The 20 ultimate Tips for a functioning Relationship

One, with journalists very popular question when interviewing prominent or even non-prominent long-term couples is always inquiring about the secret of their enduring love. How do some couples manage to stay together (mostly) happy and content all the way until their Golden Anniversary while others can’t even manage to persevere until their first child’s first day of school? Is this simply a gift of the Gods or due to pure luck of finding the “perfect partner” at just the right moment? Is it up to us whether our love works for the long haul or is it simply fate?
I have already often written about it elsewhere, but since this is an enduring issue for couple therapists, I thought it would be a pretty good idea to disseminate something on that subject. (In any case since we just did “survive” Valentine’s Day!)

My favorite quotation on the subject of long term love is a Spanish folk wisdom: “El amor no se encuentra, se construye”, translated: Love is not found, it is built.” That brings me exactly to the point how I would like to answer the questions above. Obviously the question still remains: how does one create love? More specifically: How does one - after the first passion for each other and as soon as infatuation’s hormone intoxication has evaporated – create the environment for something akin to a love for life? And, once that has been accomplished, how does one manage to keep this love vibrant and alive? I have compiled the following 20 tips for exactly that conundrum and plus divided them into two categories, 10 Dos benefitting a relationship and 10 Don’ts that are sure to eventually ruin the most glorious partnership.

The 10 Dos in a Relationship

  1. Always (!) see yourself and your partner in every respect as a team and cooperating partners. Here the mantra applies: Your victory is also my victory. This implies that your partner must always be sure that you have got his six in all situations and especially in the presence of others. His/her interests must by just as important to you as your own and vice versa. When you come to realize that everyday stress against your will all to frequently starts to turn you into adversaries (sometimes it can be too much and it can be difficult to find mutually satisfying solutions), don’t hesitate to secure support from the outside: such as a cleaning lady, a babysitter, a gardener, etc. No doubt, they all cost money but so do divorce attorneys not even to mention the emotional costs of a separation!

  2. Choose your battles wisely. Understood, partners will occasionally fight – but better not about every triviality. Be generous with each other, instead of wearing yourself down; ignore the unimportant “stuff”. Only argue about something really important – and if so, do it constructively, problem oriented and fair. Wherever possible, be ready to compromise.

  3. You regularly do drive your car to the gas station, have it repaired, inspected. Understand that a relationship just like a car needs care, maintenance and attention if it is to function for the long haul. Consequently you should regularly reserve time and energy for each other: Quality twosome time without disruptions and everyday routines when you only plan something enjoyable with each other and take time for intensive conversations. At least one evening per week, preferably a lot more often (... and yes, also as young parents – ref. point 1).

  4. Address conflicts, discomforts, worries and trepidations that trouble you honestly and in a timely fashion (regardless whether they involve your relationship, or not) and look for solutions together. Keep the conversation going; including and especially about anything you already believe you know about each other. Continue to ask questions one asks in the early stages of a relationship: “What are you thinking right now?” – “How are you feeling?” – “Are you happy?” – “What is it about our life together you would like to change?”

  5. Retain a little of those “rose colored glasses” of the early days: Purposely concentrate on the positive sides of your partner. On every occasion remind each other of what it is you love about the other and why you chose him/her as a partner, in the first place. Generously ignore your partner’s minor flaws, be forgiving.

  6. Praise each other at every opportunity. Encourage each other. Give each other gifts and pay each other compliments whenever possible – privately and also preferably in the presence of others.

  7. Remain physically in contact with each other and especially also during difficult, stressful times. After a difficult day exchange a hug; take sufficient time and energy for affection, tenderness and sexuality. Hold hands while walking, welcome each other with a loving (not cursory!) kiss when coming home, at a red light canoodle like teenagers ...

  8. Each of you should retain a little independence and individuality: for instance, each pursues a hobby without the partner, each have your own friends, occasionally pursue your own interests. That way you’ll always be interesting for each other and always have something new to tell.

  9. Start something new together: Continue to create new and exciting goals together – something both of you can plan and burn for. Provide your relationship with a mutual meaning and a common purpose; continue finding projects and activities linking you. It makes no difference, whether it is building a house, joining a dance club or set upon saving Orang-Utangs in the rainforest – it is essential that you have fun and are passionate about whatever you are doing together.

  10. Treasure rituals validating your relationship: celebrate your getting to know each other– or wedding anniversary; ponder about a little Valentine’s Day surprise; arrange a “do-you-remember” evening with old photos and movies; celebrate a very private monthly weekend for two.

The 10 Don’ts in a Relationship

  1. See yourself as enemies according to the motto: Whenever you win (on the occasion of a discussion, a decision, an argument) I lose or the other way around. Blindside each other in order to secure an advantage. Ridicule, criticize each other, argue in the presence of third parties. Instead of talking to each other, complain about each other to others. Insist to cope with everything besetting your everyday life on your own because support (like cleaning ladies, babysitters or other paid helpers) cost too much money that you would do well investing in more important things (i.e. a new smart phone).

  2. Argue about something unimportant at every opportunity. In the process try to win every fight at any cost (ref. also point 1). Preferably do that in a destructive manner: Send You-messages (“You are” - “You always do that . . .”); wherever possible make a mountain out of a molehill; deal hurtfully with each other. You are more aware of your partner’s Achilles’ heel than anyone else and therefore you can deliberately nail him/her where it smarts.

  3. Go ahead; take for granted that your initial perfect relationship is going to take care of itself without any help. Therefore everything and everybody is more important than your partner: the job, the children, the household, the tennis club, gardening. Although at the end of the day/the week you won’t have the energy or time left over for each other, it won’t make a difference because your relationship has always been good and its going to stay that way without your help.

  4. Keep conflicts, discomfort, worries, trepidations to yourself as long as possible, don’t talk about them (because you don’t want to burden the other; - because the other wouldn’t understand anyway; - because its just too strenuous to talk about it ...). Carefully keep these feelings to yourself until they erupt into an emotional explosion or even an escapade. Early on (preferably immediately after the initial courting phase) quit discussing anything important as for instance plans for the future, dreams, trepidations, and expectations. You already know everything about each other anyway; so there won’t be anything new to discover.

  5. Also early on, as soon as possible after the initial courting phase go ahead and remove those “rose colored glasses” and replace them with a magnifying glass. With it concentrate on your partner’s idiosyncrasies and mistakes and carefully and painstakingly keep a private “black list”. Relentlessly register the tiniest transgression and make sure not to forget to name them – preferably more than once at every opportunity. If it happens in the presence of others – so much the better! Be vindictive, archive your reproaches and rehash them as often as possible! Anything else would be a waste!

  6. And while we are on the subject: Criticize each other, discourage each other, tear each other down as often as possible. If at all possible don’t do it privately but always in the presence of others. In that case the impact is distinctly more significant!

  7. Distance yourselves physically and emotionally from each other. Treat each other with silence, stonewall, quit touching in everyday life. Exchanges of affection and sex are only for the good times – and especially during difficult, stressful times they should be the first to go. Any contact is best avoided by crowding your days and weeks with other activities and responsibilities to the point that at night you are just too exhausted to want to sleep together.

  8. Do everything together. Always. Make it your ambition to mutate into an “us” and only exist as one half of a couple. That is the surest way to become unappealing and boring to the “better half”.

  9. If at all possible always act out of habit; just do what you have always done, the way you always have done it and wherever you have done it. Be sure not to develop any (new) goals and visions about how your life is going to continue. As a couple don’t look for a common purpose or a common direction. Just go ahead and live next to each other and as statically as possible.

  10. Don’t cultivate any rituals to confirm your relationship as a couple – things like romantic weekends for two, wedding anniversaries, Valentine’s days are just commercial occasions, anyway. If it is possible just remain totally uncommitted, instead: Don’t get married although you have been living together for years (“true love doesn’t need a marriage certificate!”), don’t wear a wedding band (“it just bothers me at work!”), forget the wedding anniversary (“florists and jewelers already make enough”) ...