As a couples therapist, I've learned a lot about marriages and relationships. Time and time again, I've seen these simple truths challenge almost every couple I work with. These essential lessons truly can make or break a relationship:
1. Don’t wait to ask for help.
Almost every couple I see tells me the problems they're facing started small six months to six years ago. By the time they see me, they're almost ready to walk out the door. It’s like going to the dentist for the first time late in life. It’s not impossible to help resolve concerns, but it sure would be easier if they came in earlier, before all the build-up, when things were smaller, to get help.
2. Say you’re sorry more.
So many of us forget this very simple step: we overlook the impact of a meaningful, heartfelt apology. Maybe we think we have said it, but never really did in a way that could be heard by our sweetheart. Saying, “I’m sorry” and meaning it can be a critical step in sustaining a relationship long term.
3. Being right doesn’t matter as much as being in love.
Lots of the couples I see have locked horns about an issue and have been in a standoff for too long. Ultimately being right just isn’t important. What matters is what you want for your future.
4. Connect with feelings.
This funny thing happens in sessions where one partner just doesn’t feel heard. Their sweetheart can repeat the exact words they’ve said to them over and over again, but still isn't feeling what the partner is expressing. The issue isn’t whether or not their sweetheart has actually heard their words. The issue is whether or not their sweetheart understands (and empathizes with) how they feel. Next time your partner says they don’t feel heard, try connecting with their emotion instead of their story to help deepen your connection.
5. Learn to validate yourself.
In a relationship, there's often a desperate search to find our worth in the eyes of the other person. The truth is, it is so much more valuable to find worthiness (“I am enough”) on our own instead of chasing after it in our partner.
6. Stay curious about your partner and ask before you assume.
One of the greatest struggles in longterm partnerships is to stay curious about our loved ones. We start out strong, asking questions all night and staying fascinated with each other, but over time forget to ask. Staying curious allows space to keep learning about your partner as they grow.
7. Set clear boundaries.
A lot of the folks I work with have a hard time with this one. I am not saying shut your partner out of your life, or ignore them, or stonewall in arguments. But every relationship needs some level of privacy. It is important you have your own friends, interests, hobbies, emails, therapy appointments etc. It is important you are able to respectfully disagree and say no to one another and that your boundaries are respected.
8. Small loving actions every day add up to much more than large romantic gestures.
Too many folks I talk to rely on once a year anniversary vacations, once a week date nights, Valentines Day or other occasions to demonstrate love. I am not saying you shouldn’t surprise your partner with an elaborate thoughtful gift or date, but that small actions- thoughtful text messages, intentional sharing of housework, caring conversations, and meaningful supportive day-to-day actions will add up and build trust over time in a more sustainable way.
9. Above all else, be kind.
Sometimes it’s hard when things get rough to remember this but above all else, be kind to your partner. When things get heated, take a 10-minute break from the conversation rather than getting vicious, threatening or spiteful. Remember you love this person, and even if you are hurt, your intention is to stay connected and kind.