The Australian Psychological Society has published guidelines for keeping love alive in a long term relationship. So how do you measure up? Does your relationship get an A+ or are you barely passing? Although the focus here is on long term romantic relationships, the essence of each guideline could be applied to any close relationship/s you value, e.g. best friend, parent/child.
1. Do you have a regular activity that you do together, just the two of you, which you both enjoy? This could be a date night, a regular trip to the movies, or engaging in a shared hobby. For full marks, the activity needs to fulfil all the criteria – regular, just the two of you (that means no kids, not just no friends) and you are both enjoying yourselves.
2. When something unexpected happens, (e.g. your partner is late and doesn’t call), do you give them the benefit of the doubt or start to assume the worst? What about when they have failed to hang out the washing/ pick up the milk when you asked them to? The ideal here is to put aside feelings of hurt or frustration, and instead be curious - seek to understand why your partner is acting the way he/she is. Doing this shows you think they are essentially a good person (who occasionally does bad things), rather than the other way around.
3. Do the positive experiences in your relationship outweigh the negative experiences by five to one? (For more information on this idea, check out my previous blog post ‘Improve Your Relationships with the 5:1 Rule’)This ratio is easy to increase by making sure you show appreciation when your partner acts in caring ways towards you.
4. Are you able to stop arguments before they become toxic? That is, can you either solve the problem, or walk away, before the argument turns to insults? NB: walking away is only a short term strategy – this is about a cooling off period, not a way of punishing the other person or avoiding the issue.
5. When mistakes are made, do you both work to repair the damage – no matter whose fault it was? This feeds directly into the next guideline,
6. Do you have a ‘team mentality'? When there are difficulties in your world, do you talk about what we need to do about it? A key element of commitment is understanding that when there are difficulties, they will be worked through, rather than being used as a reason to break the commitment.
7. Are you available to your partner in times of difficulty, able to let your own needs take a backseat for a while? Are you able to express encouragement to them when they need it?
8. Do you accept that you may need to be influenced by what is important to your partner, even if that’s not important to you? Often we expect others to bend for us, without being willing to offer the same to them in return.
9. Do you have high standards for your relationship, and stick to them yourself, as well as making sure your partner sticks to them?
10. And the most important of all, is it still FUN? Do you like this person? Do you enjoy your time with them?
So how did you go? It’d be pretty rare to say you do all the things in the list above, all of the time. Hopefully you found you were ticking most of the boxes most of the time. If not, and you’d like to improve your relationship, then see if you can alter some of your behaviours to better fit the guidelines. Remember, even if your partner is not willing to change, you can choose to. You don’t have to bite back if you’re insulted – you can show your displeasure by walking away. You can offer encouragement even if you don’t get it back at first. Often, if a relationship has gotten into difficulty, neither person wants to be the one to change first: it feels like ‘giving in’, or saying the way the other person is acting is okay. But if you can swallow your pride for the sake of the relationship, then changing your attitude is actually the fastest way to changing your partner’s actions. It’s much more effective than nagging! Remember that actions speak louder than your words. Model the way you’d like to be treated by treating your partner that way.
Do you need help to repair your relationship? Contact me on 0421 720 635 or at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how I can help you improve your relationships.
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Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.