Starting a relationship is relatively easy. Keeping it healthy and strong, though, requires effort. "Who trains you for relationships?" Dr. Margie McKeon of Dallas asks. "How many people are really prepared for a serious relationship?""One of the very essential things I focus on is just listening," Miller says. "We are so busy thinking of what we are going to say that we don’t hear what the other person is saying. If you just listen, it can make a major difference in a person’s day."These relationship experts agree that if you follow one, two or more of these suggestions each day, it can help deepen the bond that you have with your significant other.
1. Listen. This is one of the hardest things to do in any relationship, "You have to really force yourself to not retort or interject anything when the other person is talking," Miller says. "This may take years of practice."
2. Validate the other person. "Validating means if you understand where they are coming from; if you know their world makes sense," McKeon says. "It’s a critical element." Try to understand how the person views life, or at the very least, how they may view a particular situation. Step into their shoes, if you will, and see things from their perspective.
3. Remember: There are no winners. This extends the idea above, and comes in handy when conflict arises. "When couples fight, the need to be right or to win is so great it hurts the relationship," McKeon says. "Couples have to get past right and wrong. Listen to the other person’s world — that helps you get beyond right and wrong."
4. Don’t personalize it. "If the person is mad, it’s not necessarily about you," Behannon says. "You can’t make their pain or disappointment your fault." If you feel like maybe you are being the scapegoat for their anger, help them to figure out what the true source of their pain is.
5. Schedule date nights. An oldie but goodie and easily forgotten. "People have to plan time for themselves and rediscover the reason they are together," Miller says.
6. It’s the tiny details. Surprise your significant other with something that shows you’re thinking about him or her. "Maybe it’s something as simple as a flower on a pillow, a hand-written note that indicates 'I am thinking about you,’ " Miller says.
7. Don’t be the source of the other person’s pain. Behannon says, "You never want to be the reason why the person you love hurts."
8. Time alone. "The other person needs to have their own things they do, that are separate from their spouse," Miller says. "This is vital." Having your own activities provides an outlet for growth in other areas. Time away also acts as a way to recharge your batteries.
9. Set boundaries. When having one of those "tough discussions," it’s important to establish areas where the conversation should go and where it shouldn’t, and perhaps even set a time limit. "Maybe this means the other person wants to wait before talking," Behannon says. "Or there are certain subjects that aren’t going to be brought up. Or the conversation will only last this long."
10. Be careful when you say "sorry." "There is an appropriate time to say this," McKeon says. "If the person starts saying 'sorry’ for everything, then they may be taking responsibility for the other person’s emotions when they shouldn’t." If one person is upset because the car has a flat tire after running over a nail, the other person has no need to offer an apology. The person apologizing has no need to say they are sorry for anything.
11. Maintain eye contact. "Don’t read or play on the computer when the other person is trying to talk to you," Miller says. "Look at the other person."
12. Forget "You." "One of the first things I focus on when communicating about the hard stuff is to drop the 'You this’ or 'You that,’" Behannon says. "They need to be 'I’ statements."
13. Keep your body language engaged. "There are physical cues our body gives away that can be louder than verbal ones," Behannon says. "You have to be mindful of what your body is saying." Slouching, folded arms, hands on hips or the rolling eyes can all be loud body language that suggests the person isn’t really engaged in a productive manner.
14. Mind PMS. "When you make a request of your partner," McKeon says, "it has to be Positive. Measurable. Specific." No need to scream or yell; just politely ask for what you want, and avoid generalities.
15. Speak their language. Don’t do something that you think you would like to do, do something they would like. Your language may say washing your partner’s car and filling it up with gas is romantic and nice, but their language may say that a bouquet of flowers and a card are better.
16. Watch your tone. If one person in the relationship has a "maximizer" tone and the other is a "minimizer," it can create conflict and make people defensive. "If you use negative tones, people get defensive," McKeon says. "You have to be conscious of what you are putting into the sacred space and each person has to take responsibility for that."
17. Schedule family time. "When you have a child, family time is the easiest thing, because that’s the one you do the most often," Miller says. "But it’s about quality family time where there is interaction and discussion."
18. Get beyond your defenses. "If I feel attacked, I go into defense," McKeon says. "If that happens, we’re not relating, and I’m too busy protecting to receive your message."
19. Listen to a problem but don’t try to fix it. Most women feel that if you are listening to them, it validates what they’ve said, McKeon says. "If you can listen and validate and empathize, it encourages autonomy. They want you to process their feelings with them — not run in and fix them. If you process their feelings, they exercise their own autonomy. If you fix a problem, it limits their autonomy." Translation: Being someone’s "toolbox" may only prevent the other person from learning how to solve the problem on their own.
20. Choose peace. "When you’re having any kind of conflict what I suggest to people is in your head say over and over, 'I choose peace rather than this,’ " Behannon says. "What that means to me is I can respond in a more peaceful way that keeps me from getting angry."
21. Be open-minded. "You can’t overtax the brain; changes are slow and gradual," McKeon says. "And the more open-minded you are, the greater the chance for growth and for real healing."
22. Observe the golden rule. "It’s such an obvious one," Behannon says. "Treat your partner the way you want to be treated."
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