25 Ways to Have a Better Relationship Starting Today

25499221 - old man embracing woman sharpness on the bouquetIt’s what we all want, isn’t it?

A loving and caring relationship. A lasting partnership. A bond that gets better and stronger over time.

If we only knew how.

While having a better relationship requires effort, it isn’t rocket science. There are actions that build loving relationships and actions that all but guarantee unhappiness.

The good news: it’s easy to tell the difference.

More good news: there’s no shortage of healthy moves you can make.

Here are 25 of my current favorites:

1. You know that thing you do that drives your spouse nuts — the wet towel on the floor, the way you sneak a peek at your phone? Why not make a commitment to stop doing that and see what happens?

2. It’s easy to be committed to your marriage when things are going well. True commitment means keeping two feet in when the going gets rough.

3. We all have those chores that no one wants to do. Put one of them at the top of your to-do list, rather than waiting for your spouse to do it. (Yes, even the dreaded call to the cable company.)

4. Say please and thank you. (Your mother was right.)

5. While you’re at it, I’m sorry also goes a long way.

6. Pay less attention to your partner’s role in your difficulties and more attention to your own — it’s the only thing you can control anyway.

7. Generosity may well be the key to happiness. Be loving and generous whenever possible.

8. Know when to shut up (such as, when you’re about to say something critical or mean, or you’re hell-bent on having the last word.)

9. Know when to speak up. Forget about suffering in silence about issues that need to be placed on the table. Never mind settling or making do with conditions you can’t stand. No one is a better advocate for you than you.

10. Practice the three Cs: Compassion. Courage. Curiosity.

11. Accept the fact that truth comes in versions. (As in: It was Tuesday…No it was Wednesday…What do you mean I was angry?) Spoiler alert: you’re likely to fight a lot less.

23797229 - optimistic young woman with glasses of water, isolated on white12. There may be times that one of you is more optimistic about your relationship than the other. Be grateful to your spouse for being optimistic when you aren’t. Sometimes the only thing that gets couples through hard times is that they never wanted to get a divorce on the same day.

13. As the saying goes, we can either be right or free. As far as I’m concerned, being right is overrated.

14. Turn. Off. Your. Phone.

15. One of the advanced skills of marriage is learning to tolerate being disappointed in your partner and learning to tolerate when your partner is disappointed in you. The sooner you accept this, the happier you’ll be.

16. Date nights are great, but not always easy to arrange. Try “speed dating” — as in taking ten minutes to sit down together and give each other your undivided attention. Tea, wine, candle light optional.

17. Long hard day? Too tired to talk? Why not just sit together on the porch and look at the stars?

18. Give up the notion that marriage is a fifty-fifty proposition. Sometimes it’s sixty-forty. Sometimes it’s ninety-ten. Why not put in your best effort no matter what your partner does?

19. When there’s a winner and loser, both partners lose.

20. Feel free to ask for what you want as long as you’re clear that you’re not entitled to get it just because you asked.

21. Be willing to take risks. If we want to grow we have to step out of our comfort zone. Without growth and change everything stays the same whether we like it that way or not.

22. Find as many ways as possible to say I love you — with words and without.

23. Sex doesn’t stay hot and exciting all on its own. Use your imagination. Change things up.

24. Set a high standard for yourself as a partner and then strive to attain it.

25. Relationships are hard. When things are difficult, lean in to the challenge rather than give up or feel defeated. When things are going well, open your heart and appreciate all that you have.

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My book, IT TAKES ONE TO TANGO, is now on sale! I’ll be giving away one more autographed copy.  To be eligible, tell me, in the comments section, which one point on this list you’re going to start doing.

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10 Wishes I Have For My Son and His Future Wife

original_marry-me-christmas-proposal-card edited Wedding experts say that the three-month stretch between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day is prime time for proposals. With the sparkle of Christmas and the promise of the new year lending an air of romance, nearly forty percent of couples choose this time to get engaged. To my delight, this year, my son and his fiancée are among them.

While the coming months will be taken up with writing guest lists and weighing the pros and cons of a winter wedding (with its possibility of ice storms) or a wedding in June (with its guarantee of mosquitoes) I’m keeping in mind the many years that will follow.

Continue reading

How to Turn an Okay Marriage Into a Great One

Image 7-12-15 at 1.49 PM (1)How many people do you know who would wholeheartedly say that their marriage is great?

How many would say that they’re happier now than when they first got together, that their marriage is one of the most satisfying parts of their life?

Five? Ten? None? Continue reading

How to be Happily Married in a World of Naysayers

imageWe’ve all heard the jokes: The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret.

I married Ms. Right. I just didn’t know that her first name was Always.

Marriage is talked about as if it’s a jail sentence, a ball and chain, the mistake of a lifetime.

Some have said that marriage is irrelevant and outdated. Others have called it a failed experiment.

Failed? Really?

I’ll be the first to admit that marriage can be difficult. Marriage asks us to grow and to stretch; it calls for flexibility and fortitude and a capacity to love — even (and especially) during really hard times. And anyone who’s been married for more than a month knows that hard times do come.

But there are also sweet times and easy times, times of deep love and affection, times when we’re glad that we’re married to the wonderful, annoying person we picked.

The “marriage is broken” folks seem to be saying that because some marriages are truly miserable, and because, even under the best of circumstances, marriage can be hard, we need to change the rules.

They say we need to stop expecting marriage to last a lifetime, to meet our needs for intimacy, to bring satisfaction and joy.

The trouble with the naysayers is that they talk about marriage as if it’s an entity — as if marriage is some sort of troublemaker; as if there’s something inherent in marriage that sets us up to fail.

To further bolster their argument, they trot out the inaccurate, “bad news” statistic that half of all marriages end in divorce.

Here’s the good news: when it comes to first marriages, 60-70% of them will be marriages that last. And yes, a lasting marriage isn’t necessarily a happy one, but the happiness part — that’s in our hands.

Senior couple kiss situation in white isolated background

If you’re looking to prove the naysayers wrong:

1. Accept that marriage takes effort if we want to do it well. Many things in life are difficult, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth doing. Why should marriage be any different?

2.  Relationships don’t just happen. They don’t succeed by magic and they don’t fail on their own. Marriage is something we build from the ground up. It requires care and attention. The more creative and committed we are, the better our marriage will be.

3. The best marriages are based on generosity. No, I’m not talking about over-giving and sacrifice. True generosity is a wholehearted desire to offer the best of what we have. Love, affection, not believing we need to have everything our way in order to be happy.

4. Some of the worst marriages I’ve seen have gotten as bad as they are because neither partner is willing to risk: to apologize, to reach out, to be vulnerable, to name what needs to be addressed. Remember, you have to step out of your comfort zone if you want your marriage to grow.

5. Pay less attention to what your partner is doing that gets in the way of having a satisfying relationship, and pay more attention to what you’re doing, which is the only thing you can control anyway.

6. Accept that sometimes you’re going to be disappointed by your partner, just as your partner will, at times, be disappointed by you. Disappointment is not a sign that something’s gone wrong. It’s simply a challenging fact of life that we, as partners, must learn to handle as gracefully as possible. Freaking out about your inevitable disappointments will make you unnecessarily unhappy, or discouraged, or both.

image7. Don’t expect  your spouse to be a mindreader. If something is important to you, it’s your job to speak up.

8. Accept that your partner won’t be thrilled about everything you do. Relationships are about being a twosome and about being two separate people who want different things. I don’t advocate behaving in ways that are harmful or inconsiderate, but there are times when we have to act alone — to confront something difficult, to make a bold move, to challenge the rules.

9. Don’t underestimate the importance of quality time. Show up. Make eye contact. Open your heart. And, for goodness sake, turn off your phone.

10. Never believe you’ve tried everything. Most of us do the same ineffective things over and over, and think we’ve given it our all. Yes, some relationship problems are complex and overwhelming, and we have no idea what to do to solve them. But before you think you’re out of options, ask yourself this: What one thing can I do that would make a significant, positive difference in my relationship? Before you give up, go ahead. Go all out.

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The Ultimate Garage Cleaner’s Guide to Marriage Repair

A few years ago a client gave me a refrigerator magnet that reads:

image

Yep. I agree.

Especially when one of the chores involves the word garage. That’s how our garage ended up looking like a scene from the reality show where they bring in five guys in hazmat suits while a team of kind social workers comforts the hoarder. Continue reading

10 Everyday Relationship Issues That Aren’t Worth Freaking Out About

One of the best parts of my job as a couples therapist is that I get to deliver good news.

Woman Biting On Her LipCouples come in fearing that their marriage is too far gone to fix, and I get to tell them it’s not.

Yes, some people are in serious trouble and if they keep going in the direction they’re headed, their worst fears will come true.

Still, most couples are simply facing normal and ordinary relationship challenges that they lack the tools to address. Continue reading

10 Reasons Not to Be a Valentine’s Day Grinch

wallpaper_20100115103718_16542854972It’s that time again — Valentine’s Day. The holiday of romantic love, chocolate hearts, and passionate feelings about whether Valentine’s Day should be celebrated, or banned.

Yes, a dozen red roses, plus dinner, will cost as much as your car payment. And yes, love is as sweet on February 15th and every day after that (and should, indeed, be expressed all year long.)

And it’s true, Valentine’s Day is a red ribbon sales day for Hallmark and Hershey and a host of others who peddle “romance” for profit, creating enough hype and hoopla to turn even the ultra-romantic among us into a Valentine’s Day Grinch.

Still there are those of us who like to make the most of the day. Continue reading