Whether you are building a new relationship, improving an existing relationship, or repairing a struggling relationship, there are lots of things you can do to spring-clean your relationship skills. Here are a few tips for identifying bad habits and for making new, good habits:
The most important tool for building a loving relationship is knowing your partner’s primary love language. The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman (1995, Northfield Publishing), describes five ways in which men and women feel love:
- acts of service
- time together
The problem is that most people give love the way they like to receive love, not necessarily the way the other person needs love. Understanding what the other person needs (and giving it to them in the way they need) is important. Thus, these five languages are an absolute must for building a strong and secure relationship.
Stress will come to every relationship. It is not the problems that a couple experiences that lead to separation. It is how the couple handles these problems. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman (2004, Orion Publishing), describes the relationship patterns that are most likely to lead to divorce. These patterns include:
- criticism (using statements like, “You always forget to . . .” or “You never . . .”)
- contempt (making personal attacks, “You are so . . .”)
- defensiveness (arguing your point rather than hearing the other person’s point)
- stonewalling (walking away from the other person without coming back to the issue, rolling your eyes, not engaging in the relationship, threatening to break up)
When these relationship patterns take hold of the relationship and the positive-to-negative ratio becomes less than 5 to 1, breakup becomes likely. Thus, you must learn good communication skills and commit yourself to avoiding these poor relationship patterns at all cost.
If you are trying to move a relationship toward engagement and marriage with no success, ask yourself the following questions:
- Have I made the relationship too comfortable, stale, or convenient?
- Have I acted in a critical, nagging, or controlling way?
- Does my partner see me as unhappy or depressed?
If you answer yes to any of the above, your behaviors may be discouraging your partner from making further commitments. However, incorporating the following step-by-step suggestions may help turn the relationship around (possibly leading to engagement within six months):
- Learn how to provide your partner’s number-one need. Men need to feel that a woman has faith and trust in their competence. Women need to feel safe and secure. Find out how he/she needs you to do this in the relationship.
- Invest in your partner’s top-three love languages. Never withhold his/her love languages as a punishment or to prove a point.
- Coach your partner with positive feedback and direction (about the relationship), so he/she can feel successful in making you happy.
- After you have worked on steps 1–3 for a few months, briefly explain to your partner that you will need a commitment by a set date or you will need to reconsider the relationship. Don’t dwell on this point. Just state it and trust that he/she heard you.
- Then, (while continuing steps 1–3) be less available for drop-in visits. Instead, encourage planned events or date nights.
- Spend time with friends and family.
- Pursue your interests and hobbies.
- Work on your individual happiness and personal issues while remaining warm, loving, and encouraging the relationship.
- When you are convinced it is time and you are ready to follow through, let him/her know you need to get engaged or move on.
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