February means Valentine’s Day is approaching, and many people use this holiday as a time to reflect on the status of their own relationships. Are you happy with your partner? Are you distinctly unhappy, and you think your relationship is part of the reason why?
Everyone is always asking about the “secret” to a happy union, but the truth is (and evidence-based studies confirm) that the keys to being in a successful and rewarding relationship aren’t secrets at all.
1) Be in the relationship for the right reasons. Why did you want this relationship to begin with? Were you ready to settle down? Did you want children and felt the clock ticking? Were you trying to please your parents? Did you have financial worries your partner alleviated? Were you lonely? Were you trying to fix yourself? If you’re in a relationship for any reason other than genuinely liking your partner and enjoying your time together, then you might want to reevaluate your expectations for a happy and cohesive relationship.
2) Respect is the most important part of a relationship. You hear a lot about communication (or lack thereof) leading to the breakdown of many relationships. While this can be true, most studies find that respect (or lack thereof) is more predictive of relationship success. Do you complain about your partner to others? Do you feel offended or unloved when your partner wants time for themselves? Do you resent it when your partner asserts their own will in decisions? Do you have a life outside the relationship? Respecting each other’s space, time, and individuality is how a relationship becomes successful.
3) Speak openly, even when it hurts. There’s an old saying that you’re only as sick as your secrets. The same can be true for a relationship. We all have an inner world that even our most intimate partners are not privy to, but the things you’re keeping secret because you don’t want to lose your partner or are afraid of being judged are the ones that can destroy you. Are you unsatisfied with your sex life? Have you been sneaking food or alcohol and hiding it from your partner? Are you tired of spending every Sunday with your partner’s family? These small omissions and tiny resentments can grow into big issues if you’re not honest and straightforward with your partner.
4) Set realistic expectations. A lasting romance is not a constant feeling of floating through the clouds and brimming with happiness. Real relationships include being annoyed with your partner, getting in ridiculous arguments, and boring nights together. Going out of your way to be romantic, surprising your partner in small ways to show you care, and expressing your love and appreciation are great ways to remind you why this relationship is important. Don’t get bogged down by the mundane or the normalcy. Healthy relationships, while not always exhilarating, are enduring.
5) Two individuals make up a relationship. And if there aren’t two healthy individuals, the relationship will not be a happy one. The definition of codependency is excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, and while codependent relationships can continue, usually out of necessity or guilt, they are almost always unhappy ones. Successful, happy relationships usually involve two healthy individuals, with goals, dreams, and lives that do not revolve around their partner. Being in a relationship should mean having a cheerleader and someone to support you when you fail, not a full-time therapist who you can’t survive without. To be in a healthy, happy relationship, you must also be mentally healthy.