances are you’ll both be more satisfied in the long run.

7. Don’t: Compare them to your ex.

We all know it’s wrong, but we all do it anyway. No matter how badly your last relationship ended, or how much you love your current partner, that little voice is bound to pop up now and again: “[Insert your ex’s name here] would never have done that.” While it’s unrealistic to think you can just erase all memory of your romantic past, it’s also pretty unhealthy to keep comparing the present to the past. The next time you catch yourself wondering whether your old flame would have developed a more comprehensive life plan or looked better in that shirt, recognize that you’re idealizing your ex and your time together. Obviously, something was wrong with them or with the relationship — otherwise, it wouldn’t have ended. Keeping these ideas in mind will help you move past the tendency to compare and contrast whenever it appears.

8. Do: Laugh.

We are totally serious about this silly tip. Laughter is an easy way to form a bond between two people, and science suggests it’s especially important in romantic relationships. That’s because a good giggle fit can alleviate anger and anxiety and help you two remember why you like or love each other. So the next time he mistakes your expensive eye cream for body lotion, allow yourself to be angry for a minute, then laugh it off together. Instead of screaming and fighting, you may end up screaming for, um, a different reason …

9. Don’t: Be in a relationship for the sake of being in a relationship.

This relationship mistake is one of the very hardest to admit. Sometimes, we stay with someone just because we’re afraid of not being with anyone. If you have an inkling that you might be unhappy in your current relationship, but you’re also scared to leave, think about what’s holding you back from breaking it off. If it’s the fear of being lonely, that’s a totally legitimate emotion — but not a good reason to stay. Consider speaking with a close friend or family member, or even a therapist, to figure out what’s frightening about being alone. And then do what you know you need to do.